About 15 years ago, I hired one of the top direct-mail marketing experts in the country to assist me with marketing my law firm. His name was Dan Kennedy. During one of our conversations, Dan told me about what he had learned when he helped a national hearing aid company with its marketing. He said that after running several direct-mail marketing tests, he discovered that there is a six-month period of time when elderly men who are hard of hearing have a strong desire to purchase hearing aids.
Dan told me that the six month period begins after an elderly man’s wife dies. It is at that time that the man discovers that he is unable to hear as well as he thought he could hear. He is forced to come to terms with his hearing problem because his human hearing aid (his wife) is no longer with him to tell him what people are saying. This new situation creates a strong desire within the man to find a solution to his problem.
Dan told me that his market testing showed that the window of time to sell hearing aids to elderly men who have lost their wives is only six months. After six months, the men have usually learned to adjust to the drastic change in circumstances that they experienced when their wives died, and they accept the fact that their hearing is forever lost. They then generally withdraw, stay home, and cut back on interacting with others.
Last week I told you that when I was a teenager, I had a burning desire to develop my strength and fighting skills because I wanted to be able to defend myself and keep from being humiliated by bullies. Because of my desire, I was willing to dedicate the time, resources, and work that were necessary to achieve my goals.
My desire to be strong and tough dissipated years ago. Now that I’m in my 60s, I find myself doing everything I can to avoid the sacrifice that is necessary to exercise, eat the right foods, and lose the extra weight that I’m carrying around.
I recently realized that there is only one technique that I can use to generate enough desire to push myself to exercise every day, eat the right foods, and lose some weight. The technique I’m referring to is simple yet profound, but its effectiveness rests entirely upon how willing I am to be a true follower of Jesus Christ.
What does being a true follower of Jesus Christ have to do with generating the desire to exercise and lose weight? We know that one of the primary reasons Jesus became man was so He could suffer and die on the cross for our sins. His death and resurrection opened the gates of Heaven for those of us who are willing to believe in Him and abide by His teachings. He made it very clear what He wanted us to do:
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23)
What does let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me really mean? Any time you deny yourself of something with the intention of following in our Lord’s footsteps, you willfully and deliberately choose to suffer rather than serve yourself.
If we really understood the true value of suffering, we would always willfully and deliberately choose to suffer rather than serve ourselves.
The key to my newly discovered technique for generating the desire to push myself to exercise lies in my willingness to deliberately choose to suffer instead of remaining in my comfort zone. Make no mistake about it. At my age, vigorous exercise is a form of suffering that I subconsciously avoid. There’s always a “reason” why I don’t get around to it. But the real reason I don’t exercise is that I prefer my comfort over the suffering that I must endure to get to the health club and exercise.
So where does desire fit into all this? The best way to illustrate how desire plays a part in what I am describing is to give you an example. This coming Monday, I’m going to get in my car at a predetermined time and drive to the health club where I will work out for a minimum of 30 minutes. The desire that I actually need to follow through on my plan will be created when I tell our Lord that I will offer up my suffering (exercising) for the greater glory of God. When the time comes for me to go to the health club, I will remind myself that I have willingly chosen to suffer for the greater glory of God. I will also go through the same mental process when I arrive at the health club and begin working out.
This same technique can be used for correcting faults and practicing the virtues and the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. For example, if there’s some work that I’ve been procrastinating on doing, I can create a strong desire to do the work by acknowledging that the primary reason I’ve been procrastinating is that I’ve been subconsciously avoiding the emotional suffering that is associated with performing the task. I will then deliberately choose to engage in the suffering that is required to complete the work. The suffering that I am agreeing to endure is the actual performance of the work, regardless of the fears and emotional issues that may have been responsible for my procrastination.
One more example: I tend to be impatient with people who fail to live up to my expectations of them. I am working on catching myself as soon as I become impatient, at which point I deliberately choose to engage in suffering by treating the person with kindness, respect, and patience. While I am doing my best to be patient, I offer up my suffering for the greater glory of God. Trust me when I tell you that I really do suffer when I force myself to be patient with certain people, especially the ones who are lazy and try to get out of doing the things they should be doing.
There’s an old saying, “A kite rises against the wind,” which is a metaphor for creating success by going against the status quo and the resistance that is associated with what you do. If you’re going to do what our Savior said you must do to get into Heaven — deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him — you have to be willing to imitate Him by deliberately choosing to engage in suffering. When you choose to suffer in the way I have suggested, you rise against the wind of comfort and complacency, and you succeed in imitating our Lord.
Are you afraid of suffering? I hope not.