Races. I have never been a track and field girl. No, in high school, cheerleading was my sport of choice, and any running I did was probably after some boy! But a few years ago my daughter started running in half-marathons and I began to think that making it through a half-marathon might be a worthwhile goal. Notice I didn’t say “run” a half-marathon ~ the goal at my current level of fitness is just to cross the finish line! And now, I am just a couple of weeks away from joining my daughter in my first race…ever!
Setting up a training schedule, even for a beginner like me, seemed like a good idea. During this time of preparation, as I logged in hours on the treadmill, I was often reminded of the times that God uses a race as a metaphor for life in the Bible. In particular, I thought of the part of scripture in the book of Hebrews that says, “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”
God doesn’t tell us how fast or how slow we are to run the race, instead He tells us we should run with perseverance. He knows that, just as in a marathon, our pace through life is going to vary for each of us and will vary even during different seasons of our own lives. He also knows that there are going to be times when we will want to give up, as I have felt like doing many times about an hour into my workout! Sometimes I will even ask myself, why? Why am I even doing this? It takes perseverance to stay the course, regardless of how long it takes you to finish.
Unlike signing up for a marathon where we can select the length of our run, God doesn’t let us know ahead of time how long our race will be. Some lives are sprints, some cross-country marathons ~ in life it is not up to us to determine the length of the race; that is for God to determine. We can only decide the manner in which we will run the course set out for us, a course that has been uniquely created for each of us by God.
So how do we run well? How do we persevere when the course gets steep and we grow weary? We do so by “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” You see, to finish well we must focus on the right trainer. Who is your trainer? For the race of life, Jesus is the perfect trainer!
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3
Stillness. “Do you want to join me in a day of stillness?” my daughter asked.
I knew that the company she works for allows employees to take a day of stillness, a day spent in prayer and reflection, in quiet community with the Lord. What could be better than a day of reflection spent side by side with my daughter, two sisters in Christ sharing a day of stillness? Sign me up!
The blankets were spread out on grass in the shadow of the National Cathedral. The sunshine was warm, the flowers bright, and the location quiet. We each had our share of books, our Bibles, different colored pens and journals ~ it takes a bit of gear for a day of stillness, or so I thought. I started my time of reflection reading God’s story, delving into some specific scriptures, and jotting my thoughts into my journal.
Then my attention turned to a book my daughter had about the spiritual discipline of solitude and silence, and I began reading. The author spoke of her journey, born out of a sense of despair and desperation, to seek God in solitude and silence. It wasn’t something she came to on her own ~ there was no divine revelation, no best-selling self-help book that inspired her on this journey. Instead, a Christian psychologist suggested that the answers to her struggles might be found in stillness before the Lord. And so she took the first step.
Why not? I thought. Why not try taking that first step? So I pushed aside the books, my pens, my journal, even my Bible. I closed my eyes and tried to just let my mind be still and quiet, to let myself settle, allow my soul the space to connect with God. Doesn’t that sound so poetic, so wonderful? You know what? I realized that I have a very noisy mind and I am not sure I even had five minutes of the silence, solitude and stillness I was seeking.
I could relate to the author’s struggle to find stillness in her busy life and in this noisy world that demands so much of our attention; but now I realize that even if I put myself in a quiet environment free from distractions, I can still be a victim of my own overly active mind. Now I understand why it is called a spiritual discipline ~ clearly it is going to take some practice! But I think it is time.
My soul yearns for a closer connection to God, for complete oneness with His spirit, for overwhelming peace that can only come from knowing God and knowing who He is on a deeper level. God has spoken to my soul in quiet times past in a way that produces nothing less than joy ~ in spite of all that was going on in and around me. Silence, solitude, stillness ~ call it what you will, it is a worthy spiritual discipline that I desire to incorporate into my life on a more consistent basis. I will take small steps to start this journey, just ten minutes of silence and solitude to begin, knowing that God will be faithful to me in the process. How about you? Will you join me on this path that will lead us closer to the Creator of, not only the universe, but our very souls? Let’s enter into God’s sanctuary together ~ He’s waiting for us!
