But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
For 9 weeks in the fall, my evenings are consumed with coaching middle school runners. I didn't know how much I loved it until Covid took it away (how many of us have had similar epiphanies?). It's been great to have a season this year.
Last week we did hill repeats on this truly insane hill on our course that climbs straight up for 150 yards. Even for an experienced runner, it's difficult to run all the way up it. I have our team do a workout on it every year to build their confidence, but I never know how the kids will respond.
At the beginning of the workout, I told them I'd like them to each do at least 6 repeats. But once they got to 6, they could do more if they were up for it. Now, I'd like to say that I'm a brilliant coach, but the reality was that I have runners at so many various levels that a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn't work. So I said, here's your starting point, but it doesn't need to be your ending point. You are probably capable of doing more.... if you choose.
Most of them rolled their eyes. Several asked if I was sure that 4 wasn't enough. But we got into it, and things got rolling. We reached 6, and something very special happened. A few kids started up on their seventh. And then others did too. And they Just. Kept. Going.
I've done 8, coach! I'm going to do another!
I didn't think I would do 10 today!
That's 11! You said 6 to start! Do we still have time for more?
It reached the point where I was literally pulling kids off the hill, telling them that they needed to stop, that their legs wouldn't keep benefiting because they were about to fall over. Some did 13. Some did 10. Some did 8. None did 6. Think about that.
That workout is a glimpse at how discipleship happens. Character is formed when a choice is given, rather than just a requirement. Because in those moments, we actually discover what is worth doing or not. Moving beyond the bare minimum in our lives with Jesus is when growth and development skyrockets. When we acknowledge that yes, there is a choice, and I'm going to keep going even when no one is requiring it... that's when we take ownership of our faith in new ways. And interestingly, the areas of greatest formation in us are often areas that you simply can't measure based on minimums (patience, peace, kindness... see above)
Sometimes people approach Christianity as if the line that matters is the bare minimum. What exactly do they need to believe or do in order to be "in?" How much Bible reading and prayer makes them a good Christian? What bad people can I pass judgment on yet still feel righteous about my own holiness? The temptation is to do what requires the least transformation, love, and sacrifice. But that won't lead to the spirit of Christ being formed in you. It'll just make you a smug card-holding member of the Christian club. And we've got more than enough of those already.
When Jesus invited disciples to be like him, it wasn't about knowing or doing the bare minimum. It was about a life characterized by surrender to God and love for God. So Jesus taught his disciples about starting points, like forgiving others and being generous. But it always opened the door to take it a few steps further, and take some real ownership.
How many times should I forgive others, Jesus? Maybe 7 repeats? (see Matt. 18:21)
Well, let's not even focus on numbers.... and then maybe add a few extra? Oh, and you can be filled with genuine love for them as well.
I'll tithe a tenth of all my money, Jesus! And Jesus replies...
Good starting point. And you are also working for justice, right? Right??? (see Luke 11:42).
And of course the famous, "You give them something to eat!"
What does moving beyond the minimum mean today for you? Maybe it's moving from just saying "thanks" at the end of checkout to expressing gratitude to a grocery store worker for the massive amount of stress they've endured for 18 months. Maybe it's starting a weekly coffee meeting with a friend to offer prayer and support for one another, rather than just a text here and there. Maybe it's reading marginalized Christian voices instead of simply feeling compassion toward people who have overlooked and undervalued because of race or gender. Maybe it's moving beyond basic forgiveness of someone toward a true desire that God would lead them into joy and fullness of life. Or maybe it's giving your spouse your full love and attention by plugging in your phone, not just looking up for a moment (too close to home???).
The crazy thing about grace is that honestly, almost nothing is actually required. Just a willing heart and an acknowledgement that you need Jesus. The workout is ridiculously easy. But how far you take it, and how much your life will be shaped by Jesus.... well, that's your choice.
Oh, and I almost forgot to include the power of having a bunch of teammates around you to inspire and share the experience. You'll never be able to go as far alone as when you have others on the path at the same time, cheering you on. At its best, that's Church.
Jesus, help me take ownership of my faith today by making courageous steps of love.