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Grit: Hard Pressed, but not Crushed

Michael Gatlin

Michael Gatlin

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I’ve been thinking about grit lately. Grit. The stick-with-it-no-matter-what attitude that makes people master difficult skills, succeed challenging jobs, and survive all kinds of personal loss, heartache, economic downturns, and political instability. Grit is definitely something you want in an ally, an employee, a friend.

I’m not the only one thinking about grit. You may have heard Angela Duckworth giving her TED talk on this very topic. Duckworth leads a psychology research lab at the University of Pennsylvania, where she and her students study character qualities like grit to see how they are related to academic and professional success. She even developed a questionnaire to help determine how “gritty” a person is. If you’re curious, you can take the quiz here. Duckworth defines grit as,

“passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

In her TED talk, she explained that it is grit, far more than talent or IQ, that best predicts which high school or college students will stay in school and graduate. In fact, sometimes students with higher IQs seemed to have less grit than their classmates. It isn’t talent that seems to make us successful.

This might not come as a huge surprise. After all, nearly every feel-good movie is about just this phenomenon—determination winning out over privilege and talent. It’s as old as the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.

But this should also feel familiar to disciples of Jesus. As we follow his lead, it becomes very clear that the road he takes us on isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Answering his call to go out and make disciples and following through all the way till the end is really hard. We need something to help us stick it out. We need grit.

Take a look at 2 Corinthians 4. Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. It’s God’s mercy (to us and to others), not our merit or talent, that gives us the ability to bring the gospel to people. And Paul would not encourage us to not lose heart if it were going to be easy. It can be very easy to lose heart. We are in a battle, after all.

In verses 4 through 6, The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel…For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God…made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

We’re going to preach to people who are blinded. Fortunately, what we’re bringing them isn’t something of our own. We’re bringing Christ Jesus, because we ourselves are being filled with his light so that it can shine through us.

Paul reminds us that we are breakable vessels—jars of clay—that bring the treasure of the gospel with us, and that we are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

And that’s the perfect picture of grit, isn’t it? Despite the storms around us, despite setbacks and pressures and persecution, we survive and persevere. We are not crushed! The key is the treasure we carry. We are filled with the light of the gospel, with the very life of Christ. So just as much as we are pushed, that life and power within us pushes back.

So, because I want to persevere, because I don’t want to be crushed when I am pressed, I frequently take stock of how much I need to be topped up. I ask myself, “Where in my life do I need to experience the power and the presence of the resurrected Christ?” And as I become aware of the parts of my life that are running low, I turn to Christ and ask him to fill those areas.

So right now as you’re reading this, why don’t you try that? Ask where your life needs Christ’s presence. Make it a prayer. Leave some space for God to point out where you are a little dry, where you are running on fumes or just about empty. And then ask him and allow him to fill those places with Christ’s power and presence.

But don’t stop there. Think of the people you will encounter today. Where in their lives do they need to experience the power and the presence of the resurrected Christ? Let that one sit with you for a minute, too. Let God point out the people around you who are hungry for him, and ask him to shine through you to them. Do this in moments of struggle and hardship. Let this be your grit—persistently be filled with the light of the gospel, and see what it produces.

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