Yes, that’s right. God wants you to run.
My sister ran a marathon when she was 19. She trained for months, running her college campus, watching what she ate, learning how to find a rhythm, to push her body past its limits. And then she ran. And ran. 26 miles. Her body hurt. I’m sure, several times throughout that day, she thought about quitting. Limping home and curling up with some Ben and Jerry’s. But she was determined not to listen to her tired body. She pressed on. She called me when it was over, thrilled to say her socks were soaked with blood (only runners understand that is an exciting discovery — I am not a runner, so my response was, “Ewww!”). She did it. She was exhausted, in pain, aching all over. Running a marathon is NOT easy. But, she says, finishing is an amazing feeling. Worth all the sacrifices she made.
The writer of Hebrews says, “…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.”
The Christian life is like a marathon. We are running a race that has been marked out for us — God has identified our “route,” he has placed on it important landmarks to see, to shape us; people we are to influence and be influenced by; lessons we are to learn. The race isn’t always easy. Like my sister, there will be times when we’re just hurting and want to quit, times when the end seems too far away to ever achieve. But like my sister, we need to persevere. God is calling us to run, not a literal marathon, but a spiritual one. One where the prize is not a medal or bleeding feet, but “the prize of our high calling in Jesus Christ.”
So run. Grab your shoes, start your training, get rid of whatever it is that is holding you back from running the race God has marked out for you. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Don’t just read about the race. Don’t just talk about it. Don’t just listen to sermons about running. Don’t complain about the others who are running or claim to be running. Run! It is worth the effort. It is worth the pain. It’s worth the sacrifices.
Because making it to the end is going to be amazing!
I hate being in the middle of things.
Beginnings are fun. Or challenging. Maybe even tough. But they are the beginnings. Even when they are the beginning of difficulties, there’s a sense of strength, an “I can do this” attitude. In the beginning of trials, I am clinging to God, preparing for the battle, armed and ready for whatever may come. At the beginning of the good stuff, I am on the mountaintop, dreaming about the amazing things to come.
I don’t mind endings, either. When it’s something good — like a book being published or a school year ending — I look back with a contented sense of accomplishment. All that hard work really WAS worth it! When it’s the end of a difficult time…whew. I can see a little more clearly what God was doing and how He taught me through the trial. There is relief and rest. It’s over!
But the middle…The middle makes me feel like this:
I’m in the middle right now. We moved here three months ago. When we first moved, it was really hard, but I was clinging to God for help as we left the people and places we loved back in Tampa. I knew God had his hands all over this move, that there is a purpose in it, a reason for us to be here. But there was some excitement, too – new house, new location, new people, fresh start. The unknown can be both exhilarating and intimidating.
But the unknown is more known, now. We are in the middle of life in the new place. We know people, but don’t have close friends, yet. We’re involved in church, but we’re still the “new folks.” We are in the middle of a new routine, but we’re all missing the familiarity and comfort of the old one.
I spoke to one of my new friends last week. She is in the middle of a far more difficult situation than I am in. My situation will very likely end well. And my ending is likely far closer than hers. She shared how, when her trial began, she was ready for it, armed for battle. But as the war wages on, she is finding herself weary. Her battle will not end soon. She is tired, overwhelmed, she has far more responsibilities than she has time.
Listening to her, I felt guilty for what I know is pure whininess on my part. My “middle” is a cakewalk compared to hers.
But my solution is the same as hers: She said the only way she can get through her trial is one day at a time. She asks God to help her accomplish just what she needs to accomplish that day. Then she wakes up the next day and does the same thing. One day at a time, clinging to Christ even when she’s exhausted, even when the end seems impossibly far away.
Last week, God used this new friend to encourage me. And, yesterday, he brought an old friend by to bring further encouragement — to remind me of his faithfulness in the past so I can continue to trust Him with my future. God reminded me that He is with me in the middle, walking beside me. He reminded me there are lessons to be learned in the middle and joys to be experienced here, as well. The middle is, for me, right where God wants me to accomplish his purposes in my life.
So I will choose to rejoice…even in the middle.
Have you ever had the amazing spiritual “high” after a great week of camp? Or felt like God is so near you could almost reach out and touch Him? Do you ever feel like God is really far away? Or do you sometimes wonder if he’s even there at all?