But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. Psalm 73:28
Suffering. This Memorial Day weekend I made a special effort to say a prayer for those who sacrificed to give us the freedoms that we enjoy here in the United States. I am in awe of people who will knowingly go into a situation that may involve suffering; and not just suffering for their own cause or needs, but suffering on behalf of others. To be honest, I will go through a lot of trouble to avoid suffering of any kind and while I know this is part of our human nature and an important survival mechanism, I wonder if it is making me spiritually weak.
We recently watched what I thought was a really good and thought-provoking movie called, There Be Dragons. The movie is set during the Spanish Civil War and is based, in part, on a real-life Spanish priest named Jose Maria Escriva. In the movie, Jose Maria is portrayed as such a joyful, loving and likable person, one who is truly seeking the will of God and living to be a blessing to his fellow man. He is also portrayed as one who uses self-flagellation, whipping himself to the point of drawing blood, as a means of sharing in the suffering of the Lord. He is said to have taught that joy has its roots in the form of a cross. Controversial? Absolutely! Fascinating? Hmmm…
Like I said, I am prone to avoid suffering. I have a hard time even going hungry for day and a headache is enough to derail me on a bad day; so, I am not saying I am going to jump on this idea of self-inflicted pain. But I wonder if my desire to avoid any suffering is making me spiritually weak. Is my desire to avoid suffering at all costs not allowing God to fully do His work in me?
Mother Teresa said, “Suffering is nothing by itself. But suffering shared with the passion of Christ is a wonderful gift, the most beautiful gift, a token of love.” When we are in the midst of suffering we have an opportunity to connect with our Lord and Savior in a deeper way, if we choose to.
A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to hear Bill Myers, the author, give a key-note speech. In his talk he shared about a good friend who was suffering through a terminal illness that caused tremendous pain and required many visits to the hospital. On occasion Bill would drive him to the hospital and on the way his friend would double over, clearly in terrible pain. In the midst of his pain, Bill said he would hear his friend whisper, “Thank you, Jesus.” Thank you for pain. Thank you for suffering. It’s not an easy thing to understand and probably impossible for someone who does not know Jesus, but I want this. If I am to suffer, I want to have the spiritual depth to understand that this is an opportunity to draw me closer to God, to share in His suffering ~ suffering He endured for me.
So what does God say about suffering? Here are a few verses from the New Testament:
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance…
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.
For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.
But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
On Memorial Day we remember all the soldiers who suffered and died on our behalf so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we have here. We thank them for blessing us ~ and rightly so. Our Savior suffered and died on our behalf so we could enjoy freedom in Him and with Him forever. Can we thank Him for the blessing that comes in sharing in His suffering? Fellow soldiers, are you willing to join me and at least try to view the suffering that comes our way as a means of drawing closer to our leader and Lord?
“Not a very good looking field,” my son said as we made our way over to the registration table. Even though I have been to more baseball fields than I can remember, I have never become an aficianado of field quality, so I try to make an intelligent observation by offering up something about the height of the grass and better to catch the ball than to let it get lost in that mess of green they call a field. I must have made some sense because my son chuckled and we continued on.
It is another leg on his baseball journey, another tryout, and I sit in the stands praying for God’s guidance in my son’s life. I watch as baseball players in all shapes and sizes, in all manner of baseball dress, start getting out their gear. As my son had pulled his worn bag out of the trunk I made the usual motherly query, “Don’t you have a bag that isn’t ripped?” But then I notice that his equipment is in varying states of condition from new bats to pants with worn out knees. As I watch the other players on the field I notice how the routine, the stretching, the equipment is all second nature to these young men. Years of being part of a baseball community, years of throwing a little white ball around a field, years of opening and closing a bag full of useful equipment culminate in days like today.
