Good Without Any Effort

A Hermit said, “We fail to make progress because we do not comprehend our capacity. We weary of the work we have started. We want to be good without making any effort.”

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers

There is a popular cultural statement, “I’m only human,” that serves to make excuse for our failings. In truth, I would that we were only human. Our sin lies in our failure to be what we were created to be. Christ alone is the one “fully human,” and it is to His image we seek to be conformed.

Of course, we cannot be conformed to His image except by a gift of grace – but grace is not the same thing as magic. God does not snap His fingers and make us to be something we are not. Just as our disobedience got us into this mess, so our obedience must play its part in our extraction. God means to heal our will as well as the rest of us.

Some years ago one of my young children (pre-school at the time) declared that they were going to “give up their blanket and sucking their thumb for Lent.” We discussed it at length and I blessed the effort. I recall one Saturday evening watching my child watch television with the family – and was fully aware of the struggle that was being endured. As a father and an adult Christian, the courage and fortitude of a child put me to shame. For the story’s sake I will add that the Lenten discipline was completed with success.

This was not the only occasion I have had to marvel at the good undertakings of others. Too many Christians (and most of our culture) have too few heroes – too few examples to follow as we seek “the prize of the upward call in Christ Jesus.”

I am also aware of the curse of various neuroses in our culture – psychological damage that makes some strive amiss only to come to a sense of failure and the inability to ever please anyone. This, too, is a matter to be healed, and perhaps healed long before other things are attempted. But even this healing will require our cooperation.

We cannot be saved by our own effort – but God means to save our effort – and this is good.


  1. father stephen,
    I join the many thousands in thanking you for this wonderful ministry I count as a daily blessing. May our Lord grant you many years.
    I definitely second your choice of Blessed Father Sophrony’s ‘Life of Saint Silouan’ if ever deserted on an island – it has certainly sustained me through good times and bad. Two shining examples, heroes in deed of our faith. In chapter 6 of ‘His Life is Mine’ Fr Sophrony writes, “If any of my readers is suffering from some psychological wound occasioned by failure in life, he can attain to a regal freedom of spirit and radically change his whole life if he turns to God every day with a personal prayer…” and his ‘Prayer at Daybreak’ follows. Counting myself as the “walking wounded” I have found this to be very beneficial.

  2. Father Stephen,

    I note you had ‘Prayer at Daybreak’ (a beautiful, more contemporary version edited by Fr Thomas Hopko) in your 12 February 2008 article.

    This overcomes a slight issue I had with the language of the english version in the original – I will be printing it off and using this version from now on.

    Your site has truly been an answer to my prayers!

  3. I really appreciate this and especially the way you’ve ended this post:

    “We cannot be saved by our own effort – but God means to save our effort – and this is good.”

    Thank you and may God bless you always.

  4. Thankyou very much. This has helped me a great deal. I have taken the liberty of quoting it on my blog; I hope you don’t mind.

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