My kids and I were listening to the fabulous Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre production of CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters in the car a while back. In this book, a “head demon” is writing to his student about how to keep “those awful” humans from knowing God.
The whole book is brilliant, but one particular “letter” always sticks out to me: The one where Screwtape tells his student about the “Law of Undulation.” This law is the reality that sometimes Christians can feel very close to God and sometimes we can feel very far away. Screwtape’s advice is that, when humans feel far from God, they need to believe this is how they will always feel. They should doubt if they even know God, if there even is a God, and if it is at all worth it to continue serving Him when it seems like no prayers are being answered and no blessings are filling their cups.
Have you ever been there? I know I have. The Christian life isn’t easy, and we sometimes live with the false expectation that it should be, that if we know Christ and serve Him, everything is going to be terrific, all the stoplights will be green and all the cute shirts will be on sale.
The advice, “unknowingly” given by Screwtape in this book, is that God allows those periods where we feel distant from him – what one author has called “the dark night of the soul” – to help us grow. He wants us to be motivated, not emotions, but by faith. To obey even when things aren’t going well, to rejoice even when life is tough, to love even when we don’t feel like it.
This state, Screwtape says, is “dangerous.” He warns his student to do all he can to prevent humans from understanding the truth that there are waves – undulations – in the Christian life. Good times, bad times, happy times, sad times, times we feel close to God, and times we feel like he is a million miles away. Because when we understand that, we are free to serve God regardless of how we feel or what circumstances we might currently be in.
So, my friends, let us be “dangerous.” Let us commit ourselves wholeheartedly to serving our Savior no matter what. Even on bad days. Even when people treat us poorly. Even when we are in the middle of terrible circumstances. Let us “ride the waves” of life and not be sucked into their undertow.
I‘m not old. But I can see old. I am perilously close to the top of the hill.
I know I’m getting older because people look at my wedding pics and say, “Look how cute you were!” (emphasis on the were). And because people think I’m lying when I say that I just got my first gray hair this year (It’s true! And it’s still just the one). And because my firstborn is just a few months from turning 16 (excuse me while I hyperventilate).
There are benefits to getting older: I have 39 years of life lessons behind me. My wrinkles reflect wisdom. My gray hair (did I mention I just have the one?), survival. I no longer ask Dave if my butt looks big in those jeans. Of course it does! I’ve had three kids and I hardly ever exercise.
I no longer try and compare myself to supermodels. Instead, I think about writing their mothers and telling them to put on some clothes.
Getting older is part of life. Sadly, our tendency in facing that reality is to focus on the outside. We want to surgically remove all vestiges of age – suck it out, perk it up, lift it away. But too often this results in a complete lack of focus on the inside. And while there is nothing wrong with wanting to look nice, there is something really wrong with making that all you think about.
Here’s a verse many of you have heard before, but all of us need to be reminded of: “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Sam. 16:7b
If, as Christians, our goal in this – and the next – life is to glorify God, then constantly worrying about what we look like, how we’re aging, counting our gray hairs and Googling ways to minimize crow’s feet is not beneficial. Being grateful for the years God has given us, the lessons He has taught us in those years, looking for ways to serve others and share Christ’s love –that is where our focus should be.
So even if you’re not old, or almost old, you should still be focusing your energy on developing your inner beauty. It sounds cliche – but only because it is true. Inner beauty is more important! It is more lasting. So forget your butt. Start asking “how does my heart look?”
Most of you reading this are like me – you’ve spent a lot of time on a Bandwagon. If there’s a new fad, a new saying, an “it” fashion, you are all over it. We’re all guilty of it. I’ve been around long enough to see everyone I know – myself included – fall victim to one Bandwagon scheme…or a hundred.
That crazy diet that makes you sick to your stomach, causes your hair to fall out and your breath to stink? Yes, that one. It was THE health craze. Those fabulous purses that cost three times more than the no-name brand and fall apart just as quickly? HAD to have it. And let’s not even go into the shoes. Who cares if they’re ridiculously uncomfortable and you have to fracture your pinkie toe to get into them? That pointy toe, stiletto heel is worth it all, baby!
We can get really passionate about our phases – I was into a diet about 10 years back that was I SURE was “the” answer for all people everywhere. I told my friends and family about it, met with others doing the same thing. I was all in on that Bandwagon….for about a year. Now, I forget what was so great about it. It was just a diet! Silly me.