It made me wonder ~ was I ever part of a community where I had gear and special equipment? It occurred to me that at one time I had. I had a diaper bag. And it was filled with the typical Mom equipment: snacks, baby wipes, diapers, pacifiers, a change of clothes. When my posse, my team, got together, we all pulled our worn out bags from our rides and opened them with the same familiarity as a baseball player.
But that was years ago ~ what equipment bag do I have today? Someone from my past recently reconnected with me. Their childhood was a collection of hurts that resulted in some bad choices as an adult. They shared how these bad choices had hurt themselves and others. I thought about my pastor who has said many times ~ hurt people, hurt people. Contrary to what I thought was possible, this person made their way to church and is getting to know Jesus.
“I heard the pastor say that Jesus can forgive my sins, but I have done some pretty bad stuff. I’m not sure I believe He could really do that. I’m not sure I can forgive myself.” I could hear the confusion in their voice.
I am not a pastor, not a Bible scholar, not a counselor. Am I really prepared to be there for this person in a meaningful way? Yes, I am. I do have equipment. I do have a community. I pull out my worn Bible from my equipment bag.
“Oh, but God can forgive you and He will help you to forgive yourself. Do you have a Bible? You might want to start with the gospel of John.”
The road ahead will be challenging for my friend as they take baby steps with their faith. I am sure I will be pulling out some timely verses from God’s love letter to us to encourage them on the path. I have already reached out to my community and asked them to pull out their equipment bags to lift up this struggling new believer in prayer.
The sun eventually burned off the marine layer and now warms the baseball players who are strewn around the field with their gear: their bats and gloves, hats and bags. The day is winding down and soon the equipment will be put away. It’s useful gear, but not all the time. It serves its purpose and then gets put away till the next practice, game or tryout. But my spiritual bag never gets put away. It is useful in every situation. I don’t just use it, it equips me. It doesn’t just serve a temporary purpose here, it serves an eternal purpose. I am so grateful to God for my equipment bag, my gear and for allowing me to be a part of His community. The best part is, you don’t need to try out to get your own equipment or be on the team ~ you just need to ask Him to join. Do you want to be part of the team? Click here to learn how!
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:14-17
Rescue. “Just push through. It will be fine,” my husband said over the phone. “Well, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be fine. It feels like it’s going to stall,” I said, pushing harder on the gas pedal while my SUV bucked and bounced like a horse with a thorn under its saddle. And now I was adding spurs to an already irritated ride, but I was pushing through. I was pushing through, all right, pushing through right to the mechanic. But my car began to stall before I got there and I began muttering some things about pushing through and everything not being fine when I spotted a tow truck. I pulled off the road and parked right next to it. Why would I continue to push through when there was a rescue vehicle right there waiting for me? There’s more than one way to get a car to the mechanic!
It seemed so obvious to me that this was the way to go ~ I know my limitations when it comes to cars. Sure, I’ve been known to accurately diagnose a car problem or two in the past, like telling my daughter she probably ran out of gas when her car died in the middle of the road, or the time I told my husband about the kill switch in the trunk when he couldn’t get a car to start. But fixing them? I don’t have the know-how or tools for that. Like I said, I know my limitations and I also know a rescue vehicle when I see one.
It’s too bad I don’t apply the same wisdom when I am in need of a spiritual rescue. Many times my spiritual ride gets rough and I find myself clenching the wheel. I tell myself, just push through, it will be fine, you can do it, you don’t need to bother God with this one. Sometimes I am even pretty good at diagnosing what is causing the rough ride ~ poor choices, a broken world, martyrdom. How many rescue vehicles do I pass in my desire to just push through? How many times do I drive by God, who is just waiting to take the wheel and bring me to safety? How can I be so wise when it comes to understanding my need for rescue when it comes to my car, and yet foolishly think I can rescue myself when it comes to a spiritually bumpy ride?
