Starting is easy. Following through is hard. But it’s worth it

DALLAS WILLARD

Think of all the projects, all the resolutions we begin and never finish. Starting is easy. Following through is hard. Few people get very far in most activities, even those at which we all long to excel. While this is obviously true in the arts and sports, it is just as true in activities such as communicating with people, making money, directing a group activity, or caring for honeybees. And we are not exempted from this rule when we enter the Kingdom of grace. So there’s nothing left to do but accept this psychological fact about human personality and realize that the rigorous form of life mandatory for excellence is the only way in which we can, as Paul directs, “purge” ourselves into becoming a “vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). We must accept it and submit ourselves to it, knowing that the rigors of discipline certainly lead to the easy yoke and the full joy of Christ.

From The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Copyright © 1988 by Dallas Willard. All rights reserved. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

WHEN ETERNITY HOLDS ITS BREATH

When Eternity Holds Its Breath

It was a hectic day at the newspaper where I worked as an editor. Several major stories erupted before deadline. Reporters were scurrying around as they frantically tried to finish their articles. With emotions frayed, just about everyone lost their tempers.

On many days, the stress of journalism caused me to lose my composure too. But as a fairly new Christian, I asked God for his help as soon as the day looked like it was going to spiral out of control. Thanks to him, I managed to stay uncharacteristically calm amidst the chaos.

After the last story was edited, I looked up and was surprised to see one of my bosses standing over my desk. Uh-oh! That wasn’t a good sign. But it turned out that he wasn’t there to upbraid me about some mistake or oversight. Instead, he took me off guard by asking with genuine curiosity, “Strobel, how did you get through the day without blowing your top?”

Then, apparently suspecting a link between my behavior and the fact that I went to church on Sundays, he added the words that sent a chill down my spine: “What’s this Christianity thing to you?”

Whoa! For a moment I froze. Nobody had ever asked me anything like that before. In fact, I had never shared my faith with anyone. The only way my boss even knew I attended church was because I once told him I couldn’t go on an outing with him on a Sunday morning. And now, out of the blue, I was being put on the spot.

I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I was afraid I would utter the wrong words. I didn’t want to embarrass myself or have him make fun of me. I fretted about what would happen to my career if I gushed about my faith and became known as the newsroom’s “holy roller.” There was a lot at stake.

My mind raced. Maybe I could dismiss the whole thing with a joke: Christianity? Hey, what happens in church stays in church. Maybe I could simply pretend I didn’t hear him over the din of the newsroom: Yeah, it was a crazy day. Man, look at the time! I’ve gotta get home or Leslie’s gonna kill me!

That’s when the uninvited words of the apostle Paul coursed through my mind: “I am not ashamed of the gospel” (Romans 1:16). Great, I thought. Just what I needed — a biblical guilt trip.

Though it seemed as if minutes were ticking by, all of this occurred in a flash. Finally, even as I was opening my mouth to reply, I made a scary split-second decision: I resolved to take a spiritual risk.

I looked up at my boss. “You really want to know? Let’s go into your office.”

Behind closed doors, we talked for forty-five minutes. Well, to be honest, I did most of the talking. I was really nervous. Never having been trained in how to engage with others about my faith, I fumbled around and wasn’t nearly as clear as I could have been. Still, in my own sincere but admittedly inept way, I tried to de scribe how I met Jesus and the difference he had made in my life.

An amazing thing happened. He didn’t laugh. He didn’t make fun of me. He didn’t nervously try to change the topic or make excuses so he could leave the room. Instead, he listened intently. By the end, he was hanging on every word.

At the same time, I felt like I was going to burst on the inside. It instantly became clear to me that nothing was as urgent or exciting as what I was doing in this seemingly serendipitous conversation. It felt as if time were standing still, as if eternity were holding its breath.

I’m not sure how God used that conversation in my boss’s life, but I do know this: he undeniably used it in mine. When I emerged from that office, I was thoroughly invigorated. It felt like the air was carbonated! There are no words to adequately describe the thrill I felt in having been used by God to communicate his message of hope to someone far from him. It was as if my entire life up to that point had been a movie shot in very grainy black-and-white 16 mm film with scratchy sound — but those forty-five minutes were in vivid Technicolor with rich Dolby stereo.

DISCOVER YOUR HEROIC SPIRITUAL ANCESTORS

STANDING STRONG TROUGHT THE STORM

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised… Hebrews 11:39

Our Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church.”

It was early 1980’s in a village in Czechoslovakia, and I had just given the pastor of a rural church a Bible in his own tongue. It was leather bound, with a gold zipper, and was the first complete Bible he had held. I remember him sniffing it, marveling at the leather smell, playing with the zip and being almost afraid to touch the thin precious pages. Then he began to talk to the members of the church. Pointing at me he said, “This gentleman is your heroic spiritual ancestor. Every time the Bible comes into a culture, it is a threat, and is opposed. So it takes men and women to risk all to bring it to us. This man has taken such a risk.”

I was embarrassed, but he went on to say to me, “The Bible also came into your culture. It was also a threat. Tell me, who are your heroic spiritual ancestors?” I am ashamed to say I did not have a clear idea of who these men were in my country of the United Kingdom.

So I returned to my country with his challenge ringing in my ears, “Find out the story of how your Bible came to you, and you will discover your heroic spiritual ancestors.”

What a dramatic story I uncovered. Full of spies, deaths and power politics. I learned so much about John Wycliffe, the first man to translate the Bible into English in the world of the 1300’s, when most clergy could not even recite the Ten Commandments. He formed a cadre of guerilla preachers to comb the country, with hand copied versions of the Bible, a book banned by Parliament. Wycliffe died of a stroke from the strain.

In the 1500’s, William Tyndale benefited from the invention of the printing press. He had to leave England to accomplish the task, never to return. At age twenty-nine in 1524, he settled in Cologne, and by 1526 was ready to smuggle 6000 copies of the Bible in English into Britain. The whole British naval fleet was put on alert, and boats were stopped and searched. First tens and then hundreds of the Bibles got through. The bishop of London tried another tack. He sought to buy the entire print run through an intermediary. His intention was to burn them all. Tyndale got wind of it, and approved the sale, saying, “Oh he will burn them. Well, I am the gladder, for I shall get the money from these books, and the whole world shall cry out upon the burning of God’s Word.” And so it was. He burned them, and Tyndale used the money to improve the translation and print more…at the church’s expense.

Tyndale was captured by assassins and then strangled and burned in August 1536 for “heresy.” His last words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” This prayer was swiftly answered, and the English reformation was quickly fueled by a spate of translations. What a story it was. And what heroism from my spiritual ancestors!

RESPONSE: Today I will thank God for my spiritual ancestors who brought God’s Word to my land.

PRAYER: Ask God if you may somehow, someday, be used to bring His Word to needy people.