Grit takes you beyond talent. And even achievement. It's what pushes you on when things get hard.
Angela Duckworth is a leading psychologist and author who wrote a book entitled “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” How could I not research this and try to parallel it with our ministry? She defines grit as a highly ferocious determination which plays itself out in a resilient, hardworking passion toward a personal goal. To me, that’s a combination of heart and perseverance.
She adds that talent can take you only so far. Talent puts your natural skills on display. Achievement occurs when your natural ability is combined with effort to reach a destination. “Without effort, your talent is nothing more than unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t. With effort, talent becomes skill, and, at the same time, effort makes skill productive.”
Grit also requires direction. If there’s no direction, there’s no purpose in your endeavors. Biblical Professor Dr. Donald Whitney writes, “Discipline without direction is drudgery.” So yes, I agree with Duckworth, that grit will lead people to become high achievers through passion and perseverance. However, we as believers know if we attempt these goals apart from Christ there is an emptiness.
Tom Brady voiced a famous quote after winning his third Super Bowl. “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there's something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, 'Hey man, this is what is.' I reached my goal, my dream, my life. I think, Gosh, it's got to be more than this.' I mean this isn't, this can't be what it's all cracked up to be. I love playing football and I love being quarterback for this team. But at the same time, I think there are a lot of other parts about me that I'm trying to find.” Brady is the epitome of talent and grit, but why was he unable to find joy in his achievement?
Jesus says in John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” Is it possible that Tom Brady was experiencing a void? As followers of Christ, we know true victory and accomplishment can only be achieved when we give Him the glory.
So, how do we purpose ourselves in Christ? How do we compete for championships? How do we bring glory to God and have joy in victory and defeat?
The answers are a life connected to Jesus. Grit in the Lord must be our purpose. Hebrews 10:23 says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” This is the biblical definition of grit. It’s disciplining yourself for the purpose of growing to be more like Jesus. It’s working in whatever you do with a heart and purpose for the Lord, not for man’s approval. Knowing that you have been approved by Jesus laying down his life for you.
According to Duckworth, effort is the key. So, what is the goal of practicing? For coaches, goals might differ, but for most, the goal is a state championship. We must practice. Through repetition, you master situations and try to execute perfectly in game positions. It becomes a habit. Practice focuses on the tiny details. Bob Knight said, “The single most important aspect of coaching is running an effective practice.”
Practice is where you come up with a tactical plan of action, get your visual cues lined up, and your auditory senses triggering. Are we practicing as diligently in our spiritual lives as we do professionally? Here are three ways you can begin that process!
1. Get a Game Plan: Each week coaches prepare a game plan. You strategize for your opponent. You watch countless hours of film and roll out plays that opponents run in specific situations. You create scenarios for the kids to be prepared. You come up with a tactical plan of how you will conquer and execute in those high stress situations.
Our spiritual opponent is Satan. The game plan sometimes fails because we underestimate him. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “...the devil is like a prowling lion looking to devour its prey”. Often, we don’t take this verse seriously and minimize his power. John Wooden gives some great advice when he said, “Respect every opponent. Fear no one.” Much like a good blitzing defense, the devil disguises himself. He blitzes late. It’s barely recognizable. He sneaks up on us, just like a corner blitzing from the short side of the field. Out of nowhere, because of our lack of preparation and awareness, he wreaks havoc on our lives.
How prepared are you for this spiritual opponent? The scriptures are full of specific “game like situations.” Plays drawn out for us to see and evaluate. It’s almost like we have a scout team Playbook. Do you realize the devil has seen all the film there is on you? Are you aware he’s scouting you out daily? He’s not only after you, but your loved ones. We must not underestimate our opponent. Respect him, but do not fear. Christ has won the victory. We must create a game plan to avoid Satan’s temptations. Without one we are unprepared and vulnerable. Plan. Strategize. Trust in Christ!
2. Get Lined Up: I typically go to practices and hear a lot of overlap. One thing I hear constantly is, “GET LINED UP!” Never fails. Kids lollygagging to line up on offense causes the defense to be delayed. Coaches yell again, “GET LINED UP!” Why is it so important to get lined up? It’s to be ready.
Positioning yourself appropriately. Not caught off guard. The play that is called needs to be run effectively. Teammates count on you to be ready and in position to help them do their jobs successfully.
So how does this translate spiritually? Getting lined up puts you in position to be the aggressor. A defensive back might play ‘off man’ because his opponent is faster. Playing off, plays to this defenders’ strengths. Similarly, for some, you might have to stay 30 minutes later each day to dig into the Playbook. For others you might be in press man. Disrupting early in the route/day to win the spiritual battle. Both highlight the importance of playing to our strengths.
Our posture is everything. A ready player has a different demeanor. He knows where to be because he knows the playbook. He knows the gap to fill, the man to block, the route to run, or the read to watch. Getting lined up starts with knowledge of the play. Spiritually, the Bible says, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Through a reverent fear of the Lord, we approach getting lined up with confidence. Not fearing the day or the opponent. Our spiritual Playbook is the Bible. Study it. Be the aggressor. How well do you know it?
3. Get Some Communication: One thing I love about football is hearing good communication. From hard counts. Creative hand signals. Passionate screaming and shouting. It’s like music to my ears. I’ve never been to a practice without it. What’s the purpose of communication? I see guys echoing calls, declaring strengths and weaknesses. Identifying key players. There’s a purpose for all of this. Offensively, you use hand signals to communicate the secret language. You don’t want the opponent pinning their ears back. You want them unprepared.
Our communication is key to edging out our opponent. It’s key in getting ourselves and others lined up. Sadly, we communicate with God with 911 calls. We call upon God when we need Him but forget about Him when things are good. Think about this; if we don’t communicate daily with our Savior, how well do we really know Him and trust Him? Jesus had more on His plate than anyone in history, but He still withdrew to desolate places to pray. He studied His ‘Playbook’ and was in continuous communication with God the Father.
Someone said that “Faith is to the soul, what life is to the body. Prayer is to faith what breath is to life. How can a man not breathe is past my comprehension, and how can a man believe and not pray is past my comprehension.” Just as kids are challenged to communicate in practice, I challenge you to pray to our Savior and Lord. I challenge you to allow Him to communicate with you through His Playbook.
John Wooden also said, “Stay the course. When thwarted try again: harder: smarter. Persevere relentlessly.” Seasons will require spiritual grit. Along with passion, perseverance, sacrifice, and great effort. Tom Brady came to the end and wasn’t fulfilled. I challenge you all, at the end of the season, no matter the outcome, “look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” I promise He will fulfill you.
Travis Labhart is one of the co-founders of Grit Ministries. A former football player at Texas A&M and in the NFL, he has a passion for helping coaches be witnesses for Christ.