In his book The Road Ahead, Bill Gates wrote, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” Of course, Gates was writing primarily about technological advancement, of which he has plenty of knowledge. But, he was also writing in a more general sense. As a humanitarian and philanthropist, Gates has also born witness, both good and bad, of the monumental change for either that can happen over a sustained period of time.
He’s right. We tend to have a very limited scope of vision. Perhaps it’s the society we have been raised in, one in which the demand for immediacy permeates everything from the way we want our food to the way we want our entertainment. We want “it” how we want “it,” and we want “it” right now. Consequently, we as a people have very little taste for the long game. But, perhaps that’s not even forceful enough. If we can’t see the impact; if we can’t see the effect; if we can’t see the immediate change, then we conclude that there is no impact, effect, or change coming at all and so we move on.
You can see it in all kinds of ways:
- We abandon an exercise routine after a week because we don’t see an immediate change in energy level or waistline.
- We abandon a budget because we don’t immediately have enough to pay for the new TV that we want.
- We abandon a book because it doesn’t grab our attention in the first three or four paragraphs.
Problem is, so much of life is about the long game. Think about it in terms of parenting. As any parent can tell you, we spend about 90% of our time, especially in the early days, saying the same thing over and over to our kids. And it quickly gets frustrating because nothing seems to be sinking in. The kids make the same mistakes, fall into the same patterns, and exhibit the same kinds of characteristics. So as parents, we become frustrated at best, or sometimes we just leave at worst. No immediate change, so we conclude it’s not working. But parenting, again, is not so much about single actions of teaching, grace, mercy, and provision, but instead about a long, sustained pattern of consistency. That’s where the true power is.
It’s true in parenting, just as it is in exercise, in budgeting, even in reading. And it’s also true in discipleship. Gates’ quote rings especially true in that arena.
Here’s another simple example. Let’s say that we resolve ourselves to learn to pray in a more focused, sustained, and consistent way. Well, on day one that’s very hard. And day two isn’t much better. Neither is day three, and by that time, we start to get a little weary of the process, so we shelve it to the side. If we do, we have fallen victim to this kind of short-sighted thinking. We have over-estimated the short-term change, but under-estimated the long term. And we would do well to think about how many of our attempts at true discipleship, whether we are thinking of our own spiritual growth or of someone else’s we are trying to help along, have been put aside far too soon.
No, discipleship is not about short-term gains. It’s the long game. I’m reminded yet again of what Eugene Peterson said in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:
“There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness. Religion in our time has been captured by the tourist mindset. Religion is understood as a visit to an attractive site to be made when we have adequate leisure.”
If that is true, then perhaps one of the things we should be praying for most as we pursue Jesus is very simple:
It is the resolve to keep going. To keep going not because it feels good. To keep going not because we see immediate gains. To keep going not because the road is downhill before us. No, it’s the resolve to keep putting one foot in front of the other, many times plodding along, because God is faithful. And we believe we will see the full result of that faithfulness only in a lifetime, not in a moment.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, TN, with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua, Andi, and Christian. He serves as Senior Vice President of Church Ministries for Lifeway Christian Resources. Find him on Twitter: @_MichaelKelley.