We all want to be great.
In one way or another, we want to make an impact, do something that counts, that lasts, that makes a difference. If at the end of my life I can look back and say that I’ve really done something, that would make me happy.
If there’s one thing that can stop me from really living that life, it’s simple: effort.
It strikes me that the word ‘effort’ isn’t a particularly positive word. If something is going to take a lot of effort, it’s a slog, a battle, just a lot of hard work. We don’t really like effort. We often want the end that the effort can get us to, but the effort itself is just a gruelling slog. Not always, but often. And if we can get somewhere close to that end without much effort, that’s a big plus!
So we settle for almost great. Nearly spectacular. Close to brilliant. But easy.
A lot of things don’t take much effort anymore. A lot of the things we do day-to-day can be done with a few swipes and taps on a phone, or a couple of minutes on a computer. Things that used to take time and effort and planning and energy are now right at our fingertips.
And that’s great! Because it gives us so much more time and energy to invest into doing the brilliant things that result in a life that can really be called great.
Unless it make us lazy, that is.
I’m going to confess. It often makes me lazy.
Doing the hard work
I’m inspired when I hear of people who aren’t lazy. Last week I heard two preachers I admire deeply talk about how they prepare to preach. One of them, my own pastor Malcolm, talked about how he stays connected to what makes people tick in our society.
Every year he reads the full shortlist for the Man Booker prize. He reads a bunch of newspapers every day. He visits art galleries with the latest works of art. He keeps on top of new film releases. It should be noted he doesn’t just read the books or see the films he thinks he’ll like, and he’s not a big fan of art in the first place. He does it because it helps him stay connected.
It’s a lot of effort.
When you hear him preach, he’s not constantly littering sermons with the latest book he’s read, film he’s seen or gallery he’s visited. That’s not the point. It isn’t a ‘quick-fix’. He’s not doing something so that he has something to talk about to seem relevant. It is going to the genuine effort of engaging with culture just so that he is connected with culture.
This challenges me.
In part because I am a preacher and I could do far more to stay this connected. But more broadly because I am a person, and it makes me ask questions about how willing I am to apply that same principle of hard graft to other areas of my life where I feel God is leading me.
Rejecting the instant
What Malcolm is doing is what God calls us to do. We’re not called to a quick-fix approach to life, or to our own journey with God. Malcolm is a great preacher because he is anointed and gifted by God, but he is as great a preacher as he is because he does not squander that gifting but invests in it.
When Jesus rejected the temptation of Satan by quoting Scripture, that wasn’t Scripture that was downloaded into his head like Neo suddenly being able to fly a Helicopter in The Matrix. Jesus grew up and studied the Scriptures. He learned them, wrestled with them, dove into them. Not to pass a test next week, but to equip Him so that when the time came He would be prepared.
What if we did something to reject an instant approach to life? And instead chose to be willing to put the effort in where we need to, to invest now even if we don’t see the rewards right away?
It’s not encouraging to say something is going to be hard work. But if you’re a Christian, it probably should be.
Never joyless hard work. Never life-sucking hard work. Never overwhelming. Quite the opposite.
But still hard work. Still effort.
I don’t want to settle for almost great or nearly spectacular. But unless I’m willing to reject the instant and embrace the effort, I think I might have to.