“All things in life worth having take work.” This is probably from some famous proverb or quote, but I know it as something my mom said to me quite often as I grew up. Whenever I wanted something, but didn’t feel the need to put in the work to get it, I would be prompted with that reminder. Often I would put in half effort and not see the results I wanted, and my mom would ask me, “Well, did you try your best?” Upon answering honestly, though I probably hadn’t been, she would remind me yet again that “all things in life worth having take work.”
That’s an easy concept to remember and apply when your payout is much bigger than your effort, nothing goes wrong, and the task is pretty easy. For example, if you wanted A’s in school and only had to study for one hour before a test to achieve that, it would be pretty easy to go ahead and do that. However, what happens when you’re working towards something and your goal seems unattainable? Or, even worse, you feel like you’re working aimlessly? If it’s hard to find motivation even when you have a clear goal, it’s only that much harder when you feel like you’re not making progress. The cherry on top? If someone you know effortlessly achieves the things you’re struggling towards.
(WARNING: This article will contain minor DAYS spoilers up to episode 9)
The anime’s approach to that topic is one reason I am really enjoying this season’s DAYS. It follows the story of Tsukamoto and Kazama. Tsukamoto’s a total beginner at soccer who joins his school’s team on a whim and works himself to the bone despite being bad – really bad – at soccer. Kazama, on the other hand, is a natural prodigy who makes soccer look easy. They form an unlikely friendship, despite their extreme difference in team standing. Kazama is one of the favorites, while Tsukamoto is originally told repeatedly to “just give up” and quit the team.
Despite the constant criticism, Tsukamoto continues to work harder. Even though, at 8 episodes into the show, he still can’t play well, he hasn’t given up. He has made little progress towards his goal (being better at soccer) and is compared to the pro-level Kazama… but he’s still throwing himself into his training just as wholeheartedly as before. That isn’t easy, and it takes intentional effort to work with as much persistence and enthusiasm as Tsukamoto does.
Imagine striving for that much for success in all areas of your life. Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it? It can be. But it doesn’t have to be. Which is good, because Christians are called to bring glory to God in by honoring Him with how we live… effort included. Even non-Christians, while not obligated per say, should try to live with that much passion and intention driving their actions. Life is much more fulfilling in many ways when you’re doing everything you can to reach your goals. Christians just have a greater expectation to do this, as we are compelled by a reminder in Colossians 3:23-24, which says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” While this passage is used in the context of compelling slaves to obey their masters, the same message can be found in other places in the Bible, such as 1 Corinthians 10:31, which discusses our freedoms as believers and tells us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Non-believers will use what we, as image-bearers of Christ, show them to determine how they view God. Not only that, but our efforts to pursue Christ will be reflected in how we portray Him. Rather than trying to cover the many topics this could be applied to (e.g. how we dress/modesty, how we treat elders/respect, if we adhere to laws/morality, etc.), I want to focus on a very overlooked topic: effort.
How can we bring God glory with effort? There are two main ways. The first is by putting that kind of effort into our own faith. The second is by putting that kind of effort into everything else we do.
Nobody becomes a firm Christian by being apathetic. Simply doing the easy stuff like reading a verse a day, or going to church once a week, or even tithing does not make someone a firm Christian. Intentionally pursuing a relationship with Christ daily, even when it’s tough – that makes a firm Christian. In DAYS we can draw a comparison between soccer skills and faith. Tsukamoto would be like a new believer, particularly in contrast to Kazama and the Seiseki team captain Mizuki. However, Mizuki is a perfect example of how hard work pays off. In episode nine, we finally see a glimpse of how Mizuki went from being just as bad as Tsukamoto to playing at a professional level. Even when he faced setbacks or was continually told to give up, Mizuki pushed on with clear effort and intentions – he knew his goal, and nothing would stop him. Tsukamoto is a beginner now, but he can grow strong like Mizuki did, simply because he continually works toward his goal, refusing to become complacent. As Christians, we have to be just as intentional about maintaining our relationship with Christ. It may be hard, and we will always have room for improvement, but effort will bring you closer and apathy will push you away.
Not only will apathy push you away, but it can push others away. Working at it with your whole heart, however, will draw others in. In DAYS, despite being bad at soccer, Tsukamoto’s drive to become stronger becomes an encouragement that pushes the entire team to excel. One of the main people it affects is Kazama. Since he’s just a natural, Kazama has let himself grow content about where he is, no longer pushing himself to become a better player. In episode seven, Kazama is pulled from his complacent attitude after finding Tsukamoto running laps despite it being the team’s day off. When Kazama confronts him about it, Tsukamoto just responds with stubborn insistence that he loves playing soccer so much he needs to keep getting stronger. If Tsukamoto had shrugged it off as “sure, whatever”, Kazama wouldn’t have felt compelled to come alongside Tsukamoto and put the same effort in as he does. Fortunately, Tsukamoto held his ground, and his actions backed up what he said – the fact he’d been running laps all day showed how committed he was, and that drew Kazama to want to be a part of that. As Christians, we aren’t trying to push soccer members to excel, but the same concept applies. If you go about the things you do half-heartedly, will people take you seriously? Will they really believe it’s worth following a God that you only follow half-heartedly? Doubt it. You can show Christ to others by putting 100% of your heart behind and into whatever you do, doing it all for His glory. Not only can this help bring non-believers to ask questions, but it can also push your fellow Christians to excel with you, just like Tsukamoto drove Kazama (who made everything look easy) to aim higher.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” I’m not saying spend five minutes praying over which socks to wear, black or white. I’m not saying to agonize over your cereal choices. What I am saying is that as Christians, we’re all guilty of getting trapped in apathy from time to time. We get to a comfortable closeness to Christ, and we stop. We live like “good people” and we’re content that way. Don’t do that. If what you are doing is being done for the glory of God, and you are working at that with all your heart, you’ve got nothing to lose. You are not only glorifying Him but bringing yourself closer to Him (beneficial for obvious reasons) and opening doorways to bring others closer to Him. We can never be perfect, so we can never be Jesus, but he is our role model. He did everything with his whole heart, and he did it all for God’s glory. It won’t be easy, but do your best to work with all your heart to follow God in all aspects of your life – He’s already promised it’s worth it.