Sometimes, you just have a bad day.
I had one of those recently. It happened to fall on my oldest daughter's 6th birthday. She had been looking forward to her birthday for weeks. Even the night before, she was excitedly talking about all of the details we had planned. My husband and I stayed up past midnight wrapping gifts, decorating the house, and making fancy pancakes (a family tradition). Just as we settled into bed, she came into our bedroom with the tell-tale signs of a stomach bug. Instantly, I felt the battle against disappointment begin. I felt the threat of a bad day looming.
But what makes a day good or bad? If I'm honest, I use markers like morning quiet time, not fussing at my kids, sweet connection with my husband, a tidied home, and productivity to designate a day as good or bad. On good days, I feel put together and somehow more readily feel the Lord's pleasure over me. On days when my preferences are not met and my plans are interrupted, I feel scattered and undeserving of God's blessings. Anyone else evaluate their days like this? I don't like to admit that I often employ this standard of evaluation because I know what it reveals about my faith (or lack of!). In using this standard, I am interpreting God's grace and favor to be conditional–that accessibility of grace and favor is dependent on my performance. Said this way, it's easy to see that this is anti-gospel. It is assuming that I need God's grace for my salvation but not the maintenance of my salvation. It is a bent toward behavioral sanctification that is wholly dependent on me and my good works. Again, this is not the gospel. It's legalism.
And I say this with earnestness: legalism is hard to avoid if you don't preach the gospel to yourself every day. This is because growing in righteousness (which is our sanctification) is evidence of a regenerated heart. If someone is truly converted, sanctification will result because of the indwelling Holy Spirit! But why does the Apostle Paul say to "work out your own salvation" in Philippians 2:12 then? What's that about? This verse implies that there is an active component on our end in our sanctification, namely, our purposeful obedience. We are not called to be passive spectators in our own sanctification! However, we are also not abandoned by God upon our justification– no, His work continues in our sanctification and future glorification. Paul reminds us of this in the verse that follows, which says, "For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:13). God is the one who produces in us the will to do good works. And guess what? He is the one who produces the good works, too!
Does it seem a bit tricky? Believers are responsible to actively pursue obedience; good works are evidence of genuine faith. Yet, God is sovereign and does it all? What is going on! The simplest way I have come to terms with this is this: God's power makes me willing to pursue godliness and obedience to His commands. And it is His Spirit that transforms me. I cannot even will myself to conform to the image of Christ; instead, I can rest in God's will, which is my sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3). When it comes to obedience to His commands, I will fall short, but that is why the gospel is good news: Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to God on my behalf, and He has satisfied the justice and righteousness of God. In response to this costly act of love, I obey. Living with gospel hope is living in right relationship with God.
Whether my surrounding circumstances are good or bad, I need God's grace. I can have all of my needs met; I can be refreshed in my time in the Word; I can obey the Spirit's prompting without hesitation; and I can love my neighbors selflessly, and I will still need God's grace. That is the gospel–that God's love for His children does not fluctuate in response to our sanctification (or lack of) but remains steadfast because of our union with Christ (Romans 8:1). As believers, we need the gospel every single day in order to guard against legalism (on one end of the spectrum) and apathy (on the other end of the same spectrum). We must never forget that the gospel is for sinners–we will never grow out of our need for the good news of Jesus.
These gospel truths challenge my system of evaluating my days. Instead of designating a day as good or bad then, based on my circumstances, I am challenged to see my days through the lens of the gospel. The gospel reminds me that I will never have a perfectly good day, but I am dearly loved by God regardless. The gospel reminds me that my true identity is based on what God has done for me and not on anything I do or don't do for Him. The gospel compels me to pursue holiness because of the glorious truth that Christ died for me and reconciled me to God. I want to please a God who loved me to that extent; I want to please a God who continually pours out scandalous grace upon me!
With these truths in mind, I can look at any given day and ask myself: How can I glorify God? How can I please Him? How can my words, thoughts, and deeds reveal the majesty and beauty of Christ? How can I partner with the Holy Spirit today in my sanctification? How can I grow in Christlikeness in order to be a better ambassador of Christ to those around me? And when I fail, how can I preach the gospel to myself?
As believers, we are not immune to difficult circumstances. We are also free in Christ to feel emotions to said difficult circumstances. However, we can choose to see our days with an eternal perspective and view them as opportunities to magnify God to the world no matter our circumstances. We can ask God, as the psalmist does in Psalm 90:12, to "teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts." We can evaluate the way we use any given day in light of the brevity of life, not ease. And with that standard of measurement, I'm not sure any day could actually be truly bad. Wouldn't you agree?