By Enoch Chang (MDiv ’11).
December 12, 2014—So I don’t like to publicize this too, too much, but I’ve been doing the Paleo lifestyle (it’s not a diet) for about 6 months. Since then, I’ve lost about 47 pounds. Every time I look in the mirror I think, “I should’ve taken a before picture.” Why didn’t I? I had done the Paleo thing in the past and knew I would lose weight. Why didn’t I take a before picture?
I think it’s because no one likes to take before pictures. If you look at any of those weight-loss/hair replacement/acne-curing infomercials, NO ONE looks happy. There’s a lot riding on that before picture: What if this doesn’t work? What if I’m just stuck with a fat/bald/pizza-faced picture of me with no after picture to laugh at my before picture? Before pictures are tough. They share a moment of insecurity heavy with the hopes of reaching your potential. It’s uncomfortable. It’s your biggest vulnerability on display. But, when done correctly, it shows a commitment to growth.
There aren’t a lot of people out there committed to growth, which is sad. Most people just want to stay comfortable and then wonder why they haven’t improved or why certain character flaws still exist. To get better, you have to work at it. I’ve played with plenty of musicians who just haven’t improved in so long because they haven’t put the work into it. And it shows! I’m less likely to schedule someone for my band who is semi-talented but has shown no improvement than someone who isn’t great but has committed to improving.
One of the pitfalls of ministry is that we become comfortable with the way things are. It’s so easy to fall into a rut or just cruise when things are going well or even just ok. But it’s the people who commit themselves to growth that find a way to take their ministries to the next level. Like the writer of Hebrews says, we have feeble arms and weak knees and many are completely content with their arms and knees. To be healthy, we have to work at it. We have to train.
Hebrews 12:11-13 puts it this way:
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (NIV)
Growth is uncomfortable. Growth hurts. It hurts your pride, your ego, your comfort, but there’s a LATER ON, a later on with a harvest. You don’t just get to reap a harvest without working for it. You have to be “trained by” discipline. The context of the passage is talking about this; in our struggle with sin, we will go through hardships, but what if in addition to disciplining ourselves to struggle through sin successfully, we commit ourselves for a successful life?
A lot of people ask me how I can do such a strict diet, after all, “I could NEVER give up carbs or sugar, I love them too much!” I said the same thing before I started eating healthier. I was the poster child for carbs and lack of self-control. It’s when you resolve to do something, however, that your mindset changes. I wanted to see some changes in my life. I was sick of being the lazy, energy-less, health-problem-ridden person I was. So I put my head down and stuck with it, and I could not be any happier with the results.
My former senior pastor Kevin Myers said it this way, “pay, then play.” There’s far less cost if you pay first then play later than there is when you play first and pay later. And usually that later cost is beyond your control and way more than you want to pay. There have been plenty of times when I had a choice to practice my music for a weekend service’s worship but instead chose to play video games or watch tv. Man, did I pay for it later! Especially in church leadership, if you can force yourself to work when you want to play, you’re setting yourself up to lead better, to communicate better, to reach people better.
Now I’m not saying you should always give up your play time to work. I’m an avid supporter of a weekly Sabbath, which is a conversation for another day. I’m just saying I’ve been burned more than a couple times by trying to sneak a Sabbath in when there were things I needed to do, which cost me my Sabbath later in a significantly more stressful way than if I had just paid on the front end and gotten to rest later on.
Imagine a world where people were committed to bettering themselves. Everyone knows that the other is working on something and needs grace. Everyone would understand that no one is perfect.
Resolve to do something today. Stop making excuses. Don’t wait another day. I kept saying I would start doing Paleo when I finished all the food in my fridge or when there wasn’t an eating-out event to go to. I finally resolved to just throw away the rest of the food in my fridge because I kept putting it off and there was always an eating-out event to go to. I just knew I had to start TODAY.
When I look in the mirror now, I wish I had taken a before picture so I could look back and realize how insecure I was and know that I’ve grown from that. Don’t let your life be one big before picture. There is a you that you have yet to reach, the person you want to grow to become; the musician, the mother, the father, the employee, the boss, the pastor you’ve always wanted to be. It’s worth it to take that before picture when you commit to personal and spiritual growth. When you document it, you’ll be surprised at how far you’ve come when you’ve resolved to grow.
Enoch Chang is a worship leader at NewPointe Community Church, a multi-site church with locations in Northeast Ohio. He received his MDiv from Columbia Theological Seminary. You can read more about him and his thoughts on worship on his blog: enochang.com
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