I follow social media accounts for several fitness brands and bloggers (as if by merely following them, some of their fitness might rub off on me). A regular part of their mix of posts is the classic before-and-after photo. One white line separates a “sad,” overweight person on the left from a “happy,” slim person on the right. They boast of how you can get these same results if you choose their program or follow their method.
What makes these progress photos so popular? They show that change is possible. They motivate us. They remind us how far we’ve come, how far we can go.
While you can take a picture of yourself and compare it to one taken three months ago, it’s harder to do that kind of self-comparison in our spiritual lives. Sometimes, it feels as though we are fighting sin, seeking after God, and practicing spiritual disciplines, but nothing is actually changing.
We feel like we’re battling the same sins over and over. Our hearts are still prone to wander after other idols. We forget even the most basic of disciplines. This seeming lack of progress can discourage us in our spiritual journey, which is what the Enemy wants to do.
He wants us to think that we’re a lost cause. We can never become that spiritual leader we admire in our church, so why even try? We fight that lie with the truth that, even when we are faithless, God is gracious and faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). He has promised to complete His good work in us (Philippians 1:6).
Because even if you can’t see it, God has already made you more and more like Him. Every morning that you come and behold His presence through prayer and Scripture, He is molding you more into the image of His Son (Colossians 3:12). Every Sunday you worship and learn with other believers, He is driving His truth and character more deeply into your soul.
Because one day, you have the hope of being fully transformed into who God created you to be when you see Him in all His glory
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” -1 John 3:2
But today, you may not feel transformed. You may feel frustrated that you lost your temper again. Or that you chose that extra thirty minutes of sleep instead of time with the Lord. Or you let fear stop you from sharing the Gospel with a coworker.
When I start sinking into this self-condemning thought process, I turn my eyes away from myself (which isn’t easy for my perfectionist, Enneagram 1 personality) and to the grace and faithfulness of God. I remember that He is the one who purifies me. In a culture that tells us over and over again, “You are enough!” we need to remember that only Jesus is enough for us.
“And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” – 1 John 3:3
And I don’t just remove the thoughts of self-righteousness, I replace them with God-centered praise. I praise Him for how He has worked in my life in spite of my unfaithfulness! I praise Him for the hope of glorification in eternity (Romans 8:29-30)!
One way I have incorporated this practice into my spiritual routine is through monthly reflection. The first of every month I review my prayer journal and Bible study notebook from the past month and look for ways that God has worked in me. I praise Him for how He has answered prayers, given me direction, and helped me have (even small) victories over sin. I praise Him for how my attitude to people and situations have been changed by His word. I praise Him for truths I did not know (or knew more superficially) a month prior.
This isn’t a pep talk to pride myself in my spiritual efforts of the past month. No, it’s a thankful celebration of God fulfilling His promises in my life.
So stop striving today and look back at what God has done in your life. How are you different than you were five years ago? A year ago? A month ago?
And let that before-and-after picture spur you to worship our faithful and gracious God!