The J Curve



The path to the life we want, an abundant life that spreads flourishing to others, is not a straight line. It looks more like a J.

Economics teaches us about The J Curve, where a curve initially moves downward, but eventually steeply rises far above its starting point. Your investment that drops and appears as a great loss, later rises to become a giant gain.

This is the counterintuitive, countercultural adventure Jesus invites us to live:

  • For adults to become great, we must turn and become like children (Matthew 18:1-4)

  • The way up is the way down (Luke 14:7-11)

  • To get life, you must give up your life (Matthew 16:24-26)

  • The path to abundant life is narrow and hard (Matthew 7:13)

  • Pruning leads to greater fruitfulness (John 15)

  • When we are weak, we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

  • The last will be first (Matthew 20:1-16)

  • To bear fruit, you must die (John 12:24-25)

  • Death precedes Resurrection. *By definition, dead places are the only places where resurrection power shows up.

But now a problem surfaces. The default settings of our heart and the loudest voices of our culture woo us towards a path that looks nothing like The J Curve, but instead a fast arrow up–a ladder to the top:

  • To become great we must become like a self-sufficient adult, climb higher, take care of ourselves (our educational system)

  • The way up is up (our natural logic)

  • Save your life, hold onto your life (our self help literature)

  • The path of life is increasingly comfortable and easy (our technology)

  • Pruning is to be avoided, focus instead on producing more (our workplaces)

  • Get stronger/better/less weak (our advertising and entertainment industry)

  • Be first, not last (our sports culture)

  • Protect yourself, especially if you want to bear fruit/make an impact (our natural intuition and emotions)

  • Death = Death (a worldview without the resurrected and ascended Jesus as its central, relational, pulsating core)

Which path will we take? The familiar and intuitive ladder to the top, or the less familiar and counterintuitive J that descends before it ascends? Both paths promise us something. Which promise will we trust?

All that’s required of us is trust.

I trust people who have skin in the game, who have walked the same path they summon me to walk. Jesus didn’t just talk about The J Curve, he walked this curve:

  • The second person of the Trinity left heaven and became a child

  • Jesus got low, and was later exalted

  • The Great Carpenter lost his life, but now he upholds the universe by the word of his power

  • Jesus’s life on earth got increasingly narrow and hard, which concentrated into dynamite that burst a hole through death and created new life

  • Christ was pruned of comfort, approval, popularity, power, etc…, and it led to greater fruitfulness

  • The strongest act of leadership in human history was Jesus’ weakness on the cross

  • The King of Kings became the least of these, but now human history swings on the axis of B.C./A.D.

  • Jesus lived a vulnerable, unprotected life and thereby impacted history more than anyone else

  • Jesus died, but he didn’t stay dead. Jesus beat death. There is new life on the other side of death. Resurrection power is real.

So, I trust skin-in-the-game-Jesus. And I trust the disruptive, slower J Curve instead of the alluring ladder that shoots to the top. And it’s not just that Jesus had skin in the game and walked this curve, Jesus still has skin in the game and still walks The J Curve with his followers. Jesus isn’t merely our example here. Nor is he only our Savior here. Jesus is also our Present Friend and Smiling King, who is with us and victoriously reigning over The J Curve path of our lives for his glory, the common good, and our joy.

All that’s required of us is trust.

I used to be afraid of moving downward (and I still am), but increasingly I trust that my Father has me on a downward path that is full of good things for me and others, and that eventually curves upwards into new and flourishing territory I couldn’t have previously imagined.

What do you want? May we ditch our ladders and our tame existence for the counterintuitive adventure of the J Curve.

This post originally appeared on Justin’s blog.