Run with humility

1 Corinthians 9:24 (ESV) – “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.

Today we are continuing to consider what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about running a race in such a way so as to obtain the prize. We’ve already looked at running with perseverance, discipline, and self-control. Today our focus is on running with humility.

Humility is defined as a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance or rank. To be humble is to be not proud, not arrogant; modest; low in rank, importance, status; lowly; courteously respectful. To humble oneself is to lower in importance; abase; to destroy the independence, power, or will of.

What does the Bible have to say about humility?

Deuteronomy 8:14-18 (NLT) – “Do not become proud at that time and forget the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’ Remember the LORD your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV) – “. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Psalm 25:8-9 (NLT) – “The LORD is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray. He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them his way.

Proverbs 11:2 (NLT) – “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Proverbs 15:33 (The Message) – “Fear-of-God is a school in skilled living—first you learn humility, then you experience glory.

Proverbs 18:12 (The Message) – “Pride first, then the crash, but humility is precursor to honor.

Proverbs 22:4 (ESV) – “The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.

Matthew 23:12 (ESV) – “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Ephesians 4:2 (NLT) – “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

Philippians 2:3-5 (NLT) – “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

James 3:13 (NLT) – “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.

James 4:6-10 (The Message) – “It’s common knowledge that ‘God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.’ So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field. Hit bottom, and cry your eyes out. The fun and games are over. Get serious, really serious. Get down on your knees before the Master; it’s the only way you’ll get on your feet.

1 Peter 3:8 (ESV) – “. . . have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

1 Peter 5:5-6 (NLT) – “. . . dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

What would it look like for us to run with humility this race of training our children? Several of the Scriptures we read talk about humility being the goal we go for. Let’s look at three practical applications.

Firstly, running with humility means not seeking to gain our children’s (or anyone else’s) approval. This is reserved for God alone – He is the one we want to please. If we do receive some kind of approval, affirmation, kudos, or honor, we can receive it gracefully, but it is not our primary aim to obtain that. As the saying goes, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” We are not out to win a popularity contest with our children or with anyone else. Sometimes they’re not going to like the decisions we make. We make the decisions we make first and foremost to please God. (If our children happen to like them, yippee!)

Secondly, running with humility means we do the best we can with what God has given us, and we leave the outcome and timing in His capable hands. The Lord invites us to lay down our agendas, desires, control, preferences, and all that we are at His feet. John Wimber, the leader who began the Vineyard movement of churches, famously said, “We’re all just change in Jesus’ pocket. He can spend us any way He wants to.” We just need to show up and be available.

Thirdly, running with humility means understanding that if we choose not to humble ourselves, then we will without a doubt be humbled. I was deeply impacted at a prayer conference in the early 2000’s by a Ugandan pastor who likened God’s desire for us to be completely His to a server offering us a choice at a restaurant: “How would you like your transformation? Through desperation? Or through devastation?” This is not a threat but a description of how life works. 1 John 2:16 (The Message) – “Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him.” God gives grace to the humble. Running with pride means climbing the pedestals in life: going after our own way, wanting everything for ourselves, or wanting to appear important. The problem with pedestals is that we will inevitably fall off of them. Or we can lay our lives down, as Jesus did, in humility and surrender, going after God’s way, wanting what He wants, loving as He loves. We can trust God to do with us what He wants, when He wants. We can trust Him to give us what we need, when He knows we need it. He is good.

I found this excerpt in article in “Runner’s World” – it’s a pretty good description of what we go through in our journey of training up our children. “Running is always an exercise in humility. We have good days and bad days in training. We have poop stories, chafing incidents, farmer blows, public pees, and black toenails. We have rough races. We fall and get banged up. We go for PRs (personal records) and sometimes come up with DNFs (did not finish’s). We suffer injuries and combat aging. We dust off and try and try again . . . Perhaps we are worn like the Velveteen Rabbit. The miles and the sweat have rubbed us real.” I had the softest skin I’ve ever had when I lived in Russia. The combination of dirt, snow, and ice being flung onto our faces whenever a bus or truck rumbled by served as an extremely effective exfoliant. I would never have guessed that something so humble as dirt, combined with something so ubiquitous as snow and ice, would have produced something beautiful after many repetitions over time. We don’t know what God will use to bring about beauty in our lives and in the lives of our children. Our job is to let Him use whatever He likes and trust Him with the rest.

I want to close with another story penned by Whitney Powell, a self-styled athlete and adventurer who volunteered to serve as a guide for a blind marathon runner. I think this is beautifully analogous to training up children because God gave us the privilege and authority to be their parents, and a big part of this means that we are the guides who accompany them the most on their journeys and help them to find their way even if they can’t see as much as we can yet.

My super-runner grabbed my arm and started to run. My tiny, shuffling steps didn’t match his longer gait, but it was on me to adjust. Another challenge. A few miles in and we were a little behind where we should have been and were making a bathroom stop. This was going to be a long race. Miles ticked on and slowly but surely, we were able to run more minutes and walk less. Fourteen miles in, I realized something: I was running a marathon too.

I KNEW I was running a marathon, but it occurred to me I hadn’t done anything remotely close to how I usually raced, and I kind of liked it. There is a huge difference in running a marathon and racing a marathon, and I’m very competitive. Usually I’d be over-thinking my hydration and pacing strategies and personal records and so on, but suddenly, 14 miles had gone by and I was solely concerned about him feeling confident and having enough water and nutrition to crush this marathon. A manhole in a road can be devastating to a blind runner, so my attention to every crack in the road and distance between us and the people around us was so acute, it sucked every bit of attention and brainpower I had . . .

