The Lost Art of Applying Yourself

Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” 

If I had a quarter for every time my father told me to apply myself, I’d be a wealthy man. To my father, applying myself meant giving my full attention to something that should be a priority in my life. Applying ourselves means that we will work hard and give something our most serious effort. Fully engaging in a direction that we feel is best for our lives and exerting our will-power to obtain a goal that we have set demonstrates the art of applying ourselves. Unfortunately, like many of the arts, the art of applying ourselves is dying out. It is more likely that we will choose what is easiest, the path of least resistance, and not blaze our own trail.  

We really spend the same amount of time just muddling through as we spend doing something right the first time. Sometimes we spend more time and effort having to do something over again than we would if we’d just paid attention and given all of what we had in the beginning. My father was concerned that I would go through life giving only minimal effort and expect results that can only be found in the self-disciplined way. 

Self-discipline requires us to limit ourselves in some things so we can participate in endeavors that matter. We have to improve our ability to control our feelings and to overcome our weaknesses. We must pursue what is right despite our temptations to abandon the effort. 

We are all going to have haters. We are all going to have doubters. We are all going to have naysayers. Here’s a list of statements that my doubters have uttered to me over the years: 

“You’re never going to amount to anything.” 

“You can try to go to college but you’ll fail. No one from your family has ever made it.” 

“You are too skinny to play football.” 

“You are not good enough to make the high school basketball team let alone a college basketball team.” 

“No division III collegiate rugby player has ever been the MVP of the collegiate all-star game.” 

“I know it was your first time, but I’m not sure it’s your calling to preach.” 

“No twenty-something year-old is fit to be my supervisor.” 

“A person who is divorced is not fit to continue to pastor a congregation.” 

I’m sure if I thought about it long enough I could remember other statements of negativity. Our belief in ourselves and who God has created us to be has to be greater than other people’s misplaced perceptions.  One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that God is not going to just magically “poof” you into the person you are supposed to be. God may call you. God may give you giftedness, but the development of these gifts lies in your ability to master them. In order to prove our doubters and naysayers wrong, we are going to have to clench our teeth and say, “I’ll show you who is not going to fail.” If becoming what God has gifted us to become isn’t going to happen overnight, we are going to have to set small tangible goals that we can accomplish to recognize our progress along the way. 

Zeke and Emma both ran cross-country at River Valley Middle School in the 2017-2018 season. Zeke was in 6th grade and Emma was in 8th. Running is a discipline that takes effort, and in order to master it you are going to have to overcome pain by sheer will power.  Both of my children accomplished times ranking in the top seven for their respective genders. Emma ended up making the Top 25 List All-time (#22 respectively). Zeke muddled through his 6th grade year of cross-country. Often times I would see him finish a race and wonder if he’d even tried. I would notice that he wasn’t sweating very much, and he didn’t seem short of breath. This led me to believe that he wasn’t giving his maximum effort, but was okay with sliding by protecting his top-seven position on the team. Other than that, it appeared that he had settled for minimal effort. As a side note: Zeke didn’t really have cross-country as his first choice of a sport because he had his heart set on playing football. With the recent CTE studies, I was unwilling to place him in a position where his brain could be traumatized. So he decided to run cross-country to get in shape for basketball. 

I told Zeke that he has the physical characteristics of a potentially great cross-country runner. He’s tall, he’s lean, and he’s relatively fast. But I also told him that in order to become a great cross-country runner he was going to have to decide in his heart that he wanted to apply himself and give his maximum effort to this goal. So the 2018-2019 school year was upon us. Zeke, once again, wanted to play football. I told him that he would not be able to, so he decided to go out for cross-country. From the get-go Zeke made a decision that during this cross-country year he would set a goal to get on the Top 25 List All-time for boys. For the first meet he was the 5th person on the team of seven. In the first meet he beat his own previous Personal Record by 1:32 seconds. After he did that, Zeke REALLY started to apply himself at a whole new level. Zeke decided that he would be first in every practice race and even run through half the water breaks/rest breaks. He started running on Friday and Saturdays. Even when he gets beat in practice, it is his effort that is making the other top-seven runners push themselves to maintain his high level of energy. 

In the second cross-country meet of the year, Zeke came in second for Team Jeff with a time of 12:20 seconds and made his way to #18 on the Top 25 list all-time. Team Jeff finished 5th overall out of 15 teams. Over the next few weeks of practice a rivalry began to emerge between our top-seven boys’ runners, and during practice they continually challenge each other to do better. They push each other, and during practice I like to say, “They look like thoroughbreds out there around our home course.” In our last cross-country meet, which was the Greater Clark County Meet, Zeke came in 3rd with a time of 11:46 seconds, which moved him to #14 on the Top 25 list all-time. Team Jeff came in 1st in the Greater Clark County Meet. What Zeke learned is how to apply himself. A good and trustworthy saying is, “If I’m going to put my mind to doing something, I’m also going to give it everything I’ve got!” 

Paul says in I Corinthians 9:24-27, {24} Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. {25} Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. {26} Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. {27} No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 

“Run in such a way as to get the prize”, and give this race we call “life” everything you’ve got!

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