The problem comes, though, when our faith becomes just another “phase” – a Bandwagon we jump on because our friends are doing it or we had an experience at camp or we went through a difficult time and promised God if He got us through it, we’d serve Him. When we seek after Jesus the same way we’re seeking after those pointy-toe boots or that all-natural diet, He eventually gets “old”. We burn out and move on to another phase.
God did not send His only Son to die on our behalf and offer us eternal life so that we could have an “experience.” The Christ-life should never be the equivalent of the latest shoe, diet, or fancy purse. It is a lifetime commitment to the One who created us, has plans for us, is FAR superior to us in every way. Living for Christ means that we daily offer Him our wholehearted worship and devotion. We aren’t in it for what we get out of it, and we’re not in it because “everybody else is doing it”. We are in it because we recognize that we are made in the image of a holy, awesome God, a God worth telling people about, worth devoting our lives to.
We need to get off of “Bandwagon Christianity”, own our faith, and live it out every day — no matter the cost.
Most of you reading this are now humming that song from “High School Musical” – and hating me for getting it stuck in your head. Sorry about that. But there’s some truth to that ridiculously repetitive ditty. Troy needed to be reminded that, if he wanted to win that all-important basketball game, he’d better focus on that and not on the cute newcomer, Gabriella.
He recognized that if he were to allow his mind to drift off the court, he would let his team down and, possibly, lose the game. So he sang and danced (WITH a basketball! Impressive, you have to admit…) a reminder. Side note: all lessons in life should be accompanied by singing and dancing. How much more enjoyable would that be??
We are all busy, with days that seem to go on forever and calendars that have no white spaces in them for months on end. Because of that, it is easy to spend every day thinking about the next day, or the day after that. Sometimes they’re happy thoughts (we get a day off in three weeks!); sometimes they’re stressful (I have to take the SAT next month!); sometimes our thoughts focus on people (will he ask me to Homecoming?) But whatever they are, if those thoughts dominate our minds, we miss out on the most important day: TODAY.
There’s a great line from “The Music Man”, where Harold turns to Marion and says, “You pile up enough tomorrows and you’ll find you’re left with nothing but a bunch of empty yesterdays.” Side note: musicals are far more profound than people give them credit for.
When our heads are focused on tomorrow, we lose out on the joy of today. We don’t listen when people are talking because we are thinking/worrying about what we need to do later. We miss out on opportunities to minister, to deepen friendships, to encourage, to grow because our heads aren’t in “the game”. We get to the end of our calendar and we find that, though every square was filled, our souls are empty.
So plan for tomorrow, but LIVE today. Don’t just seek God’s will for your future, seek Him for your next hour, and the hour after that. You are in the game right now! Every “play” is important and deserving of your full attention.
“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ~Mt. 6:34
I know today’s teens get a tough rap, but I happen to think you are pretty spectacular. You guys have been thrown a lot of curve balls – the ultra-protection that comes from living more of your lives post 9/11 than pre-9/11; the constant influx of new technologies; the increased pressure to get better grades, take harder classes, pass more tests…Being a teen today takes far more work than it did back when I was that age.
But here’s what we had that some of this generation is missing: in-the-same-room communication. While texting and Snap chatting and Tweeting are fine – in the right context – none of that substitutes plain, old-fashioned talking.
In the wrong context, texting, Snap chatting, and Tweeting can actually keep us from having healthy relationships. Subtweeting ( indirectly tweeting something -usually negative – about someone without mentioning his/her name), for instance, can be terribly damaging. Instead of going directly to someone who has upset you, you subtweet their offense (“I hate when it people take credit for my ideas in Student Council!”). This is gossip and it’s cowardly. Just tell that person – in person – he/she upset you by taking credit for your ideas.
Texting too often replaces important, beneficial, face-to-face interaction, also…like getting to know new friends or potential boyfriends. You can only know so much about a person through words on a screen, or even pictures for that matter. You need to see them, hear them, watch them around others. Nothing can replace that.
I don’t think technology is bad – I happen to be pretty crazy about my iPhone! But I do think that technology is a supplement, not a replacement – like Sparksnotes to an actual novel. Don’t miss out on the joy of really getting to know people; don’t allow yourself the easy way out when it’s time to confront, either.
Enjoy being teens in the twenty-teens, but go old school with your relationships.
