“Winning isn’t everything–but wanting to win is.”
― Vince Lombardi
As my teen daughter was learning to drive, I winced in the passenger seat beside her when she ran over a curb and the car lurched toward a mailbox. I could easily have panicked in that moment, especially since I had struggled with anxiety for years. But something wonderful happened instead: I stayed calm! No yelling, no hyperventilating, no grabbing the steering wheel or frantically trying to reach the brake with my foot – I simply said a silent prayer and watched my daughter stop the car, then safely back up onto the road.
“Dad, are you okay?” she asked, staring at me with a shocked expression on her face.
“Oh, sure,” I replied. “That was just a bump. You’re not injured either, are you?”
Now my daughter was laughing. “Injured? That’s not what I mean. I’m asking what’s up, since you’re not freaking out about what just happened. You didn’t even get emotional when we hit the curb. What’s wrong with you, Dad?”
Reflecting on her questions, I realized that something was actually right with me: I had successfully overcome my long struggle with anxiety enough to respond to stress with peace – peace that Jesus had given me. I had achieved a spiritual victory! The victory reflected just one small decision to trust God in an ordinary moment, but it represented the larger accomplishment of overall spiritual growth in my life. Now I had enough self-control to choose faith over anxiety – and that was enough to pique my daughter’s curiosity.
Every small victory in your journey of faith is significant to God because it helps you become the person God intends you to become. When you recognize those victories in your life, you’ll be encouraged to keep growing closer to God, reaching your full potential in the process. Here are five ways to recognize small victories in your faith journey:
1. You focus your mind away from what’s negative and toward what’s positive.The more you follow the advice in Philippians 4:8 to think about “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable… excellent or praiseworthy”, the more you’ll grow spiritually because the way you think determines the direction of your life. Thoughts turn into attitudes, which lead to actions, which over time shape the kind person you become. The Holy Spirit will renew your mind as you make an effort to change your thinking through spiritual disciplines like prayer, and reading and meditating on the Bible’s words. You’ll know that your mind is being transformed when you notice yourself moving away from negative thoughts (such as those that are disrespectful or unloving to people, or those that fuel an addiction to something that’s unhealthy) while moving toward positive thoughts that help you understand and appreciate more about God’s perspective. So, for example, if you notice that you’re tempted to think about men or women in a sinful way (reducing them to sex objects) when an ad for pornography pops up on your computer, you can celebrate a victory when you intentionally redirect your thinking toward God’s perspective (that men and women should be loved, not used) and that change of mind helps you overcome the temptation to sin.
2. You’re able to be peaceful in stressful situations. Whenever you choose to trust God rather than panic in stressful circumstances, that’s evidence that your faith in God has deepened. You can always count on Jesus to give you peace when you need it. He promises in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” An argument with your spouse, a broken down car, an unexpected bill, or a crisis with your child will still concern you but not overwhelm you. When you notice that you’re at peace in the midst of stress, it’s thanks to the Holy Spirit’s work in your life.
3. You treat difficult people with kindness. When you interact with people who are annoying or mean and catch yourself being kind to them, that’s a sign of spiritual progress. You speak calmly to a person who is used to hearing you yell at him or her. You refrain from sending an angry email you’re tempted to send. You invite a relative you don’t like to a family gathering rather than excluding him or her. You eat lunch with a coworker who makes you uncomfortable and learn more about his or her life story. You devote time and energy to helping people in need who you’ve ignored in the past – from playing with one of your children who is acting out for attention to doing some yard work for an elderly neighbor who isn’t particularly friendly but needs help. Whenever someone hurts or offends you, you choose to forgive that person, with God’s help, rather than hold a grudge or seek revenge.
4. You pray because you want to pray, not because you feel like you have to pray. Check your motives. Are you praying out of routine or obligation, such as saying grace at meals by force of habit or praying for people you know simply because you would feel guilty if you didn’t? Or, are you motivated to pray because you enjoy communicating with God? Whenever you notice that you’re eager to express your thoughts and feelings to God, whenever you look forward to listening to God’s messages to you during prayer – that’s when you know that you’re growing spiritually. God accepts any prayer from you gratefully, but he is especially pleased when you truly want to pray because you love him. Love is what motivates God to spend time in prayer with you. Love is what God hopes will motivate you to spend time in prayer with him.
5. You embrace grace. Grace empowers you to keep moving forward in your journey with God even when you go through setbacks along the way. The Bible promises in Romans 8:1 that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Keeping that truth in mind will help you realize that experiencing failure doesn’t mean that you yourself are a failure. Rather than feeling ashamed when you fail and moving away from God in your shame, you reach out to God for grace. You’re confident that God loves you unconditionally, so instead of giving up after making mistakes, you ask him to show you what you can learn from your mistakes – and as you learn, you will grow closer to God.
Every small victory you notice in your journey of faith is worth celebrating, because it moves your life forward in the right direction. The more you recognize those victories, the more your faith can grow in the God who notices and rejoices along with you!