Several years ago I bought a guitar. It was a relatively cheap $250 guitar. I called a friend of mine and blurted out excitedly, “I bought a guitar! I want to learn how to play guitar!” There was an awkward silence after my declaration of elation.
“No… No, you don’t,” he replied, sounding so sure of himself that I felt like I had to reply with just as much conviction.
“Yes! I want to learn how to play guitar!”
“No you don’t,” he said again, this time slower and more cemented in his position.
At this stage of the conversation I was getting frustrated. I calmed myself and waited to see if he would explain. He finally made his case, “You don’t want to learn to play guitar. You want to already know how to play guitar.”
I wanted to disagree. I love a good argument and I wanted to defend my enthusiasm for my new hobby. I didn’t argue. Rather, I changed the subject hoping he was wrong. He wasn’t. As painful as it is to admit, playing guitar ended up demanding more of my time than I was willing to devote. I practiced with my guitar for a couple months, but ultimately I stopped. He was right. I wanted to be someone that “had already learned” rather than someone who “wanted to learn.”
Can you relate? It’s not difficult to get excited about new goals:
I want to be ten-plus pounds lighter.
I want to have more money.
I want to quit ______.
I want to start ______.
Do you see the flaw in our thinking revealed in how we phrase our resolutions? We get excited imagining ourselves finished on the other side of change. But do we make room in our imagination for the process of learning and changing? For example, we imagine ourselves already healthier, not laboring on the treadmill. We imagine ourselves with more padding in our bank account, not skipping our convenient and delicious out-to-eat routine. We visualize ourselves past our bad habits or already having mastered new habits rather than struggling through these changes. This omission is normal and natural, but ultimately not helpful in navigating our goals. To succeed in change, we actually need to desire the process of “learning guitar.” We need to desire the process of change, not merely the result of it. The desire to learn and grow through change—not just to desire the outcome—is the secret to sustained change.
Likewise, when it comes to spiritual growth, we ought to desire the transformation process itself, not merely the result. For how does the transformation process occur? It happens through a deepening relationship with God. It happens through the Holy Spirit’s work. It happens as we submit ourselves to His love and relationship with us. Yes, there are still tough and painful moments in spiritual transformation. God disciplines us. He refines us. However, all the while, God gives peace and security that comes learning from him in complete trust. We can enjoy the process of transformation because it happens in his arms. I can tell you from experience it is a lot more fun than the treadmill!
Consider Psalm 18:2: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
David writes this after he has been delivered from his enemies. God is where he takes refuge. There is safety, strength, salvation, victory, shelter from the storms. Within the safety of David’s relationship with God he is changed and matured. God works this same way in our lives. If you have a goal to grow in your Christian faith, my advice is to enjoy the journey. Stay in God’s stronghold. One day you’ll wake up changed, having fond memories from each step along the way.