It’s time to pull over and pull out God’s word. He’s the only roadside assistance you need for the really bumpy rides in life.
Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Psalm 31:2
Ants. “My husband said I have ants,” my friend said.
“What does he mean, you have ants? Doesn’t he mean we have ants?”
“No, not those kinds of ants. He means automatic negative thoughts, you know, ants.”
“Ohhhhh…” I nodded my head in understanding. Let’s say you find an envelope from the IRS in your mailbox. Some people might automatically assume their refund check has arrived; their thoughts automatically go to a positive outcome. Others are certain the envelope holds an invitation to meet an IRS agent in person, and not for tea; they have automatic negative thoughts, ants. Sadly, those kinds of ants have darkened my mental doorway more than once. It’s a pest problem I have determined to exterminate.
Some people think that you can’t control the thoughts that come into your mind, but I am not sure I completely agree. I think of the mind like a sophisticated muscle, and like other muscles, it has memory. If it is trained properly, we can change its shape, the same way we change the shape of our arms and legs with exercise. Sure, there are going to be times when thoughts just randomly come into your mind, but once they get there it is up to you, and me, to decide what to do with them.
I hear my ant loving friends out there saying, “Oh, that’s fine if you want to live in la la land but I prefer to be realistic”. I like living in reality, too, but the reality is we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or five minutes from now for that matter. Maybe sometimes, realistically, the outcome looks less than favorable; but how often do we jump to that conclusion automatically, when a favorable outcome could be just as realistic? That’s an ant problem and it’s not the way God intends for us to live.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7
Imagine, our minds can be guarded by the peace of God!
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
True. Noble. Right. Pure. Lovely. Admirable. Excellent. Praiseworthy. Think about it.
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:4-6
We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ ~ God would not tell us to do something we are incapable of doing. Have an ant problem? Put away that can of Raid ~ nothing beats the Bible to exterminate those pesky pests.
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24
Gifts. Don’t you just love getting presents? Even more than getting them, I love giving them. Especially when you know you’ve nailed it ~ you have found that one just right gift for the one special person. My daughter is engaged to be married and, like many brides to be, she has a gift registry at several different stores. She was recently honored with a bridal shower and I had the best time perusing the various registeries and picking out the perfect gift. As is often the case, I got her something I would love to have ~ admit it, you have done the same thing! In this case, it was a slow cooker. My slow cooker (the third since I have been married) has served me so well over the years, and I know my daughter will be blessed to have one.
An acquaintance of mine recently celebrated a birthday. This proud father has several young children and he shared with his friends on Facebook the wonderful surprise his children got for him. It began with a treasure hunt to find out what the present was and in the end he found a handmade certificate good for one Ipod. He asked his children, “Who is going to pay for this?” to which they responded “You!” Don’t you just love that! But isn’t that so like children? They want with all their hearts to give us something they are not capable of giving us without our help.
The other morning I was praying in the shower. Too much information? Well, that’s where I often pray because it is a quiet time to reflect. I was preparing to speak to a group of women and I began to tell the Lord that I wanted this to be my gift to Him. I then started to ask Him to give me the strength to get through the engagement without paralyzing fear. To give me good recall of my talk. To help me to be a blessing to the women in the audience. To speak His words, not mine, with power. As I began to let loose with my list of petitions, a thought cut me off. It was the thought of my friend Phil’s post on Facebook. Suddenly, standing in the shower in the same way I came into this world, I recognized my own tremendous need. Like a child, I wanted so badly to give my Father the most wonderful gift. And like His child, I realized that without Him, I was incapable of giving Him that gift. All that I am,and all that I have, come from Him ~ all I can do is give back to Him, with praise and glory, what He has already done and given to me. I hope He finds my efforts, my delight in wanting to give to Him, my naivete, as sweet as I found Phil’s children to be. I have heard my pastor say many times, “You can’t out give God.” So true.