Recently at EBC, we have been asking ourselves, “What are the keys to our spiritual growth?” and exploring how the principles of physical fitness might help us to understand what those keys really are.
When trying to develop physical fitness, it’s important to understand that things like exercise, general activity, rest, sleep and good nutrition are, very obviously, important things to get a handle on but… they are not actually the key things.
It’s been my privilege and pleasure to spend a long time studying physical fitness and along the way I’ve come to learn that the REAL keys are not any particular exercises, or recovery mechanisms, or nutrition plans (call ‘em diets if you like). No—the real keys are things like these:
When I used to be a fitness instructor, I often said that “Consistency is King” when it comes to getting results in the physical realm. Of course having the right kind of exercises and the right foods and so on are important, but only when exercise, nutrition and recovery are applied consistently over a long period of time do results really come through. If results are to last, they need to remain consistent, too!
In my years at church, I’ve come to believe that there is a very strong parallel here. For our spiritual fitness to improve (in other words, for our relationship with God to flourish) there are some excellent exercises we have available to us. However, the results will come only when we apply ourselves to them with consistency, determination and passion, and do so for a long time (like, the rest of our lives!)
Again, we can learn here from the physical realm. There are a thousand and one different exercises we can do in the gym, but really only a handful that have proven themselves to be the most worthwhile, the most productive. It is these big, basic exercises that prove most fruitful—when we apply ourselves to them consistently, with determination and with a passion that lasts over the years.
In our relationship with God, it is vital that we apply ourselves in prayer, reading the bible, and serving others. All of these things are ways to abide and communicate with God and to worship him. They are, along with other disciplines or exercises like giving and fasting, the big basic exercises of faith. They build our faith, they strengthen our feelings of love and adoration of God. They are the best exercises!
BUT…. To remind you, the real keys to growth lie in the consistency, the compliance, the determination, the passion and stickability which we bring to these exercises. Collectively, we might call these qualities “Grit” - and happily, there is some excellent research that strongly supports the value of grit….
Angela Duckworth is an American academic, psychologist and popular science author. She is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studies grit and self-control. Angela is the Founder and CEO of Character Lab, a non-profit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development.
Angela has advised the White House, the World Bank, NBA and NFL teams, and Fortune 500 CEOs. In terms of academic credentials, I haven't the space to list them all here but suffice to say she is pretty much a certified genius! Her TED talk on grit is among the most-viewed of all time and her first book, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”, is a #1 New York Times best seller. Having read the book and heard the TED talk, I highly recommend both!
Angela’s research has identified that there is a common denominator that lies behind high achievement in all manner of fields—whether it be academia, sports, career success or anything else. Rather than inherent talent, she discovered that grit is THE best predictor of success in all fields — and that grit can be developed.
In her family, she says they have the “Hard Thing Rule” where everyone has to stick at something for a long period of time. The “thing” can be anything they choose, so long as it is difficult and it interests them. It could be a sport, a project, or something else but sticking at it for a long time is the key to developing grit.
Angela herself felt compelled to understand what makes people successful and why. She felt passionate about it—so she pursued the answers with determination and perseverance and found that the answers lie in determination and perseverance, or grit!
I think there’s a great lesson here for those of us who want to enjoy a better and growing relationship with God. If we spend some time thinking about it, I believe we can all stir in ourselves a decision to pursue a better relationship with God. We can, to use an appropriate word, determine that a growing relationship with God is what we want. We can determine that we want to become the person God created us to be, which is the absolute best possible version of ourselves—how incredibly exciting!
Once we have made that “determination” we can go about building up this proven and powerful characteristic called grit. We can choose our own “hard thing” that we will stick at and practice and practice doggedly for a long time. Doing so will not only develop our ability in that particular thing (which may be a project or hobby) but it will also develop our grittiness. Then, as we grow grittier, we can bring that same quality to bear in our walk with God. Personally, I have determined that following Jesus is what I must do. As the song says “I have decided to follow Jesus—no turning back.” So, come what may, I will daily praise and thank God for his love and blessings, and ask him questions as I read the bible. I will try my best to serve God - and other people - with love. I will thank him for the gifts he has given me and use them generously, to his glory. I will do this with faith and great perseverance.
How about you?