Focus on the next step!

runner plodding

Sometimes the key to success in life is to simply keep plodding. Plodding means putting one foot in front of the other without ceasing—deliberately focusing on the next step, willing yourself to keep moving forward. William Carey, considered by many to be the father of modern missions, accomplished many amazing things in a lifetime of missionary work in India. When asked to reveal the secret of his effective missionary work, he simply replied, “I can plod.”

In high school, I learned about plodding. In 1972, I was a freshman at a small high school in the little town of Kansas, Illinois. The town had a total population of 800, and its high school had only about a hundred students. At the beginning of the school year came an announcement that was big news for my small high school: A new sports program would be coming in the fall, called cross-country. I was dismissive; it didn’t sound like a real sport. All you were supposed to do was run. There was no shooting or dribbling a basketball or trying to field a grounder or swing at a curveball. After hearing about it, I decided I wanted nothing to do with that fake sport. Basketball was my thing—I had been playing basketball since the fifth grade, and I couldn’t wait to play at the high school level. Then I heard the rumor: Our basketball coach whispered to someone that he expected any basketball player who didn’t want to sit the bench to go out for cross-country. He couldn’t officially require participation, but his whispering campaign worked. Every guy who wanted to play basketball showed up for the first day of cross-country practice. Practice meant running a total of eight to ten miles a day to get in shape for three- and four-mile races.

I soon realized that this fake sport was the hardest thing I had ever asked my body to do. Whenever I would run, my legs, knees, stomach, and lungs all started screaming in unison: Stop! Quit! I quickly developed a deep respect for the sport. It was the most demanding and challenging thing I had ever done. Every race was a new battle to endure—a fight to keep running and not quit. Running never became my thing, but running taught me one of the best life lessons I have ever learned—plod on. One of the secrets to succeeding in life is forcing yourself to take the next step. Instead of focusing on the end of the race, sometimes we just need to focus on the next step.

REFLECTIONS: What do you feel like quitting now? What demand or responsibility in your life is screaming at you to quit?  What does “focusing on the next step” look like in this situation? What “plodding step” can you take in the next twenty-four hours? (Of course, quitting isn’t always bad. Sometimes quitting is necessary and healthful. This might be a good time to ask the Lord whether he wants you to quit certain things.)

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus

Philippians 3:13–14




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