As we crossed the finish line, I couldn’t help but be a little frustrated that we didn’t make it under 6 hours at 6:06. Running a marathon is never “easy”, but I have to admit, I gained a new respect for people that are out there running longer. I was really tired! I watched a woman put a medal around his neck and thought about what he said to me about 1k before the finish line: that he was so grateful for me being there with him to help him finish and I was doing a great job being a guide. I almost cried. My whole attitude changed and I knew I had been incredibly selfish in my goals and motivations for this marathon before we started. I was thinking about MY needs and goals and wanting to bring him along for the ride. I hadn’t thought about myself at all during the race and had spent every ounce of my being serving him – wanting nothing but for him to be proud of what he’d done and was about to do by running all seven continents, some of them with me.

To be someone’s eyes, and be TRUSTED with the task of guiding someone through 26.2 miles of crowded city roads, something we take for granted every single day, was an incredible honor, and I was so ashamed that I had an attitude going up to the starting line. I was honored to be with him as a number-less, chip-less runner while he stood in the limelight, and not getting a race shirt didn’t take the experience away from me . . . Think about serving others. What are their needs? . . . Be there for them, and you will absolutely be rewarded in the end.

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Run with self-control

Today we are continuing to consider what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about running a race in such a way so as to obtain the prize. We’ve already looked at running with perseverance and running with discipline. Today our focus is on running with self-control. Anyone who has home schooled their children for any length of time knows that we are given many opportunities each day to practice self-control!

1 Corinthians 9:25 (ESV) – “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”

The original word used in that verse for “self-control” is variously translated into English as: strict training, strict discipline, disciplined in training, controls himself, temperate, practices self-control, restrains his mind, refraineth himself, and practices abstemiousness. The actual Greek word, “egkrateuomai”, may or may not sound a bit like “egg crate – oh my!” and reminds me that self-control is often what you need in order to take good care of yourself and the other precious people in your life.

But seriously, the literal meaning of running with self-control has to do with exercising dominion from within. As the athletes of Paul’s day prepared themselves for the games, they practiced self-control, self-denial, and self-mastery in all things. The struggle for self-control is all about saying “no” to the things we want so badly in the moment but turn out to be less than God’s highest and best in the long run.

1 John 2:16 (NLT) – “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.” And again in the ESV – “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” I was curious about the original meaning of the words in this verse, and noticed the word “pan” – we know this root word well in pandemic, pandemonium, pancreas, pantaloons . . . and in the Greek it means what we know full well it means – everything, all, the whole thing, every kind of. It’s hard to swallow, probably one of those verses we’d rather gloss over or sidestep in order to give in to our cravings. But it’s pretty clear – ALL of our cravings for pleasure, achievement, possessions are from the world and not from the Father. Note that it does not say that everything that brings us pleasure, every achievement, or every possession is evil. It says that the craving of them and the pride that results come from the world, not from God. The Lord does not want to deny us these things. They’re not bad things. He simply wants us to experience His absolute best, the abundant life, which is only possible when we set our affections on Him, not on the good things He’s created for our enjoyment. He has so much more in store for us! Ephesians 3:20 (The Message) – “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” His highest and best for us are so far above these temporary things we often think we need.

“No” – such a little word, and so hard to say, especially when it comes to our cravings for pleasure, achievement, or possessions. Whatever we crave ends up having mastery over us, because then we’re thinking about it all the time, wanting more of it, putting all our energy towards it. God keeps things pretty simple – He calls us to worship Him first and best because He is the only One worthy of our worship. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. In worshiping God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, He is our one and only master. And He’s good. He’s the best Master around. We have to choose who we’re going to serve. Then we live that out by exercising self-control when it comes to our cravings.

Back to the Isthmian Games about which Paul wrote – even though there was nothing inherently wrong with the food, drink, or other pleasures necessarily, serious athletes chose to partake in these only if those things best served their goal of winning the prize. They lived simply, underwent the most severe training, and controlled themselves so that they would not later give way, give out, or give up. Our home schooling adventures are often long, arduous, and winding roads. We need to practice self-control so we’ll be able to run the best race we can for the glory of God.

The “crown” awarded in each contest of the Isthmian Games – 10 months of grueling self-control, discipline, and training leading up to a 10-minute contest – was a simple pine wreath from a sacred grove that lasted less than 10 days before withering away. How much more valuable the prize we’re going for – the incalculable inheritance Peter portrayed:

1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT) – “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay.”

We receive the crown of eternal life as a gift from God (freely given to all who put our faith and hope in Jesus Christ), but we still have to wrestle and run, as contending for a prize.

I honestly did not plan this or even think about it, but when I began this five-part series within the marathon series about how to run in such a way as to obtain the prize, I did not realize that this month’s focus, self-control, would occur during Lent, which is the 40 day period leading up to Easter observed by well over 1.5 billion Christians worldwide. The purpose of Lent is to prepare the Christ-follower for Easter through prayer, repentance, almsgiving, and fasting. It is customary to give up certain luxuries in order to replicate the account of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s journey into the desert for 40 days. Many also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or praying through a Lenten calendar, to draw nearer to God.

I’m starting a new Bible study adventure with a great bunch of Christ-following women this Friday, just two days before Palm Sunday. Again, I’m in awe of how the Holy Spirit orchestrated the timing of all these things. We’ll be studying “The Emotionally Healthy Woman” with the tagline of “Eight things you have to quit to change your life.” Sounds like another invitation to practice self-control! I invite you to join me in running with self-control by taking baby steps in the direction of quitting these eight things:

• Quit being afraid of what others think
• Quit lying
• Quit dying to the wrong things
• Quit denying anger, sadness, and fear
• Quit blaming
• Quit overfunctioning
• Quit faulty thinking
• Quit living someone else’s life

The Renovaré website (a Christian nonprofit that models, resources, and advocates fullness of life with God experienced, by grace, through the spiritual practices of Jesus and of the historical Church) says, “Disciplines do not earn us favor with God or measure spiritual success. They are exercises which equip us to live fully and freely in the present reality of God – and God works with us, giving us grace as we learn and grow.”

