While the globe is fixated on Sunday’s World Cup final in Moscow between France and Croatia, the world’s largest annual sporting event is taking place more than 1,600 miles to the west. According to organizers, 3.5 billion people in 190 countries tune in to watch the Tour de France each year. Twelve million roadside spectators will cheer the cyclists.
Britain’s Geraint Thomas is currently in second place, just three seconds off the lead. Prior to 2012, a British cyclist had not won the race since its inception in 1903. In the last six years, Great Britain has won the title five times.
What explains their extraordinary success?
The “aggregation of marginal gains”
James Clear is “an author, photographer, and weightlifter focused on habits and decision making.” I read his email columns with great profit.
His latest article is titled, “This Coach Improved Every Tiny Thing by 1 Percent and Here’s What Happened.” He profiles Dave Brailsford, who took over the British cycling team in 2010.
Brailsford called his approach the “aggregation of marginal gains.” He began a strategy to seek a 1 percent improvement in everything his riders did, from nutrition and their weekly training program to the ergonomics of the bike seat and the weight of the tires.
He focused on areas others overlooked: the pillow that offered the best sleep, the most effective type of massage gel, the best way for riders to wash their hands to avoid infection, and so on. He believed that if his team would successfully execute this strategy, they would be in position to win the Tour de France in five years.
He was wrong: they won it in three years.
The peril of the status quo
God’s purpose for his people is that we be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). His Spirit is working to manifest Christlikeness in every dimension of our lives and will settle for nothing less.
We often see sanctification as a process requiring monumental changes and sacrifices in our lives. In fact, God does sometimes call us to make significant alterations, as when we’re engaged in habitual sin or being led in an entirely new direction.
But most of the time, his Spirit works incrementally to make us more like Jesus. He uses the events of our daily lives to mold us, lead us, and motivate us.
The problem is not that he asks too much of us—the problem is that we settle for too little for ourselves. We become satisfied with the status quo and leery of God’s plan for us.
We then mask our complacency in an ingenious way.
“The fatal mistake”
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis exposes the humility that hinders God. Rather than seeking complete holiness, we protest (in Lewis’s words), “I never expected to be a saint, I only wanted to be a decent ordinary chap.’ And we imagine when we say this that we are being humble.”
Lewis calls this attitude “the fatal mistake.”
He explains: “Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us. He is the inventor, we are only the machine. He is the painter, we are only the picture. How should we know what He means us to be like?”
Lewis reminds us that before we were born, we passed through stages in the womb in which we were “rather like vegetables” and then “rather like fish.” During those stages, he believes “we would have been quite contented to stay as vegetables or fish.” That’s because we had no idea what we were one day going to become.
Here’s his point: “The same is now happening at a higher level. We may be content to remain what we call ‘ordinary people’: but He is determined to carry out a quite different plan. To shrink back from that plan is not humility; it is laziness and cowardice. To submit to it is not conceit or megalomania; it is obedience.”
Beware the humility that hinders God
Lest you think you’re immune to this temptation, consider two of the greatest servants of God in human history.
When the Lord called Jeremiah to be his “prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5), he responded: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (v. 6).
Jeremiah’s statement seems properly humble. But watch how God responds: “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (vv. 7–8).
A second example: at the burning bush, Moses protested, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10).
To which God responded: “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (vv. 11–12).
Beware the humility that hinders God.
Michelangelo and the Holy Spirit
Michelangelo is said to have explained one of his sculptures this way: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
The Holy Spirit is working right now to display the Christ in you to the world. Perhaps he led you to read this Daily Article as one means to this end.
Would you stop right now and ask the Spirit to make you more like Jesus today? To help you remove all that is not Christlike in your thoughts, words, and actions? To lead you to display his character in every dimension of your life?
Imagine the impact on our post-Christian culture if Christians were truly like Christ. If we manifested his grace, wisdom, compassion, and insight, wouldn’t we speak the truth in love with transforming power? Wouldn’t people want the Christ they see in us?
Humility that admits our need of God is the gateway to sanctification. Humility that claims we can never be what God wants us to be is its enemy.
Which is true for you?