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Committing to Real Progress

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” 

– Philippians 3:12

I like to think of myself as one who does not accept second best.

But I do it all the time.


Not from others but from myself. And not physically, but in commitment, in discipline to this vision I’ve carried for so long.

I often give up, I do.

I prefer the comfort of “good enough.”

Sheri and I drive to the mall in peace, insulated from the need and struggle all around us. We’re taking the opportunity of a free weekend night to hit a couple sales and see if there’s anything we like among all the things we don’t need.

It can be so easy to believe nothing is forcing me to push forward.

The girls are happy at home, reading and practicing music. Things are good here. Why risk messing that up with sticking my neck out for idyllic principles no one would understand?

The fears can whisper so comfortingly and convincingly, they sound like my own voice.

CafeJadeBut they’re not mine. They belong to the world shrouded in darkness.

We park and walk past all the retail stores overflowing with new items, the mall already advertising Christmas with garlands and canned music and a giant tree of lights. The other shoppers of all types and ages prove it’s safe to assume no one else here needs any of this either.

There are too many people here. Too many people accepting the convenient comforts and forgetting that progress and true satisfaction only comes from the opposite. From the inconvenient and the uncomfortable.

In this world of ease, doing the harder thing has become the right thing.

Why do I know this so firmly? I don’t own the insight; like all I know, it came to me. I didn’t even ask for it, but it was given to me, like everything I possess. I’m a steward of this and all I possess, and I prove myself a poor one time and again.

I’ve seen true need and it’s in many of these people’s eyes. I want to help them, speak to them. I want to use well all I’ve been given.

I know the gifts that came to me from parents, family, teachers and friends are to be shared and that requires commitment most of all. I know this. So why don’t I commit? What am I afraid of?

And it comes to me as I stand before the giant Christmas tree that the answer to this question is the secret to progressing in my vision and calling.

music-center-christmas-treeThe answer is simple: because it requires sacrifice.

I know all things truly worth having involve sacrifice. To be disciplined, we have to sacrifice. How many of us know it? How many of us will actually do it?

Those who can commit to practicing what they preach are the ones who will succeed at changing lives.

The alternative is wasted chances, stagnation, common imitation and apathy. Am I not pretending I don’t make this choice every day?

But hang on. For many years, like a typical Type-A, I’d hear this advice and think, “I have to try HARDER!”

We don’t need to try harder. We need to get smarter. Remember where the call came from. Remember who you serve.

Love. Love is our motivation. We forget to call on the source of our true strength in our weakness.

If I was braver, I’d stand in front of this bright tree and tell them all, “You are loved and you are called! But you’re loved and called as broken and fallible human beings. Don’t try to fill that need with things, with prestige. Your need isn’t for stylish things or favor, but for love and the purpose only love can bring. Then when you work or play, it’s truly productive, and sacrificing all of this doesn’t matter.”

That’s it. I need that reminder too. Without our Inspirer, we can’t help anyone. We’d only be giving them another distraction. We need patience to forget about immediate results, and let completion and perfection remain far off. But we can joy in the progress, even if it isn’t visible right away. We can commit to the longer journey, the promised fullness underway that’s only beginning.

And we can speak what we know as creatives, reminding ourselves and others that success is inevitable with enough time and commitment.

Maybe this is my first gift of Christmas this year. To commit to the best and discipline ourselves to sacrifice for what really matters—this is how we’ll help others with the resources and wisdom we’ve come to possess, our true possessions to offer through art that reveals its wonder and beauty.

I know I’m being crazy. It’s not like I think shopping is evil or everyone here is bad. And it’s not that I really want to speak to the strangers at the mall; I’m just being theatrical. But part of me really does want to.

But I’m starting with you. And maybe you’ll speak to your people, and together we can beat back some of that noise we too often mistake for ordinary comforts, this easy normal life here in the west.

The one that whispers to forget your dream, your calling. The one that undermines and snickers. The one that’s from a dead-end, defeated, dying world.

And you and I and all the rest of the people just walking around, we need to be reminded sometimes that we all belong to the light.

For the higher purpose,


15 Responses to “Committing to Real Progress”

  1. Bingo!
    It’s not the fruit that you consume, but the fruit you produce for the enrichment of yourself and others that counts most.
    Something like that?
    Thanks for shoring up the sometimes wobbly determination to keep on working for the higher purpose.

    • Mick says:

      Kathleen, that’s great! I think so. Though I’m always trying to balance the need for input and output. Everyone is different and shopping isn’t a hard thing for me to go without–though I do love the comfort and ease that fruit brings. But getting good input from shopping is not wrong–my wife is infected with the Anthropologie bug. But it is her happy place. :) thanks for always engaging with the hard ideas.