Self-control is all about changing the way we think on the inside, exercising dominion from within, having encounters with truth (which sets us free), and then letting those changes flow out of us into changed words, changed actions, changed lives.

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Run with discipline

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV) – “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 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. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

In continuing to look at what the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about running a race in such a way so as to obtain the prize, we recollect that last month we looked at running with perseverance. Today we’re going to look at running with discipline.

There are three main types of discipline – preventive, supportive, and corrective. Preventive discipline is all about focusing on that which is most important, so that we don’t get off track and so that we can run our best. Supportive discipline can be either internal or external, and is that which helps us to gain self-control and get back on track. Corrective discipline is the painful kind, which involves dealing directly with a problem or situation.

My first observation is that the more diligently we apply preventive discipline, the less of the other two we’ll need. Similarly, the more diligently we apply supportive discipline, the less corrective discipline we’ll need. I think we can all agree that corrective discipline is painful and undesirable in most cases!

Preventive discipline requires that we focus on that which is most important. Certainly we must fix our eyes on Jesus first and foremost. But the Bible also instructs us to watch over our hearts, to make plans, to gain wisdom for our ways, and to attend to the condition of those whom and that which God has entrusted into our care.

Proverbs 4:23 (NASB) – “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Proverbs 21:5 (ESV) – “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”

Proverbs 5:21-23 (ESV) – “For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray.”

Proverbs 27:23-27 (The Message) – “Know your sheep by name; carefully attend to your flocks; (Don’t take them for granted; possessions don’t last forever, you know.) And then, when the crops are in and the harvest is stored in the barns, you can knit sweaters from lambs’ wool, and sell your goats for a profit; there will be plenty of milk and meat to last your family through the winter.”

What is God inviting you to focus on today? Is there some aspect of His character that He wants you to remember? Is there something troubling your heart that you could give over to Him? Is there a plan of action that needs to be thought out and set in motion? Do you have a need for wisdom in a particular area of your life? Who do you need to most carefully attend to in this season?

Supportive discipline helps us to gain self-control and get us back on track. And self-control, although a fruit of the Spirit, needs to be practiced, just as patience and love and goodness and all the others need to be practiced. It’s not doing the great things, globally-reaching projects, or grand schemes, that brings about the blessing of God. It’s in the myriad of small things done in great love. As Mother Teresa famously said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Again and again and again. That has become my rule of life in recent years. It’s simple and it’s sustainable. What task is God inviting you to do join Him in today? Do it with great love. And then do the next task with great love. Be excellent over the long haul. Be steady and stick with it. Our job is to be diligent where we are and with what we have. God is present with us, whether we’re doing what we consider sacred or doing what we consider mundane.

Perry Engle, a Brethren bishop, blogged this: “Nicolas Herman was a French veteran of the Thirty Years’ War. After being injured in the war, he ended up in a Carmelite monastery in Paris. He didn’t have the necessary education to become a cleric, and so he resigned himself to being a lay brother. He spent most of his years at the monastery washing dishes and repairing sandals. Once there, Nicolas took the lofty religious name of ‘Lawrence of the Resurrection.’ People who knew him simply called him Brother Lawrence. Brother Lawrence wrote about the spirituality of everyday tasks. His little book, ‘The Practice of the Presence of God,’ is a collection of his writings compiled after he died in relative obscurity in 1691. In his reflections, this man who never attained the position of pastor or priest told of experiencing the presence of God in tasks as mundane as washing dishes. One of his most famous sayings refers to time spent in his kitchen: ‘The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.’

We don’t know what God will do next. We do know that He asks us to be faithful where we’re at.

Ecclesiastes 11:6 (ESV) – “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.”

Proverbs 10:4, 22 (ESV) – “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich . . . The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.”

Proverbs 13:11 (ESV) – “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”

Proverbs 13:4 (ESV) – “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”

Proverbs 12:24 (NLT) – “Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and become a slave.”

Proverbs 12:27 (ESV) – “Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth.”

Proverbs 12:24, 27 (The Message) – “The diligent find freedom in their work; the lazy are oppressed by work . . . A lazy life is an empty life, but “early to rise” gets the job done.”

In what area is God inviting you to practice self-control? What would help you to get back on track?

Corrective discipline involves dealing directly with a problem or situation. We can trust God when He disciplines us because He is perfectly just and perfectly loving. His discipline always flows out of His love for us. Because none of us has been consistently disciplined with perfect love and justice, we tend to have a hard time with this kind of discipline. For this reason, God has given us lots of assurances.

Revelation 3:19 (NLT) – “I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.”

Proverbs 12:1 (NIV) – “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.”

Proverbs 3:11-12 (NLT) – “My child, don’t reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t be upset when he corrects you. For the LORD corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.”

Let’s run with discipline. This will not happen through inactivity, the passage of time, or chance.

Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV) – “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

It takes work, but it’s worth it, because we’re working for God. And He loves us – perfectly, completely, without limit. Let’s encourage one another to work with all our hearts at the tasks before us. We have been given the greatest privilege in the world, to make disciples of the young ones God has entrusted to us.

Hebrews 12:1-13 (The Message) – “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!

In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed! So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children?

My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects.

God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.

So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!”

