Life, especially now, feels like a marathon…
Two years ago we rounded a corner mid-race and saw what looked like a short-but-steep incline called Covid-19 we’d need to muscle through. But instead of a single crest in front of us, we discovered this hill is more like a long staircase—every summit revealed yet another one to climb. And yes, our momentum carried us through the first few difficult stair-steps, but our path was obstructed by additional hurdles—“political division” and “racial unrest” and “financial meltdown,” to name a few. Now, most of us are running on a near-empty tank and we still can’t see the top of the staircase. We lose heart when we lose hope or have trouble creating hope.
We need an infusion of strength to renew that hope, and to offer renewed hope to those we serve. But where will it come from? The Apostle Paul offers this:
“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3-5).
So, a heart that is filled up with the love of God endures when endurance seems humanly impossible. With the Holy Spirit “filling our hearts with his love,” our problems and trials produce endurance, character, confidence, and hope. We stick with things, no matter what. And we find ourselves rejoicing in the middle of it all, because nothing is more deeply satisfying than overcoming hard things in life in the close company of Jesus. The latest social science research, it turns out, doubles down on Paul’s insight…
Dr. Angela Duckworth, whose research into the foundations of personal grit morphed into a bestselling book, found that people who live with a marathon mentality have developed a passion for something higher than themselves. As Paul explains, and Duckworth reiterates in her research, we need a source of strength and hope that is higher than ourselves. It’s only a matter of time before we reach the shallow bottom of our own well—when “hang in there” and “keep fighting” seem like hollow platitudes. When we’re tested beyond our capacity, we naturally look for help outside of that capacity.
A Passion for Something HIgher
Award-winning New York Times columnist David Brooks pounced on this “passion for something higher” dynamic in Duckworth’s research, insisting that it deserves more attention: “I don’t know about you, but I’m really bad at being self-disciplined about things I don’t care about. For me, and I suspect for many, hard work and resilience can only happen when there is a strong desire. Grit is thus downstream from longing. People need a powerful why if they are going to be able to endure any how.”
This vital insight elevates perseverance from a personality characteristic to an orientation toward the Divine. The higher the focus of our passion, the deeper the well of our spiritual grit. It’s not the Christian principles we follow or the Christian character qualities we strive for that fuel our spiritual grit; it’s the way we are captured by the heart of Jesus. Relational intimacy with God generates the powerful passion that real hope requires.
Experience Over Information
Psychologist and spiritual director David Benner writes, “After decades of Bible reading, I realized that my relationship with God was based more on what I believed than on what I experienced. I had lots of information about God but longed to deepen my personal knowing. Getting to know Jesus better seemed like the right place to start. It was.” Benner’s journey from mere belief to “personal knowing” highlights a universal truth: deep hope is fed by our experience of Jesus’ heart, not the information we’ve collected about him. And so, for ourselves and those we serve…
- We offer to pray, dependently, instead of merely offering sound-bite encouragement and advice. I mean, we ask Jesus how to pray first, wait for guidance, and then pray based on that guidance… This practice connects us to Jesus experientially, helping us come to know Him more deeply while fueling our passion.
- We begin each day, and every ministry gathering, by reminding ourselves (and others) of the words and actions of Jesus. To ingest those words and actions we ask ourselves (and others): What’s one thing I know for sure about the heart of Jesus, based on His words or actions?
- We sit in silence, and invite others to do the same, waiting to hear from Jesus instead of only asking things of Him. We can use this simple prompt: “Jesus, what do you need me to know right now?” If we get a Scripture reference or a word or a phrase, we “chew” on it with Him, asking: “Tell me more, please.”
- We take risks based on our trust in His heart, not merely because the risk seems strategically sound. As we listen to people and interact, what are we sensing from the Spirit, and how are we changing the way we interact because of what we sense?
We can live in, and invite others into, an Oasis of Hope in a desert of bad news and staircase marathons…
Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith.
His new book is The Suicide Solution: Finding Your Way Out of the Darkness. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily.