By Erin Bird,
You’ve most likely heard the expression “it ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.” What you might not know is from where the phrase comes.
Richard Wagner, who wrote operas in the mid-1800s, ended one of his most famous operas with a very large Valkyrie named Brünnhilde singing. With March Madness soon upon us, there will inevitably be some sports newscaster or coach who will utter this phrase as a way to say, “the game isn’t over until the clock runs out – so keep going! Don’t give up!”
Or as Yogi Berra put it, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
Quitting Too Soon
In my time as a pastor, I have witnessed numerous people prematurely quitting jobs, relationships, churches, activities, and more as soon as things get hard. They don’t get the raise, they end up with cancer, they get frustrated with their signifiant other, or they tire of the same preacher, and so they quit, heading off in search of something “better.” I believe these people are inevitably hurting themselves, because God has something beautiful planned through the difficulty. Just listen to James, the brother of Jesus, talk about this:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4 ESV)
Several years ago, a friend share with me his notes from a conference workshop that was supposedly on the topic of leadership development. But as my friend shared his notes with me, I realized the things my friend was talking weren’t just leadership development, but rather LIFE development. The presenter in the workshop shared 6 phases of development, that I see perfectly reflected in James’ words from 2000 years ago.
The 6 phases of a person’s development
To understand these 6 phases, I need you to imagine a vertical line like the one in the illustration below is a water line:
Above the line is where the fun is. People on the boat experience the sun, the wind, the rush of gliding along the lake. Under the water, though, is where you have to hold your breath. It’s dark, it’s where the barnacles grow… in other words, it’s not where you want to be.
We are going to walk through three phases that are above the water line and three phases below the water. Here are the six phases:
Phase 1 – Excitement
This is the phase we all want to be in. It’s the phase you enter when you get a new job, begin a new dating relationship, perhaps when you move to a new city, start attending a cool new church, or even when a person begins following Jesus.
Phase 2 – Fundamentals
While excitement is great, we don’t naturally stay there. To remain above the water, you have to know what the expectations are for you in the new job, new relationship, or new group. For example:
- You need to know how many hours you have to work,
- or whether you can text your new beau at 2 am,
- or whether you’ll be accepted at the church if you aren’t part of a serving team.
Phase 3 –Responsibility
Once you know the expectations (the fundamentals), you then have to responsibly fulfill the expectations. In other words, you need to show up at your job and get your work done, or if you say “yes” to volunteering, you show up and serve with joy.
Phase 4 – Disillusionment
But there will come a day when you begin to get disillusioned with the job, relationship, church, or even your faith. When this begins to happen, you find yourself being emotionally dragged under the water, wondering if and when you’ll get your next breath of excitement. These are the trials of life we find painful. And in an attempt to escape the pain, we often quit. We quit the job, we leave the church, we end the relationship, or we move to another city, all in pursuit of getting back above the water.
Phase 5 – Introspection
But as James points out, the deeper spiritual growth of Christlikeness comes when we persevere. He says when we let steadfastness run its course, when we endure through the trial, God makes us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
But let me ask you – who is the only person to be perfect and complete? Yep – Jesus. In other words, God is using the painful trial you are going through to mold and shape you into the image of Christ.
The reason this phase is called “Introspection” is because perseverance often means looking deep within and discovering you have more in you than you realized. If you follow Jesus, you have the Holy Spirit, and He is capable of giving you the strength to continue even when you don’t think you can go another step.
Now don’t mis-hear me: I am not saying you can never quit something. But too often, we quit before we have great reasons “why.” You most likely need to persevere through the job while you look within to see how God has designed you. Then, once you have a better understanding of how God has wired you, you can quit with knowledge and not just quit because of pain.
That’s why I said above that when you quit too early, you cheat yourself. But when you persevere, when you endure through the struggle, God does a great work within you, making your character more like Jesus. And that’s when you get to move into the last phase.
Phase 6 – Renewal
This is the shortest phase. If you’ve ever swam in deep waters, as you rise to the surface, you almost feel like you are getting faster as you move up. And when your head finally breaks the surface of the water and your lungs get fresh air into them, you not only reach excitement about the future again, but you are now wiser and more mature in your inner character in Christ.
So Don’t Quit!
I see this Life Development Cycle throughout the Scriptures:
- I see it in the story of Joseph as recorded in Genesis chapters 37-50.
- It’s there in Nehemiah’s story in the book that bears his name.
- And I see it very clearly in Peter’s spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus.
And I want to see it be your story as well. So don’t quit! Endure. Remain steadfast. Let the power of perseverance do its work within you through the hands of your loving Heavenly Father, so that you and those around you will reap the benefits as you become more like Jesus.