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Run with perseverance

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV) – “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 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. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

The apostle Paul wrote this to followers of Christ in Corinth, who were very familiar with the Isthmian games, one of the four Panhellenic Games held in Ancient Greece, the most famous of which was the Olympic Games. The analogy of running a race in such a way to obtain the prize speaks of perseverance, discipline, self-control, humility, and caution. Certainly, we need all of these in order to home school our children! Today I want to focus on the first of these qualities – perseverance.

Any runner who wants to win a difficult race must run with perseverance. Perseverance is essential if we are to consistently pursue a goal or unwaveringly put what we believe into practice. We can pray for perseverance. We can choose to persevere in the midst of challenging circumstances. Focus on the Family offers us four biblical principles on perseverance: training, sustainability, stamina, and finishing strong.

Training

Years ago, a friend and I decided to run a 10k race, with no preparation. I use the word “run” loosely here, because we basically walked the entire way, and, because it was a fun community event, it was no big deal. But what a mistake it would be to take that kind of casual approach when it comes to educating our children. Only a fool would set out on a marathon with no preparation. We can easily see that. In the marathon of educating our children at home, we can develop rhythms of prayer, rhythms of Bible study, rhythms of emotional care, rhythms of rest, rhythms of gleaning, rhythms of learning, rhythms of solitude, rhythms of community, and the list goes on. What kinds of training habits could you develop in your life that would help you to persevere?

Sustainability

The classic Aesop’s fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” beautifully illustrates the importance of setting a pace that is sustainable (the moral of that story: “The race is not always to the swift”). Many of us struggle with not acknowledging or accepting our limits. One of the best lessons we can learn is that we can’t do it all. We don’t have enough time to do it all. We don’t have enough energy to do it all. We don’t have enough resources to do it all. We’re going to have to choose. The best approach is to trust God to show us where our limits are to be. He’s the most loving limit-setter in the universe! When we lean on His wisdom, timing, direction, provision, etc., we will be able to sustain the pace. And He’ll show us when we need to adjust that pace. What practices or habits in your life are unsustainable? What adjustments do you need to make?

Stamina

Keeping our stamina up can be one of the most difficult aspects of perseverance, especially when the course is very long, spanning a period of years or even decades. In the course of a long race, runners commonly “hit the wall,” when they feel that they have nothing left to give, physically or emotionally. I experienced that a couple of times while walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. When you get to that point, quitting becomes an incredibly strong temptation. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is to determine not to make major decisions when one is too SALT-y (Sad, Angry, Lonely, or Tired). Our emotions are simply not trustworthy. Maybe what we need is some splashes of joy. Maybe we need to forgive someone. Maybe we need to forgive someone again. And again. And again. Maybe we need a listening ear. Maybe we need some rest and refreshment. It can be incredibly hard to stay the course sometimes. God knows this. He is gracious and compassionate, and He will give us the grace we need to complete the assignments He’s given us. We’ll find that our strength is renewed, as we wait on Him and trust Him to lead us.

The prophet Isaiah wrote a beautiful encouragement to God’s people, to urge us to stay the course by reminding us of what God is like. It’s rendered beautifully in The Message translation (Isaiah 40:27-31) – “Why would you ever complain, O Jacob, or, whine, Israel, saying, ‘God has lost track of me. He doesn’t care what happens to me’? Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening? God doesn’t come and go. God lasts. He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine. He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath. And he knows everything, inside and out. He energizes those who get tired, gives fresh strength to dropouts. For even young people tire and drop out, young folk in their prime stumble and fall. But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.”

Is your stamina in need of a boost? What would be refreshing to you?

Finishing strong

What would finishing strong look like in the marathon of home schooling our children? It might be tempting to think that a strong finish means that all of our expectations for our children plus all of the expectations of others and the world were not only met, but exceeded. I hope my use of hyperbole here makes my point: That’s a lot of pressure! The world may measure success in terms of achievements, awards, or accolades, but what does success look like to God? 2 Timothy 4:7 (NLT) – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” Faithfulness. Starting faithful. Remaining faithful. Finishing faithful. This is why it’s essential to know what our assignments from God are. God has assigned to each one of us two simple commandments – to love Him with all that we are, and to love others as we love ourselves. If God has blessed us with children, then our assignment also includes providing for their childhood needs. According to the National Institutes of Health, the basic needs of children include:

1. ongoing nurturing relationships (the presence of the child’s caregiver(s) and the form of constant interaction with the child, through physical care and affective interactions)

2. physical protection, safety and regulation (food, hygiene, sleep, shelter, movements, growth and development monitoring, support for healthy habits and protection against infections and accidents, as well as regulations based on laws and other measures that protect the child against physical, social and environmental damage)

3. experiences tailored to individual differences (the supply of care particular to each child, excluding any form of standardized expectation)

4. experiences appropriate to child development (actions to stimulate and add new interactions to an ever-changing process of each child’s individual demand, allowing the children to gain self-confidence and feel accepted, cared for and loved)

5. limit setting, structure and expectations (the establishment of appropriate limits, encouragement and acknowledgement of the children’s accomplishments, cooperating for the children to be able to empathize, through affect, safety and bonding)

6. stable and supportive communities and cultural continuity (that community and culture are foundations for the development of children and their family, considering the care, educational and health aspects in their social network, for the children to gain the feeling of belonging to the family and community)

Whew! That’s a lot! Who among us could possibly be the one and only person on the planet to meet all of these needs perfectly in an individual child? God alone can do that. Many times, of course, we, as parents, do provide for the explicit needs of our children. But sometimes we delegate. And often it’s a bit of both. For example, I can prepare a healthful meal for my children, but I don’t have to have grown everything myself in order to provide that. My child may need to see a doctor, but as parents, we make the appointment, arrange transportation, figure out how to pay for it, etc. No person can possibly provide all of another person’s needs all the time. It might feel a bit like that at various times in our parenting journey, but the bottom line is that God is our provider. He loves our kids perfectly and completely, so faithfulness means looking to Him to supply all that they need. We each desperately need God’s wisdom and direction, in order to discover how He will meet our particular children’s needs in very specific and personal ways! What needs are you trying to meet alone that you may need to delegate? Who or what could help you to gain a fresh perspective?

Fellow parents, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NLT) God selected you as His number one choice to parent the children He has entrusted to you. He loves us and our children. He will help us to run with perseverance, for our good and His glory.

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Adjust your run for current conditions

According to AccuWeather.com, there are three major weather hurdles that can threaten a marathon runner’s race – heavy rain, windy weather, or scorching hot conditions. When we encounter these kinds of changes in the weather conditions of our lives, we need to adjust our run so we’re not unnecessarily sidelined.

Jogging or walking through light rain can be quite pleasant, especially when the temperature is mild. But running long distances through heavy rain can prove to be very difficult, if not downright dangerous. Torrential downpours can affect our ability to see clearly, increase the risk of slipping or falling, and worsen the likelihood of acquiring painful blisters.

Adjusting our run when we encounter heavy rain means firstly recognizing that the rains in our lives are no longer easy and energizing but have become torrential and tiring. Living in denial (“it’s only a couple of harmless drops of water!”) will only get us so far. When the realization dawns on us that it is actually pouring (sometimes someone else may have to point that out), it’s time to decide what to do next. Are we to keep running at the same pace, slow down, take an alternate route, or pause for shelter until the worst has passed? No one can answer this question for us – this is not a one-size-fits-all kind of race, so there are no easy answers. We can glean from experts, we can seek wisdom from others, we can read and research, we can obtain the best equipment, we can imitate what others have done, but in the end, we need to seek to run the unique race that God has set before us. Philippians 1:9-10a (NIV) – “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best.” Are you running in a season of torrential rain? What is God’s invitation to you in this season? How could you position yourself to better discern that which is God’s highest and best for you?

If God’s assignment for you includes continuing your race through the downpour (whether at the same rate or a slower pace), it would be wise to take some preventive measures in the areas of clear vision, steady footing, and keeping your feet dry.

Good parents understand that without clear directions, little people run wild, but can be at their happiest when they realize that the directions of loving parents are actually good for them. “Without revelation people run wild, but one who follows divine instruction will be happy.” (Proverbs 29:18, CSB). God desires for us to see clearly, so if we’re caught in a downpour, we can take necessary measures to regain clear vision before continuing. It’s no good striking out blindly and pretending we can see where we’re going. Many well-meaning travelers have wandered off in a storm, putting themselves and their companions and even their rescuers at risk. Is heavy rain in your life causing your vision to be blurry at best? What could you do to regain clear vision?

In the middle of Russian winter, one day I looked out of my window and saw an elderly woman impressively stroll with total confidence across a town square that was in essence a sheet of ice. I am certain that I would have faltered and fallen within seconds on the same surface, having lost my footing before on far less treacherous landscapes. All that to say that one person could walk steadily where another cannot, due to variations in levels of experience or confidence. Is heavy rain in your life causing you to slip or fall? Who or what could help you to gain experience or grow in confidence? Jude 1:24 (ESV) – “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.”

Another story, this time from my walk across Spain on the pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. Blisters are not fun, especially when you know you have a lot more walking ahead on your journey. Do whatever you can to prevent blisters, because once they emerge, the pathway to healing is painstakingly plodding. One recommendation to prevent blisters is to always keep your feet dry. That’s a terrific thought in theory, but deeply difficult to do when you’re squelching with every step. Take regular inventory of where you’re at – take your physical, emotional, and spiritual pulse, and ask yourself some hard questions. It would be ideal to do this each day, but try to take stock at least once a week. Psalm 143:4-6 (NIV) – “So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.” Just because something’s hard doesn’t automatically mean you shouldn’t do it, and conversely, just because something’s hard doesn’t automatically mean you should do it! Some of us tend towards one response, some towards the other. But it might mean that attending to some needs is in order. The main thing here is – God has entrusted us with the care and nurture of our own souls first, and from that will flow how well we can care for and nurture others. Is running for long periods in heavy rain in your life unduly painful? What kind of TLC do you need, in order to run your race well?

Running in high winds can be downright exhausting or bone chillingly cold. When we lived in Russia, there were a couple of times when simply walking to the bus stop proved to be exhausting, angling our bodies into the wind to keep from being blown over. I can’t imagine attempting to run in high winds! At times like these, it can help to remain very close to others, whose presence alone can block some of the effects of the wind. Just as birds who fly in “V” formation rotate being at the lead position, taking turns at facing the brunt of the wind spreads fatigue among the participants. Also, wearing well-fitting protective clothing can be vital to prevent excessive loss of body heat or too much drag. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (ESV) – “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Adjusting our run in these kinds of conditions means finding others who are running the race in similar high winds and joining forces to run better together. What particular challenges are you facing? With whom could you join forces in order to run better together? What kinds of special opportunities might you avail yourself of, in order to avoid excessive fatigue?