  2. Paul Burgess says:

    Brother Mick,
    Contentment is hard to find when the enemy’s voice causes us to be afraid to be. So many believers try and fail to discipline themselves. It is just the process we go through until becoming His disciple. The great desire to become a “life changer” is fulfilled when we exchange our life for His, a life that has no fear. Sacrifice? Paul called it “dung.” Pray for opportunities, Jesus will fill your life with them if your looking. In the meantime relax and enjoy those moments of blessings with your wife and children, God’s gifts to you.

    • Mick says:

      A good point, Paul. But is there a difference between personal contentment in our relationship with God and the natural distress of knowing most people around me will never experience that? While I appreciate the point that “sacrifice” as Paul referred to it is useless to win favor, I know what I heard from God. The interpretation of these things requires discernment and a lot of grace offered our brothers and sisters to keep from presumption. My years in the church have taught me that’s the only measure I can trust. I’ll go on praying that longing to practice what I preach continues to grow in me–and that it will keep the motive of love primary. Thanks for the comment, friend.

    • Paul Burgess says:

      Yes, there is a difference between our personal contentment and the distress we feel over the condition of others. I have been to county fairs with the express purpose of sharing the gospel with strangers as they passed by an evangelistic tent. I, too, have grieved as the crowds streamed by intent of finding some temporary amusement, seemingly oblivious to their need and Christ’s provision. I have been frustrated with myself thinking that “if only I was bolder I could capture their attention.” And then He reminds me that He is the only one that Knows the time and the conditions that will draw them to His Son. So, I Just pray that we may be useful. When it comes to “practicing what we preach” it is only through His grace that we are enabled by His love.
      I tried to understand what you “heard from God.” And my comment was meant to relieve a burden by putting the weight on Christ. We are His workmanship and He is doing a marvelous job. Patience has it’s reward.

    • Mick says:

      Paul, thank you. I’m picking up that you have some great experience. I did door to door evangelism with my pastor dad as a kid. Thank you for the vote of confidence, the permission and perspective. The discipline and focus I’m talking about now comes from my rejection of the compulsion and presumption I’ve come out of. I think our hearts demand we continually forge new ground in our faith and yet still fight to infuse the truth of love into our work as called word-artists. And what’s right for some isn’t right for others. And God is individual and calls us all according to unique purposes.

    • Paul Burgess says:


  3. Mick says:

    Would love to hear more of your story sometime… Thanks again for sharing here.

    • Paul Burgess says:

      Mick, If you would email me your address I will mail you “The Witness, The Spirit and The Prophecy.” It is my story.

  4. Mick says:

    Oh dear. I was hoping for the condensed version. Me and my big mouth. I’m up to my eyeballs in reading material, as you might surmise.

    But just saw this and thought you might enjoy! http://benirwin.me/2015/11/09/starbucks-war-on-christmas/

    • Paul Burgess says:

      Brother Mick, No worries, I am not looking to become some famous writer, it is gift that can sit on your table waiting for the Spirit to move you or your wife to pick it up. That is the kind of book it is. Love is patient and seeks not its own. We are brothers soon to be friends. Paul

  5. Paul Burgess says:

    Mick, The condensed version. I am a seventy year old man who just lost his wife of thirty five years. We raised two sons with children of their own. With God’s help we must have done it right as they love and follow the Lord. Caron and I experienced a Christian walk somewhat different than most. We were not church “hoppers” chasing the latest spiritual fad, but were moved by the Lord through various communities and denominations with stays usually lasting two years. He was teaching us about His body, the church. Our ministry was one seeking the lost and our prayers were for a true revival. In the midst of these years I fell in sin and came to know the power of His blood. Jesus does not just forgive, He changes you as well and my Caron’s love proved to be sacrificial, redemptive and abiding. The last six years were spent writing a message to the church, a gift from the Lord. One month before having this book in print I found her lying on the bathroom floor. My Caron had suffered a massive stroke. I tried to revive her, but it was to late, she was gone. I am just a grieving old man continuing with the work He has set before me. Paul

  6. suzee says:

    “progress and true satisfaction only comes from the inconvenient and the uncomfortable.” are you 100% sure about this? today i just can’t seem to accept that as incontrovertible fact! that’s me, coming from my “pollyanna” side if you will :-)

    suzee B

    • Mick says:

      Actually, don’t read it as exclusive of fun and rest. It isn’t. But there is no progress without accepting some inconvenience and discomfort. Better way to say that. :) thanks for pushing back, my friend.

  7. suzee says:

    okay, i’m in now, you pacified me with the “some” word. “some” days i push back harder than others!

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