Running with Endurance

path through the forestA few weeks ago I was frustrated by my lack of time to do some things. Things like exercise, serious Bible study, sleep…

My how things have changed and not in the way I imagined…I don’t know what I imagined but this wasn’t it.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to just do it…just get up an hour earlier and have a truly quiet Quiet Time. Novel concept, quiet. But can I tell you? After the first morning I was hooked. I’d missed it so much. Uninterrupted, focused time with God and His word.

The first morning, my study was wonderful. Unfortunately, the rest of the morning…not so much. I cannot sugarcoat it at all. I woke the girls up with kisses, hugs and “I love yous”. I made them pancakes and got them all set for school and then, I don’t know, but something happened from the front door to before-school care…all heck broke loose. The car ride was terrible. Fighting and yelling and grumpiness and on and on and on…and did I maintain my quiet and gentle spirit in the midst of the fray. Ohhhhh no! With no plan and no parachute, I jumped in and joined the chaos. When the battle began to die down, my eyes filled with tears and I thought, “God, really? We had such a lovely morning and this is where we are now?” I was so disappointed, so frustrated, and so angry. My image of how things “should be” just fell apart in less than a mile.

Thankfully, by the time we got to our respective morning places, all was a bit better. I wondered, “Is this warfare? Is this the enemy trying to destroy my joy?” Because boy oh boy, it was effective. My joy deflated like our front porch pumpkin in December. I decided while trudging up to my classroom that I was not going to give up my morning time with God…period. And I was going to add some time in the Word with my kids too. (So there!)

Here I am a few weeks later, not only has that 5am time with God become my most favorite time of the day, but God has blessed the rest of my days in lovely ways.

For example, I’ve had time to exercise! I’m up to 2.5 miles running…well, maybe trudging with great difficulty would be a better description. It’s not a marathon, nor is it particularly pretty, but it is a start.

And I’ve been able to go to bed at a reasonable hour almost every night. Work seems to be getting completed without me having to do the midnight bedtime. Girls are in bed earlier AND we’ve had time to read and snuggle. It’s like this one act of obedience, which doesn’t even feel like obedience, but rather blessing, has changed the whole tenor of my days.

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you.” Deuteronomy 28:1-2

I don’t particularly feel the need to be set high above all the nations of the earth. I’d just like to handle my little household well. But being overtaken by blessings…that I’ll gladly take!

As I’ve thought about the little changes and the way God has blessed me, I’m overwhelmed. I think that is the overtaking God is talking about. Realizing that God does indeed bless. I don’t know that God is asking all of us to wake up early, I just know He was asking me. And I don’t know if time to exercise and sleep is everyone’s desired blessings, I just know it was mine.

There are other things that require my obedience that I’m struggling with daily. Things I know I need to do but don’t know how to and some I fear the results. I know the blessing will follow, but what will the process be like? Those are things I’m praying fervently about…seeking God’s help, direction, timing, etc.

These times in the Word, talking with God, have been eye-opening and convicting and comforting (but not always comfortable). He’s walking me through some growth that is a bit painful. Dealing with some things that are tricky.

My walk with God through these things resembles my running efforts. I want to do it. I know I need to do it. And I am willing to do it. BUT I don’t enjoy it. I feel awkward, lumbering, and I can’t catch my breath. It is difficult. It leaves me stiff and sore. I ache in places I forgot about. And sometimes I’d just rather not do it.

My Father and I are walking through my past and my present together. Finding the things that need to be dealt with so I can make healthy, God-honoring decisions and have a bright future. We are finding things that the Holy Spirit and I need to tackle together…needs that aren’t quite right, ideas that are a little off kilter, ways of relating that are leaning, expectations that just seem skewed.

It appears that I’m lopsided in many ways. Thankfully, my Father is allowing me to lean on Him as we figure these things out. He is strong and stable and able.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Hebrews 12:11-14

Discipline has such a negative connotation, but it really isn’t. It’s the idea of learning, training, instructing, and even nurturing. Sometimes it involves things that aren’t all wonderful or enjoyable, but the results are good. Truly.

Running requires discipline. Almost everything does. Work. Parenting. Finances. Health. Everything. I’m finding that getting up for Bible study when the alarm goes off, requires a measure of discipline. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s horribly difficulty. Running…well, that’s still not at all easy, but hopefully, in time, it will be because I’ve disciplined myself to just do it. My legs will be stronger and my chest won’t ache and my breathing won’t be labored. I won’t want to sit down on the side of the road for “just a minute”. I will be ready, able, and strong enough to run forward.

This past week in my Bible study I read another verse in Hebrews:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

I liked the running with endurance analogy. And the fact that Jesus understands the struggle of running this race. That He ran it. I also love that the saints are cheering us on.

At the end of my first 5K a few years ago, I was coming down the homestretch and was thinking I’d just really, really like to walk the final few feet, but there were all these people cheering and ugh I had to run it. I was so glad I did. And amazingly, I found that I could!

I want to finish this faith race well. Fortunately, I have a great Running Partner, a crowd to cheer me on, and the best prize at the end!

Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.   1 Corinthians 9:25-26

No Longer a Dragon

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Sometimes it amazes me how often God gently confronts me with His word. Lately it seems every time I open the Bible or work on my Bible study or talk to a friend, He is there prodding and prompting and loving me.

This past week was one of the most difficult at my job. Sometimes it feels as though God is continually letting me taste failure and I’m weary of it.

I’m identifying with Eustace in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” by C.S. Lewis. His greed had turned him into a dragon and he longed to be a boy again. The scene is Eustace recounting how Aslan, the Christ-figure in Narnia, helps him become a boy again.

“I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.

But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.

Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off?…So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I look at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.

Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off….

Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.” (pp. 107-109)

I feel like I’ve been trying to strip off the scales of my life and there are just so many layers…and God is continually peeling off more and more of me.

I’m trying to lie still and let him do it…it is difficult. It has been hard to let go of so much of what I think defines me. Hard doesn’t seem to do it justice.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:11-14

I’ve always thought of discipline as more like a spanking, but this is more like the discipline of an athlete in training. I’m trying to get back into running and I’m still in the training phase where I feel like I’m trudging through 2 feet deep mud when I run…but I know when I get past this phase I’ll love running again. I’ll love the benefits, the fruit, of being healthy and fit too.

But in my spiritual life, I have some training to do as well. Some painful discipline is happening as I am realizing how my definitions of me have become idols in many ways.

God is showing me that I have focused so much on the wrong things. I’ve been trying to figure out how to be perfect…a very frustrating endeavor. I’ve been striving to seem perfect…a ridiculous pursuit and highly stressful. I’ve been seeking affirmation for anyone…everyone…an exceedingly insecure way to live. I’ve been defining myself by how well I do things, how people think about me, and how “perfect” I can be in my own head.

Whenever anyone says that I’m doing fine, I want to holler, “But you don’t really know me! I’m awful.” And in my head I’m listing all the things I’ve failed at…all the ways I’m a failure.

I have so many fail voices in my head. I hate them. And I’m pretty sure they don’t like me either because they are not at all nice.

And then when someone doesn’t like me…a situation I currently have at work (at least I think so)…I want to say, “Why don’t you like me? I’m super nice!”

What?!?! How can I be so negative AND so positive about myself? You know how? Because my emphasis is all on me! ALL.

I’m all about me. All about MY failures. All about what people think about ME. All about what I’m doing. All about what I’m feeling. All about how I want things to go. All about what I think should happen. All about my time table, my plans, my hopes, my dreams….ME, MY, I….ugh.

Oh I have some idols to be striped away. I’m finding it to be quite painful. More painful than I think I can bear at times. But I want to “fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which I was called” (1 Timothy 6:12). I don’t want to fail at this endeavor.

There is a beautiful verse at the end of 1 Timothy where Paul calls Timothy to take care of the gospel entrusted to him. I read it and thought it for myself, “O Sue, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.” (6:20)

I know that Paul is talking about the babble of the false teachers, but today I was thinking of how much babble I have in my head. Irreverent and contradicting. How this “knowledge” I allow to take hold in my head keeps me from living out the gospel in my life. This babble of who I am and how I should live.

Who am I? Am I a failure? God says, “No, you are my child…beloved, precious, the apple of my eye.”

“In fact, dearest, you are a masterpiece! My masterpiece. I created the universe, the magnificent sunsets you so often photograph, the ocean waves you long to sit beside, the flowers you delight in, the people you love…and I created you. You who I consider magnificent. You who I long to sit beside. You who I delight in. You who I love.”

Why can’t I grasp that?

And again God peels the layers back…not just to make me better but to show me how very much He loves me. For He does not want to leave me a wretched dragon…but wants me to be the beautiful daughter He made me to be.

I might end up smaller in some ways, but I think I’m okay with that. Maybe ME being smaller isn’t a bad thing. Smaller in my own mind so that Christ can be bigger.

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

I believe that when life becomes less about me and more about Him the insecurities and struggles I have will pale in comparison to the great love He has for me. And those idols I’ve put on will be peeled away as I repent and recognize who the true God of my life is.

Idols are so dumb. Just saying.

Is there any comfort in my insecurities, struggles, conflicts, and fears? Is there any hope offered or strength gained in them? Not at all.

And yet…here I find myself.

Lord, you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love…thank you so much. (Psalm 103:8) Thank you that you throw my sins as far as the east is from the west when I confess and repent. (Psalm 103:12) I’m confessing to you that I have sinned in my heart and mind by putting myself on the throne of my life, by seeking my identity and security in things other than you, by choosing to focus on myself to the exclusion of You. Lord, please forgive and cleanse me all of this unrighteousness. Thank you that it is all grace, a gift from You. Thank you that you saved me totally without me doing anything. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Thank you that my life isn’t about me doing anything but loving you. And out of that love, I want to obey you and bless you and praise you and glorify you. Like Paul wrote, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) Thank you Father that we live under grace and there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! (Romans 6:14, 8:1) Lord, please keep taking the scales off! In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.