Racing in scorching hot conditions can cause overheating to the point of serious injury or death, often without the runner realizing the danger. When temperatures soar, don’t be afraid to adjust your pace. There’s no “perfect” timetable for the training and education of children, contrary to popular belief. Just because it seems like everyone else is on a certain schedule doesn’t mean that it’s the best one for you and your family. Just because your child is x years old does not mean that he or she should be doing this or that at such-and-such a level. Resist the urge to battle on in oppressive conditions, just because your calendar or watch keep announcing the date and time. We can’t control everything, of course, but we can control how we respond to people and circumstances. Which people and what factors are cranking up the heat in your life? How might you need to adjust your pace? What could bring some needed cooling off? Isaiah 49:8-10 (NLT) – “This is what the LORD says: ‘At just the right time, I will respond to you. On the day of salvation I will help you. I will protect you and give you to the people as my covenant with them. Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel and assign it to its own people again. I will say to the prisoners, “Come out in freedom,” and to those in darkness, “Come into the light.” They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures and on hills that were previously bare. They will neither hunger nor thirst. The searing sun will not reach them anymore. For the LORD in his mercy will lead them; he will lead them beside cool waters.”

Adjusting our run during scorching conditions definitely includes staying hydrated and not letting ourselves get run down physically, emotionally, or spiritually. What hydrates you physically? What hydrates you emotionally? What hydrates you spiritually?

When we encounter difficult weather conditions, we can view them as thorns in our side or treasures to be mined. As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! What unique opportunities are presenting themselves in the adversities of your life? Can you reframe the way you adjudicate your adversities to accept them as avenues in which God is doing something good, holy, and beautiful?

Genesis 50:20 (NIV) – “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

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Sculley Family 2018

“How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence.” (1 Thessalonians 3:9, NLT)

Dear loved ones,

We thank God for each of you – you bring us joy in sharing life together, whether we see one another frequently or rarely. 2018 has been a full year for all of us, so here’s the briefest of updates, as each one has their own amazing stories to share . . .

Peter works as a software engineer at a high tech blockchain startup in the western U.S.

Jonathan continues his Ph.D. studies in Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech, working as a Research Assistant.

Michael graduated with a B.S. in Philosophy from Toccoa Falls College, earned a Paralegal Certificate from the University of Georgia, and works for a national automotive distributor.

Cascade is a senior studying Chemical Engineering at Georgia Tech and works in a campus lab making metal-organic frameworks.

Karis is in her final few months of Sculley Academy and works at a Chick-fil-A restaurant.

Esther graduated from Sculley Academy and works in local restaurants.

Paul & Karen enjoyed traveling to Serbia & Hungary and recently celebrated their 33rd anniversary. Paul continues to work from home managing investments, and Karen does her usual eclectic gigs here, there, and everywhere. We enjoy walking workouts, Awana, Vineyard Institute, offering life / financial coaching, encouraging, teaching, serving, watching movies, playing with our kittens, and putting together jigsaw puzzles.

Our favorite times are when we get to spend time with loved ones, especially our precious kids. We’re thankful that we get to share our home and hearts with others, as we try to love each person well, just as they are. We’re thankful for our beautiful church family at Liberty Vineyard, with whom we share life daily.

Thank you for your presence in our lives! May the Lord bless you and keep you, make His face to shine upon you, be gracious to you, and give you peace!

Paul, Karen, Peter, Jonathan, Michael, Cascade, Karis, Esther

(along with our friend Sunny, kitties Dex, Samwyse, Sheru, Amelia, & dog Runner)

“My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises!” (Psalm 57:7, NLT)

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Apply lotion wherever chafing occurs

Chafing is skin damage caused by repetitive rubbing resulting in an area that is often painful, tender, and raw. This time of year, I tend to be more prone to chafing and find myself applying lotion often, especially on those places where my skin tends to crack, usually my hands. The dry air and heat seem to conspire together to provoke our skin to act up. Being proactive about taking care of dry skin seems to help avert a whole host of issues. Runners apply lotion before setting out in order to prevent and heal any damage caused by chafing.

Similarly, we can be alert and proactive about those things that cause cracks in our souls or broken places in our relationships. The Mayo Clinic website says that unforgiveness can be an underlying cause for relationship problems, mental health issues, anxiety, stress, increased blood pressure, depression, a weaker immune system, heart issues, and lower self-esteem. Unforgiveness can present as being offended, bitter, hostile, or even having a desire for revenge. Lack of forgiveness doesn’t tend to go away or diminish with time. Quite the opposite – it will only fester and grow and cause a great deal of harm if we don’t deal with it. And by “deal with it”, I mean deal with the root causes, not just slap a bandage over the external presentation. Just like that frustrating whack-a-mole game, until we deal with underlying roots, the resultant problems will just continue to pop up somewhere else.

C. S. Lewis famously stated in his classic “Mere Christianity”“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.” We don’t forgive because it’s easy. We don’t forgive only when we feel up to it. We forgive because it’s the right thing to do, because we’re forgiven by God, because God said to forgive. Unforgiveness poisons our souls and harms relationships, preventing growth in depth or intimacy (including with God) because we simply cannot selectively open or close our hearts. True forgiveness – acknowledging that even though real hurt / offense / wrong has occurred, and choosing to let go of any expectation that the other person will do anything at all to make things right – brings healing to our souls and the possibility of depth and greater intimacy to relationships (including God).

Let’s look at what God has to say to us about preventing and dealing with soul chafing.
Galatians 5:15 (NLT) – “if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.”

Proverbs 18:19 (NLT) – “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.”

Ephesians 4:29–32 (ESV) – “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Matthew 18:15–18 (The Message) – “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love. Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this.”

Proverbs 12:15–19 (NLT) – “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others. A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted. An honest witness tells the truth; a false witness tells lies. Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing. Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed.”

