Some of my most cherished memories from my days training SEALS are the conversations I shared with many of these warriors discussing the deeper issues of life. I’m not much of a small talk guy—I prefer to “get in the weeds” of life with my friends and acquaintances. I have a passion for learning and growing, so I hunger to be challenged intellectually as much as I do physically (which admittedly can sometimes become exhausting). Deep, philosophical conversation stirs something deep inside of me, and often plants the seeds of new ideas that later produce greater wisdom for my life.
There was one SEAL operator I was always happy to see, because our talks consistently got this wisdom-growing process started in my soul. This man was one of the most serious individuals I’d ever come across in the SEAL community. He was always interested in finding and researching ways to improve his operational abilities. I remember something he said almost verbatim, which became something I have built on in the years since. He said, “I used to overwork myself all the time in my pursuit of excellence. I would push myself to exhaustion in just about everything I did, thinking that was the only way to improve. However, as I’ve gotten older, I changed that quite a bit. Lately, I’ve taken a bit of a different approach. I try to do at least one hard thing every day that is aimed at improving myself. This keeps me hungry, fresh, and still moving forward.”
As I pondered this man’s mature assessment of and admirable commitment to his personal growth process, two convictions began to grow in my heart, which I believe should apply to every believer.
Conviction 1: A High Value for Growth
These are my basic beliefs about how we should approach growth as followers of Jesus:
- Our Creator gave us the gift of unlimited potential for growth.
- We have a personal responsibility for our growth.
- We should honor our Creator by working to grow every day.
- We should hunger to grow out of love for God and others.
I believe we see this approach modeled for us by Jesus Himself. Luke 2:41-52 shows us that even in childhood, Jesus demonstrated a passion for challenging Himself and others in His quest for growth. At twelve years old, He actually leaves His parents discuss the deeper issues of life and faith with the leading scholars and teachers of the day in the temple. The Bible tells us that Jesus was “listening to them and asking them questions.” Then, in verse 52 it says, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”
Jesus didn’t descend to the planet as a fully mature man. He underwent a journey of growth as part of His mission to fully identify with our humanity and show us how He wants us to live. He grew in wisdom and stature with God and man—how? By looking for truth and engaging with the greatest teachers of the day. Even at twelve years old, He was building a foundation in His thinking, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom that would prepare Him to fulfill His calling as the Messiah and save those who were lost.
In Christ, we too have a great calling. We are, in fact, called to become a mature representation of Jesus in the world that enables others to encounter and receive Him, thereby extending the boundaries of His kingdom in the world. This calling will require a lifetime of never-ending growth and maturing to fulfill, so it is essential that we embrace growth as one of our deepest core values.
Conviction #2: A Value for Hard Things
Our value for doing hard things is part of our value for growth, because real growth of understanding, character, and wisdom is only achieved through challenge, resistance, and struggle.
Jesus modeled the strenuous life. We know He was a carpenter who worked with His hands. But the important hard things He did were the spiritual and relational things. He fasted forty days in the wilderness and resisted the devil’s temptations. He poured Himself out in compassion as He confronted and brought solutions to people’s impossible situations—heartbreak, hunger, disease, torment, and death. He invested in training His disciples. He refused to back down when grilled by the Pharisees. He endured and forgave scorn and betrayal. Finally, He went to the cross and endured pain, death, and hell for us all.
Attaining our highest potential is hard. It takes tenacity, focus, hard work, and blood, sweat, and tears (see Matthew 26:36, 27:50). It takes the willingness to look at our areas of weakness and face things that seem impossible. It takes humility and perseverance. It takes the courage to keep seeking to be like Jesus without becoming discouraged when we don’t live up to His standards like we want. It requires a consistent choice to trust the Holy Spirit as He leads us out of our comfort zone and into situations where our only hope is to trust Him completely. These are hard things to do, but that’s the point. We can’t be better tomorrow unless we step into discomfort today. Being a follower of Jesus is not comfortable—that’s why the Holy Spirit is our Comforter. We’re going to need Him on this journey.
My SEAL friend has stepped into plenty of discomfort throughout his life. He’s done it for love of his country and our freedoms, and for the love of his brothers. And he knows he’ll be challenged someday again. He knows his brothers are trusting him with their lives, and his country is trusting him to protect our freedoms.
Do we recognize what we have been trusted with as followers of Jesus? Jesus commands us in John 15:12: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” It’s not only Navy SEALS who are called to do hard things for the sake of love. This is the calling of every follower of Jesus—to imitate His sacrificial love for those around us, every day. Our lives and freedoms actually do depend on it.
Can we take this responsibility on? Can we be more like Jesus? Can we engage in at least “one hard thing” a day by stepping out of our comfort zone and into the challenge of learning to love like Jesus? If you’ve said “yes” to Jesus, you are called to grow, and you have an anointing to grow. Because of the One who lives inside you, every hard thing you do in obedience to Him will not crush you, but make you more like Him. Let’s do it!