Running the Race

I’ve already written a post on when God is silent, so I won’t go over those points again. I want to kind of return to that theme though, if you will.

These past several weeks have been extremely hard for me. I have been an emotional wreck over many different aspects of my life right now, but one of the things that has really bothered me is the status of my relationship with God. I have really felt void of any growth or response in that area lately. I have battled against zero motivation to read the Bible and spend time in prayer, as well as having nothing to write about. I’ve lost the experiential part of the Christian walk, which is hard for me as I have the unhealthy tendency to lean very heavily on my feelings. However, being in this low point has brought me face-to-face with a hard reality that I know in my head, but haven’t completely embraced in my heart.

                                The Christian’s walk, the Christian’s race, is not a bed of roses.

Surprised? That’s something that we’ve all heard before. Did I really expect it to be easy? No. But was I prepared to face the struggles and hard times that a Christian will face? No. That being said, I’m still young and haven’t exactly had a life crisis or anything that totally wreaks havoc on my faith, nothing like that. But for where I’m at in my walk with Christ at this point, I am going through a hard time.

How am I supposed to be prepared for those hard spots in my walk? Three things come to mind.

Firstly, I need to make sure that I am doing what I can to grow closer to the Lord with each passing day. That means continually spending time in prayer, reading and studying His word, worshiping Him throughout the day, serving Him daily, etc. I need to make sure that I’m not lagging on my part in having a thriving, growing relationship with the Lord. How do I expect Him to be there if I’m not making an effort to be with Him?

Secondly, I need to rely on knowledge and belief, and not feelings. Again, this is something that’s really hard for me to do, but if I consistently go by how I feel, what does that mean about my faith? Is my faith founded by feelings, or is it founded by truth and belief? If I know in my head and heart truths, it will be easier to undergo trials and hardships, as trials and hardships induce lots of unreliable feelings.

Third, I need to have someone to hold me accountable. For me, this is an area that I struggle with greatly (do I have a spot where I don’t struggle??). I need to have someone to gently but firmly remind me that I am relying on my feelings rather than belief, to remind me to read and study God’s Word, etc. I know about myself that if I don’t have someone to hold me accountable to something, then I will slide on by without giving it a second thought.

I want to review Hebrews 12:1-3: 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 faced such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Running the race that Christ has marked out for us takes endurance, and perseverance. It’s not something that you can finish in a day. It will take you your entire life, until the very day you die. None of us have the zeal to make it a lifetime without tiring or losing patience at some point. Zeal helps us to start the race at a steady speed, but endurance is what will keep us fueled and going strong. Without endurance, running this race is going to be extremely difficult.

We are not alone, however, in running this race. We are “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses”. We have built-in accountability partners! We don’t have to do this by ourselves! That should be an encouragement. And not only are we not alone, but we have something to look forward to, to fix our eyes on – the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Is that not encouraging as well?

Another point often ignored is that of self-discipline. Running this race requires this discipline. How could you run a race and complete it without any discipline?

1 Corinthians 9:24-27: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

To tie this back to the first part of my post, I am struggling to run this race. It is not a very easy part to run right now. I need endurance, perseverance, self-discipline, accountability, to rely on belief rather than feeling, and to grow closer to my Lord. Apart from Him, I can do nothing.

Reminder From Getting Carsick

Hey guys! I have some great tips for some of you who struggle with this certain area. This frustrating field is that of “getting carsick”. First tip: Don’t move from flat land to reeeally hilly/mountainous land, like from Texas to Pennsylvania. There’s no good transition there.

Secondly, don’t try to text anybody or change the time zone on your iPod, because that’s a really bad idea. Don’t even try it to prove that I’m right.

Third, don’t close your eyes. That just makes it WORSE. Want to know how I know all of these things? Can you say “lots of personal experience”?

Ok, so now serious. 🙂 I get motion sick, and a form of it is getting carsick. I can’t read, do something that requires looking down, etc. So today, I had an hour car ride through the hilly back roads, and for me it was not fun. But, I discovered a tactic that helped temporarily. I was able to stare at the sky (which was so beautiful… I get side-tracked easily), and that eased the churning of the brain and stomach somewhat. Since I get side-tracked so easily, I’m also prone to find serious tips out of odd object lessons. My weird brain suddenly compared the carsickness and keeping my eyes fixed on the sky, to that of life being so crazy and chaotic, and keeping my eyes fixed on the Lord.

There are seriously days when it’s like life is just whizzing by, everything’s happening so fast, and there’s no way to slow it down. Nothing seems to be steady or stable, and it’s a chaotic craziness that sometimes seems like it won’t end. Keep your eyes steadily fixed on the Lord. He is the only thing that will never change, and that’s the only stable, steady thing that we can really hold on to. I know y’all already know this, but I’ve heard it for forever, too, and I still need that reminder. When life is whizzing by and you can’t slow it down, keep your eyes on the Lord; He is the only thing that we can hold on to that will never change.

Lessons Learned From Jonah

Something scary happened this morning. I read through the book of Jonah for my Bible reading. (That’s not the scary part.) As I was reading, I was noting several similarities between myself and Jonah, as well as the men at sea with him in a certain part of the classic tale. (That’s the scary part.) So here are some things that stood out to me as I read through this book.

We all know how the story goes. But what I find interesting is that the very first action we see from Jonah is disobedience toward the Lord.

Jonah 1:1-2: The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” We see that God has issued a decree. He has given Jonah a command, and an explanation – He’s not just sending him on a blind mission. Go and preach against it, its wickedness has come up before the Lord.

v.3: But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

[blink] Really? God says “Go”, to which Jonah replies with, “No”. Notice though that God doesn’t strike him with lightening or kill him on the spot for his defiance. He lets him go his own way, He allows him to disobey. Jonah had some time to think this through as he fled. He could have stopped, turned around, and fulfilled his command. I wonder if he was feeling extremely guilty, or if he was completely hard-hearted about the matter as he fled.

