I love going on runs. Actually, let me be honest, if you were to see me you might describe what I do as jogging… or brisk walking. But, hey, at least I’m moving.
I used to live in a home that sat at the bottom of a hill. The road that led up the hill was called Power Road. Don’t you love the name of that road? Something about it sounds daunting. And it was. Most cars struggled getting up the hill because it was so steep. Which is why I was determined to run up that hill.
When I stood at the bottom for the first time, I raised my eyes to see what looked like an endless wall of asphalt staring back at me. I swallowed hard and then took my first step. As expected, I wasn’t a quarter of the way up the hill before I started walking back down in defeat. The next day I went back and it was more of the same. Then I went back again, and then again, and then again. And after stringing enough days together of putting one foot in front of the other, I was eventually able to run up half the hill, and then three-quarters of it. Then one day, it happened, I made it to the top.
Transformation is a powerful word.
I don’t know about you, but when I think about the way in which God longs to “transform” my life, I tend to think of an instantaneous change. However, I’ve discovered that transformation tends to happen over time, slowly, by putting one foot in front of the other. I think this is what the apostle Paul was getting at when he wrote – “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow Him.” (Col 2.6)
When I read Paul’s words in that passage I can’t help but think of the countless conversations with Christians I’ve had over the years whose fiery commitment to boldly follow Jesus had withered away to a barely visible ember. They started out passionately running after the life Jesus invited them into, but that energy eventually waned and discouragement set in.
Perhaps you can relate. I know I can.
But could it be that the real reason we feel discouraged and frustrated in those moments is because we have higher standards for ourselves than God does. God knows we won’t be able to run Power Road the first time out. It comes by way of practice. By getting out and choosing to run again even if it didn’t work yesterday. That’s where true transformation takes place – at the intersection of God’s grace and our grit. Or in Paul’s words, by waking up each day and choosing all over again to, “continue to follow Him.”
My friend Lauren is one of the grittiest followers of Jesus I know.
When she was young, she lived under a barrage of physical and emotional abuse from her brother. For years, she carried the pain secretly—running from it or finding ways to numb it when she couldn’t run. But this approach had led her down a dark path of shame and bitterness. She realized that she would have to make some tough decisions if she wanted to follow Jesus and allow him to redeem her past. Slowly but surely, she began to own her story and offer it to others by sharing it.
Not everyone was comfortable with this. Her parents didn’t believe what she said about her brother, and this led to a growing divide within the family. What grieved Lauren the most was that her parents had never been even remotely interested in anything spiritual, and now she wondered whether she had jeopardized her opportunity to have any influence in their lives.
Still, she woke up each day and recommitted herself, lacing up her shoes to run after Jesus, accepting whatever tough choices he might ask her to make that day. Over time, she began making small decisions to work through forgiveness with her brother, and she began to confront what it might look like to live generously and compassionately with him.
One day during the holidays, as Lauren was driving home after church, she started thinking about the gifts she would get for her family. Then it hit her. What, if anything, would she get for the brother who had wronged her? The immediate answer was simple: nothing. But then her new nature as a follower of Jesus kicked in, and she saw that there might be an opportunity for generosity and compassion right in front of her.
Later that day, she e-mailed me and told me what she had done:
Immediately after leaving church today, I went to my brother’s favorite restaurant and bought him a $20 gift card. It may not seem like much, but handing over a gift card to someone who has wrecked my life took every last ounce of forgiveness I possess. I cried the whole way home. But I also know who I am and who Jesus is inviting me to be. I am going to be the person who shows honor no matter how challenging it may be.
Did she feel like making that tough decision? No. She cried the whole way home. But she knew from experience that feelings are not a prerequisite for following. She refused to allow her feelings to overrule her decision to follow through on the tough choice that Jesus was inviting her to make. As a result, she has discovered that taking on the way of Jesus brings life on the other side, no matter how wrenching the decision may be at the moment.
A few months later, Lauren’s grandfather passed away. At the funeral, as the family settled into their seats in the front row, Lauren’s brother sat down next to her. It was the first time they had been in such close proximity since Lauren had brought into the open all the ways he had hurt her.
Shortly after the funeral, she told me, “A couple of months ago, sitting next to my brother would’ve sent me into a full-blown panic attack. But today it was different. Today I was actually okay.”
Today it was different.
That is a profound statement of transformation. Why was it different? Because she was different. Over time, Lauren has been transformed by the countless gritty decisions she’s made to follow Jesus, even when nothing in her wanted to. Each choice moved her further up the hill toward the life that can only be found on the other side of choosing to follow Him over and over again.
Lauren would be the first to tell you that it hasn’t been easy. But if you’re a Christian, you didn’t sign up for the easy life. You signed up for the best life.
If you are struggling with the same doubts, temptations, and hang ups that you have for a while – set aside your discouragement. Put your running shoes on and choose the way of Jesus again today. And then again tomorrow. A thousand times over in fact. And if you do, although it may take time, one day you’ll find yourself at the top of that hill, able to run a race you didn’t think you could. You wake up one day to realize that the choices you that were once so difficult have become second nature.
You’ll find yourself saying, “Today it was different.”
Latest posts by Jason Mitchell (see all)
- How the Toughest Choices Lead to the Greatest Life - February 27, 2017