Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Don't Give In (Classic)

Anyone else remember the government sanctioned torture known as the Presidential Physical Fitness Award from the President's Council on Physical Fitness? I'm shuddering just typing that sentence - it was a nightmare every year in P.E. as our teacher seemed to delight in watching us painfully attempt to meet the criteria... and fail.

The worst, of course, was the 15 minute walk/run... for a kid whose main physical activities included reading books, playing board games & hiding from neighborhood bullies, this was like being chased around the track with a cattle prod. "Keep movin', Jackson..." Dang, that still echoes in my head.

With the hindsight of age & being a parent, I think I understand the point - the objective was to develop our bodies physically, and especially our ability to endure. Of course, that knowledge doesn't make my memories of those P.E. classes any fonder.

Fast forward to today, where my primary concern is not endurance to circle a dirt track but the perseverance to make it through my life. It's been easy lately to find myself (metaphorically) with my hands on my knees, gasping for breath and just hoping that someone will tell me when I can stop running & lay down in the grass.

More athletic friends have told me about "runner's high", which evidently happens when you reach past the wall of pain that comes when you hit the limits of your endurance & break through to the other side. I have not personally experienced this in the track & field arena... but one of the things that helps me start jogging again in my day-to-day life is the memories of those kind of moments sprinkled liberally by Jesus throughout my walk with Him.

Sometimes, like last night, it takes someone else to remind me of that. In a conversation I didn't particularly enjoy (because, when I'm honest, I'd rather not be challenged about spiritual stuff & instead allowed to sulk & pout like a 5 year old), my wife did just that.

And because God is nothing if not thorough, when I walked into the office at the crack of dawn this morning, the stuff I was studying for Sunday night's message (in James 1) was on perseverance. And when I flipped on the CD I'd stuck in my office boom box last night (Michael W. Smith's THE BIG PICTURE), it was playing songs with lines like:

  • Down on your confidence, it's a fight that won't let go. (But) you've got to realize that you're alright. (Cause) under your rubble lies a heart the Father holds... and when you see your life through His eyes, you're alright. ("You're Alright") 
  • Well, I tell you there's another way to be free - to be complete. But you've got to make it through another day and deny your own defeat. (Don't give in.) And I'm here to tell you there's another way to consume a hungry heart. Jesus is waiting just a prayer away... let Him in to where you are. ("The Last Letter")
All right, enough all ready. I get the message. Hang on. Keep on keeping on. Run the race with... endurance. (Ouch - that's from the Bible.)

God is not my P.E. teacher... he's not trying to push me into pain to see me fail. He has, according to Jeremiah 29, plans to prosper me... plans to give me a future & a hope.

But how?! When life seems so stinkin' overwhelming, how do I "keep on keeping on"?!

The answer came to me, in a flash. (This, by the way, is why we encourage people to read & study the Bible - it's a lot easier for those "in a flash" moments to happen when you've fed your head the good stuff.)

Do you see what this means-all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running-and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed-that exhilarating finish in and with God-he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

Hebrews 12:1-3 (MSG)
So, I have to ask myself this morning:
  • Where are my eyes? Am I looking at the track (of life) or my watch (impatiently waiting for all of this to end) or am I focused laser-sharp on Jesus?
  • What stories inspire me right now? Am I taking in cynicism by the heaping spoonful or am I digging deep into the good news of Jesus Christ? 
  • What am I carrying that I need to drop so I can run free? Is there sin in my life? (And not just the obvious stuff... pride & bitterness weigh just as much lust & greed.) 
I want to run the race, God - not to get a certificate or to pass the class, but in order to please & honor You. In this moment, that seems impossible. But I know that You specialize in things I can't begin to imagine... so I surrender myself to You. Do what it takes.
So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God's will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

Hebrews 10:35-36 (NLT)
This post originally appeared in October 2007 in the NewLife Community Church newsletter. I'd also like to refer you to a great article on the Presidential Physical Fitness Award from NPR.

Honestly, I'm posting this today because I need to hear the message again... and I'm betting I'm not alone.

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