It was a cold Saturday morning in the late fall of 2018. Football season had ended for my son's team with no playoff. They had a losing season. Strength and conditioning since June and practices daily since August to end in this way? Yet, he got up the next day and went to a track in the 30 degree weather to run timed, 40-yard dashes. Though disappointed at the results of his season, he had a bigger goal in mind.
Since 6th grade he had been strength training regularly outside of school involvement. He went out for track to improve his speed. He set his mind on a goal to play college football, and his effort far proceeded knowing if that goal would ever be met.
As human beings, effort is a requirement for life. It is a necessary life expression. Yet, it ranges from the most basic tasks of daily life to the tremendous endeavors that many of life’s heroes have taken on. "Effort" can be a fairly relative term. It can hold the expectation for all people to live life responsibly within their particular contexts, while also being a rare display of human grit and determination to go beyond the expected norms. However, there’s another layer to this conversation.
What does God ask of us in terms of the effort we give?
It’s easy to get caught up in legalism and the notion of earning God’s love, and for too many Christians this either keeps them from putting forth effort in their Christian lives or pushes them to strive in unhealthy ways. However, I prefer to think of effort linked to intentionality.
When we are intentional in our lives, we usually see good results. I am not trying to earn the love of my spouse when I am intentional in pursuing time with him, but it keeps our marriage in a good, connected place. And the like, when I am intentional to get outside for a walk and move my body and get sunshine and fresh air, I am not striving or earning; rather, I am taking a step toward health and wellbeing. The same could be said of effort in our life with Jesus.
Galatians Chapter 5 outlines the difference of earning vs. grace, but does not excuse effort. It is so important that we draw the distinction here. Paul states in Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
In the book “Your God Is Too Safe” by Mark Buchanan he states:
"The goal of the disciplined life is love: to more and more live in and live out the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, strength, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. The touchstone of whether you’re rightly engaged with any discipline is to ask, 'Is my love getting stronger, deeper, richer?' Something is wrong if you find that any discipline or habit you practice is making you arrogant, self-righteous, contemptuous, judgmental."
We must check the fruit of our effort. What is it bringing about in our lives? Do we see "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) as a result of our “effort?"
Intentionally and with effort, pursuing God for the sake of seeing Him and knowing Him will produce a harvest of fruit in our lives.
Effort is the state of being that preserves us when our emotions wane. It is easy when we are full of hype to keep the discipline and mindset of healthy rhythms in our lives, but effort kicks in when the accompanying motivations subside. It is a God-given virtue to understand.
As we grow in Christ through healthy spiritual disciplines, we also grow in our understanding of how to live out who He created us to be. We must examine our God-given gifts and ask the Lord what and how He would have us use them. This also requires effort. For instance, I happen to have the gift of music. However, if I never rehearse, develop or pursue it, then my gift could run the risk of lying dormant. The Lord approves of our efforts as we seek to glorify Him. To "run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
My son, through many ups and downs, kept his goal in mind as he put forth the effort to achieve it. There were many days when emotions and inspiration fell short along the path to reaching his goabut he trained himself through effort to keep the faith. He now plays football at the University of Wyoming.