Several months ago, my 13-year-old son told me that he’d like to set a goal to run a half marathon. Man, I was super proud of him. That’s a robust goal for just about anyone, much less a just-turned teenager.
And man, I was upset with him. Because in setting this goal, he was asking me to train with him.
In the summer.
In middle Tennessee.
To run 13.1 miles.
And I knew the training was going to be hard. And you know what?
I was right. It has been hard. It has meant coming home from work and then banging out 6 miles in the afternoon. It’s meant sacrificing Saturday mornings to try and get out early enough to run ourselves silly so we don’t get a heat stroke.
It has been hard, but it has not been complicated. I mean, think about it – how do you train for a half-marathon? Well, you lace up your shoes and start to run. And then you run a little more every week. Pretty simple actually.
There is a great difference between that which is difficult, and that which is complex.
When we think about growing in Christ, it’s important that we draw this distinction. Is growing in Christ difficult? Yes it is. And Jesus wants us to know that it is. You can point to any number of times when the crowds were gathering around Him that He taught them to give second thought to what exactly they were signing up for:
Now great crowds were traveling with him. So he turned and said to them: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
“For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn’t first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish it, all the onlookers will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man started to build and wasn’t able to finish’ (Luke 14:25-30).
See it? Jesus doesn’t downplay the difficulty of following Him. He’s very straightforward about it. We should count the cost, and recognize that following Jesus is going to require sacrifice, re-prioritization, and daily death to our own desires. And all of that stuff is hard.
Really, really hard. But not complex. And this is where we often drift – to thinking of spiritual growth in terms of the complex. There’s a good reason why we do this, though.
If something is difficult, then the only reason why we don’t throw ourselves into it is because it’s difficult. But if something is complex then we have all kinds of excuses as to why we are not giving ourselves to the process. It’s because we don’t understand. It’s because we need further analysis. It’s because we want clarification. In other words, we actually enjoy thinking of spiritual growth in complex terms because it allows us to avoid the painful surrender it takes to do it.
We have all kinds of metrics and all kinds of measures and all kinds of processes to go through, all designed to produce and measure spiritual growth. While many of these might have their merits, it does seem that we have, at times, very much complicated the issue when it doesn’t have to be. Discipleship is a matter of seeking to know God through prayer and His Word and do what He says.
Know Him and follow Him. That’s it. Everything else is an aid to that simple, core message. Let’s together make sure that we aren’t taking what it difficult and making it complex so that we can avoid giving ourselves to the process.