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When You Grow up Wanting to be Rocky Balboa
I want to win those gifts. But it doesn't work that way.

I want to win those gifts.  But it doesn't work that way.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

- Galatians 5:22-23

I trained my whole life as an athlete. 

From winning state championships to earning All American certificates, the name of the game was always hard work for me. I had this firm belief that if I just worked harder than anyone else, one day I would be the best. 

Grit it out.

Gut it out.

Do more repetitions.



Train harder.

Believe deeper.

Outlast my opponent.

Imagine a highlight reel from the movie Rocky, and you’ve got a picture of my mentality. I wanted to be Rocky.

Hard work + belief= achievement

As far as championships go, this mentality served me well. No surprise then that as a young Christian, I applied this way of life to how I approached God. I’d set goals for how many chapters I was going to read each day. I’d have prayer lists that I wanted to pray through every day. I’d do study after study. None of this is inherently bad. But it revealed something in my character. I was trying to earn and do and win my way to what God wanted to give me. 

A person who is built the way I am built looks at a list like the one in our verse this month, and they see all the ways they need to get better, all the ways they need to be more successful. My instinct is this: 

“I’ve gotta do better.”

“I’ve gotta work at that.”

I want to earn those fruits.

Unfortunately, and fortunately, I WILL fail.

It’s taken me years to understand, and believe me I’m still learning, that God’s good gifts are NOT earned. If I try in my own strength to meet the standards of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control that are laid out in the Bible, I will come up short. So what’s the point? Is there nothing to be done?

Well, there IS something to be done. And, it's simple. Make time to be with God.

Read God’s word. His message is supernatural. It will penetrate our thoughts and make us more like him. I’ve found that if I read and meditate on even one verse first thing in the morning, my trajectory for the day will be changed.

Pray. I can pray each morning for the Spirit to have his way with my heart. If I truly want change, I have to ask the Spirit to show me the way and to guide me in it.

Now, for any others out there recovering from trying to win and earn, here is the one thing that has helped me.

 I removed structure from my time with God.

Take off time limits, reading goals, lists, etc. Structure and plans and goals are so good, but don’t let them squash what the Spirit might be wanting to show you. This isn’t a forever thing. But it’s something that you could try for a week or a short season. Show up and let the spirit lead your time—no pressure to achieve, just freedom to listen.

That’s it. If I’m going to have a Rocky mentality about something, it's got to be this: I’m relentlessly committed to showing up for my time with God. Never has a participation trophy looked so good.

Are you trying to earn & win in your relationship with God?
If so, what are some things that you could switch up to give him more space to speak to you?
If not, what might a commitment to time with him look like for you?


Vera co-founded Dwell with her sister, Natalie. Together, they're committed to helping others connect with God each and every day. Vera also does the design work for Dwell Differently. She and her husband, Matt, live in Missouri with their 2 children.


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