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to “The Will of God”, I tend to think of the “big” stuff: choosing a career, getting married, having kids….that kind of thing. But the older I get, the more I realize that it is just as important to seek God in the small stuff as it with the biggies.
Because here’s the deal: even the “big stuff” gets small. My wedding day, while amazing, was just a day. Thousands of days have passed since then. On my wedding day, I said “I will” to “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health”. But every one of those thousands of days since, I have had to make the choice, with God’s help, to live those vows out.
Having kids wasn’t exactly a choice I made – God knew we were ready to be parents about 9 months before we did. But it was still pretty huge (as was I!). But having my first child was, again, just a day: a painful, exhilarating, life-changing day, sure. But that day was followed by thousands more days that were far more ordinary, messy, and challenging. Days when I had the choice to be the mom called me to be or to throw in the towel and give up.
I could go on (becoming missionaries; getting books published; teaching…), but you get the idea. The big events in life are just moments – moments that are built on the smaller events. And it’s in the small things – in everything – that we need to seek God’s will.
The “who will I marry?” question isn’t nearly as important as the “what do You want me to do today?” question. I met Dave because I followed God’s leading to study His word, to work at a camp, to be the best counselor I could be while working at that camp. It was my day-in-day-out actions that impressed by future husband. Not just my pretty face :). And those of you reading this who want to marry a man who loves Jesus with all his heart? You need to be doing the same — daily seeking what God wants you to do, in the little things.
So let go of the big stuff that consumes your thoughts and ask God to help you obey Him in the small stuff: reading your Bible, encouraging someone who is hurt, waking up for church tomorrow instead of sleeping in, finishing your homework on time…
The big stuff will come. And it will go. The small stuff is always here. So seek God’s will in everything – especially the small stuff!
I don’t like having to discipline my kids – the biological ones or the ones in my classroom. I want them to behave because they know they should. I don’t want to have to force them to behave by bringing in restrictions, taking away gadgets, or writing up referrals.
But, after 15 years of parenting and 7 years of teaching, I have learned that, like or not, discipline is necessary. If I let my own children get away with whatever they wanted, they’d be rotten right now. If I let my students do what they wanted in class, very little actual learning would take place. Discipline, though not fun, is necessary to accomplish my goals as a parent and a teacher.
God is the ultimate Parent and the Master Teacher. As such, he recognizes that sometimes, we need discipline. At times, that discipline isn’t painful…maybe we just need clarification on how to live, guidance to make the best decisions. But, sometimes, when we are being especially rebellious, he needs to do something to get our attention and take us off that wrong path and back on the right one.
Hebrews 12:11 says “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..”
The peaceful fruit of righteousness. That’s what I want – for my children, my students, and myself. In order to attain it, then, I must be willing to be trained by the discipline of God.
Maybe you’re feeling this right now – God is trying to discipline you, train you. Are you allowing Him to speak into your life? Or are you complaining, angry, upset that things aren’t going your way? God is a good God, a loving Father. He wants you to have the best life possible. So listen to Him, obey Him. Accept His discipline and grow.
This year, with great fear and trembling, my husband and I agreed to let our son play football (okay, so I was the one with fear and trembling, but whatever…). I’d much rather Thomas play something safe. Like chess. But he is all boy and super athletic, and he has begged for years to play football. I kept saying no (he’s just 11!!). But this year, I gave in.
Last night was Thomas’ first game. He was so excited. He didn’t get hurt (yay!) and he even made a couple pretty impressive plays. But most exciting of all was that he scored a touchdown for his team!
After we got home, Thomas gave us the inside scoop on the touchdown: He had boys from the other team hot on his tail. But he also had boys from his team at his back. When he got to the line that you cross to make a touchdown (my football vocabulary is pathetic, I know…), the boys from his team literally had his back. Thomas said he could feel those boys lifting him over the line, as he cradled that football with all the strength he had left. Though Thomas technically made the touchdown, he would not have made it if it weren’t for his teammates’ help.
It made me think of something my sister-in-law, Jill, tells my niece, Mercy — she encourages Mercy to find a group of friends who love Jesus and who will encourage her to live the life God has called her to live. Friends who have her back, like the football players had Thomas, and who will push her towards THE goal.
We all need friends like that, because even the strongest of us have times when we’re running out of steam, or when we’re being chased down by the enemy and we just don’t think we can take another step. Times when we need a lift – and a push – to get us where we need to be.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Prov. 17:17