I follow a few accounts on social media that post game highlights and other sports-related news. Every now and then, one of them will post a clip of a toddler (ok, maybe not a toddler but a very small child) running through an entire opposing team and scoring a touchdown or juggling a soccer ball a million times. Very soon after my first thought (“Hey, check that out!“) comes a second thought (“Wait, who cares?“). No disrespect to these talented kids, but I had to stop and think recently about why anyone other than their proud parents and grandparents would care how good they are at age five. As I thought about it, a particular word came to mind: potential.
On the surface, precocious youngsters of all sorts—not just athletes—may simply be entertaining to watch, but underneath the amusement I think we have a deeper fascination with the potential their ability points toward. We can’t help but wonder something like, “If this kid can throw a 40 yard perfect spiral now, think about how amazing he’ll be when he’s grown!” It’s tempting to imagine their unusually quick development continuing throughout the course of their lives, carrying them far past any achievements previously witnessed. In athletics, this often proves true. Many of the most spectacular athletes have shown signs of brilliance at an early age. But what about spiritual growth—is the same true for discipleship? Do you need to have followed Christ from a young age to really go far? Or, another way of asking it, does the greatest potential belong to those who walk with God the longest?
Although there is much to be said of the value of a long life lived with God, I think it’s a mistake to say that potential is determined by time. Instead, the power for spiritual transformation comes from things like revelation, suffering and faithfulness. The number of years you’ve been walking with God or the number of years you have left on earth have no bearing on your potential to live as an overcomer.
Consider the life of Paul. Not only was he not following Christ for many years of his life, he spent much of that time actively persecuting those that did. Then one day, a revelation of Jesus instantly transformed Paul’s life and set him on a new course (Acts 9). In Romans 5:3-4 after having experienced persecution for his own faith, Paul says, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” In this spiritual paradigm, it is suffering and the Holy Spirit—not time—that are necessary for growth.
Transformation may prove to be a slow, steady process much of the time. No matter how radical certain moments in your life may have been, it will feel more often like a marathon than a sprint. There may be weak or broken areas of your life that you wish would change overnight but that you just can’t seem to shake. When you feel the weight of your past or when everyone else seems to be like that five year old who can’t stop scoring touchdowns, remember that your potential in Christ is not determined by how many years are still ahead of you. Ask God for a fresh revelation of who He is and His love for you, rejoice in your sufferings and remember the hope that we have because the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts.