The air was thick with tension, but our hearts brimmed with hopeful optimism. Our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers had fought a tough game against their arch-rivals the Baltimore Ravens. Now the game was coming down to a doable 42-yard field goal attempt for the Pittsburgh win.
The Steelers began to line up, but then ding-dong–our doorbell rang! We live in Western Pennsylvania where most residents are Steeler fans and so we wondered who would be at our door at such a crucial moment in the game?
It turned out to be Mary (not her real name), a single mother of three young adult children. She had come to ask to borrow some money for a few days. This was not one of those scenarios where a drug-addicted mother was trying set up her next fix; Mary’s need was genuine. Years ago, when their kids were younger, her husband suddenly left her for another woman. Since that time, she has struggled to do her best to keep things together, but significant behavioral issues by one of the boys sent the family into another tailspin.
None of this was news to us, but I was struck by Mary’s comment that she knew she needed to get back to church, only she felt embarrassed because of the problems she was having with her kids. That, in turn, made her feel guilty, and thus hesitant to seek God. So here she was, needing and wanting to draw near to her Savior and His people, but staying at a distance due to a crushing burden of condemnation.
If you have ever watched a jackhammer at work, you have seen an effective illustration of how condemnation affects us. It is not simply like a hammer with an occasional or even steady bang, bang! No, condemnation is more like a relentless hammering in rapid and continuous succession. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Condemnation does not just crack the foundation of our confidence; it destroys it to the point that our faith begins to crumble, making all of life to be exhausting. Challenges and problems that we might be able to face and overcome on a normal day suddenly appear to be insurmountable.
Debi and I gave Mary some money, took the time to pray with her, and then directed her attention to the latter part of Hebrews 4:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NASB)
The key to silencing the jackhammer of condemnation is to understand that our heavenly Father does not condemn us, but gladly extends to His children the scepter of His grace. Jesus walked this earth for 33 years and then willingly took upon Himself the full weight of our sin, failure, and sickness. God thoroughly understands our struggles! There is nothing we can go through that He cannot empathize with—and that He has not already paid the full price to cover.
Years ago I learned a truly invaluable lesson—that we could come to God with the same measure of confidence regardless of how we were doing spiritually. In other words, a person in the midst of a miserable, self-absorbed week, could still approach Him in prayer with the same confidence as if he or she had been doing everything exactly right. Why? Our ability to draw near to God’s throne of grace is not based on our performance, but upon the favor that flows our way through the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross.
It is always through—and only through—the cross of Christ that we have free access to the very throne of God. When we understand these things and develop such confidence, we begin to realize that the very best thing to do when struggling is to quickly run to God. The very worst thing, on the other hand, is to keep our distance from the only One who has the ability to make all things well.
Do you want to silence the jackhammer of condemnation? Stop trusting in your own efforts to please God and rest the full weight of your confidence in Jesus our high priest. The result is even better than a Steeler victory!