How often does God give us a command and we reject it? How can we criticize Jonah for his act of disobedience when we do the same thing?

The next thing I notice is that first we have these sailors on the ship during the storm, crying out to each of their gods in fear, and then suddenly they’re praying to the Lord, making vows and offering sacrifices. Why the sudden turn of events?

v. 11: The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So [the sailors] asked [Jonah], “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down before us?”
“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.” Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to Him.

Think back to the story of Gideon, when he demanded a sign of the Lord. We are born people of sight and not of faith. Seeing and believing is far easier than believing in things that you cannot see. They saw this amazing thing take place – they threw this man overboard, who was running away from his God, therefore causing the storm, and his God was so powerful that He stopped the storm. Talk about a miracle. How often do you think we would “greatly fear the Lord” if He would show us obvious miracles such as that? Does this not say something about our faith in and fear of Him now?

Here’s where Jonah gets his consequences of disobedience. Not only is he thrown overboard into a wild sea, but he’s swallowed by a huge fish. Notice though, God was merciful in allowing him to be swallowed by the fish. He spared Jonah’s life by allowing this to happen, instead of letting him drown, or actually be torn apart and killed by sea life. I know that being swallowed by a huge fish isn’t exactly what we would think of when we picture an act of mercy, but this sheds a different light on the hard times in life. When we’re going through a hard time, what if it’s actually a big fish, mercifully sparing us of something far worse? It doesn’t mean it’s pleasant, but sometimes God shows mercy to us in ways we don’t always imagine, much less see as acts of mercy at the time.

God goes even further to demonstrate His mercy by hearing Jonah’s prayer, and causing the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. This is more of the act of mercy we would picture – being saved from our hard time.

Then, the Lord repeats His command a second time. I picture that like a gentle slap in the face: “Remember, that thing I told you to do earlier? You wanna go down that same route again, or just do as I asked you to do before?” Jonah 3:3: Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh…

Chapter 4 starts to reflect my true self more, sadly. In Jonah 3:10: When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened. (Another act of mercy, anyone? I mean, these people’s wickedness had come up before God, for crying out loud, it sounds like they deserved said destruction…) But in 4:1, it reads: But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (To which I might add, Jonah’s reply is not recorded.)

First, Jonah gets angry that destruction has not come to Nineveh. Then he starts making excuses to justify his fleeing to Tarshish. He then ends his complaint with a cry to die. Sounds like something I would do. I would have been up “at a place east of the city” (v.5), waiting to see what would happen for it. I would get mad that these people that I had fled from, then eventually braved, were not being destroyed. I would want justice.

V. 5: Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he had made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. (Interjection: Me, being very happy for a shady tree on a Texas summer afternoon.) But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”
But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?”
“It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.”
But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals?”

And here is where the book just ends. We don’t see if Jonah feels remorse and guilt over his actions, or if he stays stubborn and resentful. But we do see that God uses object lessons. Just as Jonah cared for the plant, God cared for Nineveh, and for far greater reason. The cold, hard truth is that Jonah simply didn’t care. That’s easy for us to say about his situation. We look at it, shake our heads, and say he was stupid to act that way. But how many times have we been more concerned with our own personal comfort, provision, and needs instead of the needs of hundreds or thousands of others whose needs far surpass our own? How can we point the finger at Jonah, when we’ve repeated his same foolish mistakes so many times ourselves?

I love this story; it shows how someone who believes in God still makes stupid choices, acts foolishly, pays the consequences, and God still loves ‘em and shows them mercy. I am a Jonah. I have disobeyed God, ignored His acts of mercy and focused on the negative rather than the positive, and cared more about myself than meeting the needs of His people. I am one of the men at sea – I believe things far easier when I can see the proof, the evidence, and the miracles. We strive to live like Jesus, but so often fall into living like Jonah!

Update

Hey guys. It’s me. I haven’t been run over by a train, come down with a lethal illness, or been abducted by aliens, in case you were wondering. These past few weeks have been a learning segment for me rather than teaching, so I haven’t had much to say or write here. I haven’t forgotten y’all, I promise. I’ve tried several times to write about what I’m learning, but I’m not at the point yet where I’ve overcome it and am ready to share how I got to there. So just letting y’all know, I’m still here, just haven’t had anything to say lately. 🙂

This Thing Called “Life”

I am afraid. Of life. It haunts me with realities that I don’t want to face, questions to which I have no answers, and futures that are shrouded in mystery. It’s hard, this thing called life, and the realization that I’m stuck in it is scary and overwhelming. I have one shot, one chance to live it to the fullest and do what’s right. If I fail, there’s no going back, no reversing the clock, no changing my mistakes. I am forced to live it whether I want to or not.

But I have an advantage that so many don’t. I have a purpose, a reason for being here. I was created for a special task, a certain thing to be accomplished; I don’t have to wander around listlessly, wondering why I’m here. And I have the best Guide to help me through this crazy adventure. The best part is, my Guide knows every twist and turn of my path. He knows the course I will take, and has each step planned out. What’s more, my Guide is my guardian and protector, who watches over me and provides for each and every need. And, He is always with me, every step of the way; my constant comforter and companion.

Is that not exhilarating? My best friend is my protector and leader. Who can complain? Yes, life is hard – sometimes, the pain is unspeakable. But through this thing called life, we have a Guide, a protector, a provider and friend, who can, and will, see us through. Isn’t that incredible?