Imagine for a moment it’s your eighth birthday and you’ve been given a brand new violin. Your mum – keen to encourage you – speaks to the school office and finds that there’s a space for you in the beginners’ group.
For the first few weeks, you can’t wait for the lesson to come round. You put your music in your school bag the night before, and leave your instrument by the front door overnight so that you don’t forget it. You listen eagerly to everything your teacher says. You do your best to emulate her. At home, you practise faithfully every night, to the delight (or otherwise) of your family.
Over time, though, you make an unwelcome discovery: learning to play the violin is harder than you thought it would be. It’s going to take much more than six months to sound as good as your teacher; let alone that woman you saw on Britain’s Got Talent who could play the violin whilst pedalling a unicycle round the stage.
It’s around now that you recognise your teacher is not actually some distant relation of Big Brother, and so will not be able to see if you don’t practise every day…or even every week. You stick with the lessons for a while (as it gets you out of Guided Reading), but you don’t feel you’re making progress. By the time your ninth birthday rolls around, the violin has been buried behind a pile of other junk under your bed, and you’re nagging Mum to let you start karate. Perseverance, you decide, is over-rated.
Sometimes we behave like beginner violinists in regard to our Christian life. We start off with a rush of enthusiasm: church is awesome, praying comes easily, and setting time aside to read our Bible is our favourite occupation. But after a while we realise that being a Christian can be difficult. Maybe God is challenging us to let go of our penchant for juicy gossip. Perhaps we’re worried that sacrificial giving will have too detrimental an effect on our standard of living. And – if we’re honest – keeping up with our favourite soap opera can become more of a priority than regular Bible study.
It takes effort – and humility – to allow God to transform and mould us into the image of his son. Jesus never promised us that following him would be easy, but he did promise he would always be with us. We have a choice: we can give up when things get tough, or we can choose to persevere, knowing that God himself will help us on our way.