How can we tell where chafing is present? Pay attention to your thought life. Are you experiencing recurrent negative thoughts about a person or situation? Are you having trouble enjoying the present or being fully present in the present? Do you find yourself rehearsing what you would say if you had the opportunity to set someone straight? Do you wish bad things would happen to someone else? Are you tempted to tell lies in order to feel that you are better than another? Do you think about repaying hurt for hurt? These are all indicators of soul chafing and that we have more forgiveness work to do. One helpful thing to remember is that forgiveness is not an event but a process. Jesus taught us that when we pray, we are to ask God to “forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12, NLT). Forgiveness is a daily practice, a lifelong process, a tool in our spiritual toolbelt that will help us to live in the freedom for which Christ Jesus set us free!

Another indicator of chafing is to listen to what those closest to you say or ask about you. Often others notice things going on that we are blind to ourselves. Surround yourself with safe yet honest friends who love you enough to tell you the truth in love. Whatever is going on inside of us tends to pop out of our mouths, especially when we are SALT-y (Sad, Angry, Lonely, or Tired). We can listen to and glean from what others say, even if they speak imperfectly. Be that kind of friend to others, one who isn’t afraid to ask some hard questions occasionally.

When we realize we have some chafing, what kind of lotion should we apply? Just as all creams are not created equal, we need to know what is needed in order to promote healing. A traditional African-American spiritual speaks beautifully of the balm that we all need to bring healing to our very souls:

“There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul.

Some times I feel discouraged,
And think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.”

The Holy Spirit is the one who heals us from the inside out as we trust and follow Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote a beautiful passage in one of his letters that helps us to know just how to apply this lotion of healing. Colossians 3:12–15 (NLT) – “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”

If you’ve ever tried to do anything with chafed skin, you’ll know it’s limiting, frustrating, arduous, even painful. It can open us up to all kinds of damage, and it makes us more susceptible to carrying germs that can be damaging to others. Let’s apply God’s lotion of grace, gentleness, goodwill, honesty, humility, healing, forbearance, fortitude, forgiveness, and love to every part of our lives, relationships, and circumstances, so that we will be filled with peace and joy and righteousness, and nothing would hinder us or another from being and doing all that God created us to be and do.

Where in your life is there some chafing?

What is God’s invitation to you today?

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Run with your team

Ever since the beginning, God said it was not good for us to be alone (Genesis 2:18). God said this after He created Adam, and for him, He created a helper. For us, He sets us in families, churches, groups, communities. God created us for relationship – with Him, and with one another. There are countless reasons why teamwork is both necessary and important, but here are a few to consider.

Exponential impact
I find that when I go for a walk alone, I can walk a certain distance. But when I walk with a friend and, especially, when I get caught up in conversation, I can walk much further, often without realizing it. Work becomes lighter when we share the load. We can only do so much alone, but together we can accomplish way more than we could individually. Teamwork always results in exponential impact. “Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand.” (Leviticus 26:8) And of course, Jesus Himself invites us to partner with Him, which goes way beyond exponential impact! “When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” (Matthew 18:19 – 20, The Message)

Protection
Those who try to journey through life alone, either by running ahead or lagging behind, often end up stumbling off the pathway. We and our teammates can help one another to stay on track. When we lived in Russia, we learned to walk arm-in-arm as the locals do. It’s more than just an expression of affection, because the places you need to walk are often treacherous even without snow or ice, so when you stumble, you’re already leaning on someone who can help you remain steady. One time we were trudging through the snow laden with groceries when one of my children slipped into a very deep hole that the snow had obscured. If she had not been holding my hand, she could easily have broken her leg. “Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14, The Message) In addition to helping one another when we stumble, we need one another for protection from traffic, wildlife, weather, disasters, accidents, injuries, fatigue, wrong turns, or people bent on doing harm. “By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12, The Message)

Empowerment
Whether you’re the leader or not, each member of a team or group can empower others to do what they are supposed to do. Over the years I’ve noticed that whenever my family gathers around the table for a meal together, every individual isn’t always their best self. We all have bad hair days. But the beautiful thing is that one person’s positive outlook, encouraging word, good news, or zest for life tends to rub off on everyone else. (Yes, bad attitudes can rub off on one another, too.) We can empower one another in healthy ways. We need one another! The reality is that each person has their own gifts, talents, and assignments in life, and we simply cannot nor should attempt to do everything on our own. Each one has something to offer that will benefit the entire family, the entire community, the entire church, the entire city, the entire body of Christ. Mother Teresa famously said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” How empowering is that! “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)

Faithfulness
Who among us isn’t hoping to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” when we come face-to-face with God? Committing ourselves to a team over the long haul requires faithfulness. A thriving marriage requires faithfulness. A healthy family requires faithfulness. A growing church requires faithfulness. A connected community requires faithfulness. We learn faithfulness by choosing to be faithful again and again and again. By not giving up on people or situations when the going gets tough. Life is amazing, but life is hard, too. Things will be tough this coming year, we can count on it. We don’t know in what ways it will be hard, but we can be sure there will be challenges. One of my favorite speeches of all time, Churchill’s famous address during World War II, puts it simply – “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up.” Let’s encourage one another to remain faithful to the Lord, His Word, and His specific call on our lives.

So run with your team(s). What teams is God asking you to run with? (e.g. family team, church team, other teams) Who are on your teams? Who is missing? Do you have a vision for a team that has yet to be formed?

“The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” (Matthew 9:37 – 38, NLT)

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Visit the water stations regularly

“So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus.” (2 Peter 1:5 – 8, The Message)

Marathon experts state emphatically that under no circumstances should you ever skip a water station. Runners World says, “Water stations are an absolute must during a race, so be sure to have more than you think you need. Even when the weather turns colder, water is an absolute necessity for keeping runners healthy.” Water stations are vital to your success in finishing the race. We need those places of life-giving refreshment along the way on this long and often difficult journey.

If we don’t care for our spiritual passion, it will gradually fade. We need to guard the life of the Spirit within us, faithfully caring for the inward fire, both for the sake of our own relationship with God and so that we can offer warmth and light to others. We can renew spiritual passion by visiting the water stations described by author Gordon MacDonald as “safe places, still times, and special friends.”

We can renew spiritual passion through safe places. These are physical locations in our world where we can meet alone with God. Whether sitting in an armchair, walking in a nearby forest, or pottering around in the kitchen, we each need regular visits to safe places where we can be ourselves and not be too distracted by the inevitable cares of life. I’m all for communing with the Lord in nature (especially on mountains and beaches), but have learned to be flexible about safe places because many factors impact where and when we can go to our favorite locations. For many years, an oft-visited safe place for me was a rocking chair in the middle of the night, feeding one of our precious little ones. Ironically, I’m typing this late at night, though now it’s because it’s a good time to be alone in a quiet environment! Consider which physical locations you frequent that can become sanctuaries for you in spending time listening to, communing, and pouring your heart out to God.

We can renew spiritual passion through still times. These are periods of pausing, waiting, resting, recharging, just being with God. We may feel worn out, depleted, or empty. God’s instruction to us is to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, ESV). We may feel that we have a great fire in our souls. In that case, there is a huge temptation to go beyond doing only what we see the Father doing (John 5:19), which will result in a dampening of the flames and lukewarmness. Whether we’re in a season of lack or a season of plenty, still times help us to fan into flame the fire of the Holy Spirit. There’s no shortcut for seeking the Lord. “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

We can renew spiritual passion through special friends. These are priceless jewels, treasures worth seeking out and investing in. The Bible says that these kinds of friends “stick closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Special friends care enough to ask the hard questions and tell you the truth – “Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Proverbs 27:6). Proverbs 17:17 in The Message says, “Friends love through all kinds of weather, and families stick together in all kinds of trouble.” Whether related through family ties or by life circumstances, we need close-sticking and honest special friends to love on and be loved by in all kinds of weather and trouble! It’s usually crises that wake us up to the pricelessness of special friends.

Make sure you visit life-giving stations along the way. There are plenty of things (e.g. negative attitudes, unresolved conflicts, elongated crises, unhealthy relationships) that can drain life from us. We don’t always know what those will look like, but we can be sure we will encounter them. All of us need the refreshment that water stations provide to give us sustenance, courage, hope, passion, perseverance, energy, and whatever else we need to be prepared for the journey ahead.

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Follow your training schedule

“And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there.” (1 Corinthians 7:17, The Message)

It’s so easy to look at someone else’s life journey, especially one that looks appealing in some way, or has something we wish we had, or is a little further along the road than we are, and wonder if we’re on the right track. To be clear, I am not in any way advocating that there is more than one way to heaven. Jesus Christ is The Way, the only way. What I’m talking about it is the particulars for this journey each one of us makes. God has crafted a training schedule that He’s lovingly personalized and tailored for each of us. The creative nature of our heavenly Father guarantees that each of our pathways will be unique, just as every fingerprint, every snowflake, every life story is distinct.

There was a student who turned in an assignment to his professor. The professor carefully examined the work, noting the excellence of the endeavor, attention to detail, and diligence which had been applied. “But,” he hesitated, “this was not the assignment I gave you!” No matter how well we do something, we won’t be fulfilling God’s plans for our lives if we end up doing someone else’s assignment. We all long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” – so let’s endeavor to do what our master has entrusted us to do.

Maybe we know what God’s specific assignment for us is. Maybe He’s made it clear to us. I’ve had some seasons like that, where I felt like I could confidently strike out because God had shown me what to do. But I’ve had plenty of other seasons where I felt at a loss as to what the next step was. What then?

When we don’t know what to do, the Lord tells us to “seek Him”, “stand firm”, “wait quietly”, and “remain faithful to the things you have been taught.” At times of indecision, we need to resist the temptations of fear, impatience, presumption, or trying something new for the sake of newness.

We have nothing to fear – if God is for us, who can be against us? The enemy loves to spin the lie that we’re missing out on something if we follow God. That is simply not true. God is good and all He does is good. Anything we do out of fear cannot simultaneously be done in faith. Faith says “I trust You, God”; fear tries to take control.

We must combat the urge to impatiently push ahead and “do something” just for the sake of activity or to keep up with someone else. If we’re supposed to take the number 9 bus and yet out of impatience get on the number 8 bus, obviously we’ll end up at the wrong destination. It’s hard waiting patiently for good fruit to grow in the lives of our children because any seeds we plant take time to grow and develop. God tells us to prepare the soil, plant good seeds, and nurture and water the seeds. The growth and fruitfulness are up to Him.

We are walking on perilously thin ice when we act presumptuously. There are so many beautiful promises of God – we don’t need to make up new ones or try to make things happen in our own strength.

Something new might be exciting but not necessarily the best choice. Much of our modern advertising depends on this “new and improved” idea. Just because something is new doesn’t make it a good thing. Let’s be sure we’re not doing something just because of the latest trend or fad.

We need only to seek the Lord, stand firm, wait quietly, and remain faithful to Him and His word. He will bring us exactly what we need at precisely the time we need it, whether revelation, reason, rest, resources, or relationships. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Jesus said that “only one thing is needed” – sitting “at the Lord’s feet, listening” (Luke 10:39, 42). When we’re in that posture of peace, expectantly waiting, God will make our way clear. His training schedule for each one of us is always best.

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