I’ve been a preacher/pastor’s wife/missionary for more than 38 years. I’m pretty well-versed in the ins and outs of what is expected from a person who professes to be a Christian. That being said, I didn’t start out knowing what to expect. Early on, everything was fresh, everything was new. I savored every new experience about my faith, learned from it, and craved to learn more.
The basics of Bible reading, prayer, and fasting were new and fresh. I eagerly followed Bible reading plans and suggestions and faithfully took to writing in a daily journal. Since these were the days before eBooks and the internet, I would scour the book sections in the local Christian bookstores in my quest to learn more.
During those first years of growing into my call, my attention and focus on the call were laser precise. As the years have gone by, while my focus has remained the same, I have learned there’s discipline to keeping that laser focus with the highs and lows that life brings to all of us year in and year out.
Keeping things fresh and new when we’ve “been around the block” of faith for a while is challenging. What once was fresh and exciting, slowly can become mundane and boring if we don’t pay attention. Athletes struggle with this in their training; running laps, doing pushups, and eating right, can all become mundane unless they keep their eyes on the prize.
For some reason, we struggle to keep the “stick-to-it-iveness” that we need to reach for the spiritual prize in the long term. In the short term, like short-distance runners who only have to run in short spurts at high speeds, we excel. We have what it takes to put on special events, and reach out to communities once or twice yearly and we do so with excellence because it is a one-off. These activities have a definite beginning and end and when they end, life can go back to normal. We can live without the pressure of the events, of the race as it were.
Marathon runners follow strict training regimens to complete their course. These regimens take into account everything from diet to sleep. How they train, and what distances they run while they train, depend on their goals. A newbie to the marathon world would likely train just to be able to finish the course. Another who is a lifelong marathon runner is likely looking to beat his or her best time. All marathoners have to equip themselves with the right equipment, clothes, and the best running shoes they can afford, taking into account their running styles. They have to stay focused to finish their training to go on to the next race.
1 Cor. 9:24-27 NLT “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”
It's normal for there to be an ebb and flow to our spiritual lives. To say that we never struggle with feeling discouraged or sad or tired is a lie. Everyone struggles to keep going when the storms of life have battered us, sometimes it seems, unceasingly. If you’re like me, and I doubt that I’m alone in feeling this way, you ache for a moment of quiet in the storm.
Perhaps part of the problem we have is that we feel a bit disillusioned. The impression we get and give to those coming to know Jesus as Lord is often one that is presented through rose-colored glasses. Everything will be fine, everything will be good until it isn’t. “Where is God? Why is it so hard? When will it end? This isn’t fair.”
To quote from the character Scar in the movie The Lion King, “life’s not fair.” God is not in the business of being fair, life is not meant to be fair. Life is lived on a battlefield and that battlefield, to a large degree, is fought in our thinking, in our minds. Joyce Meyer’s book, The Battlefield of the Mind, is a must-read as a starting point to understanding how great a role our minds play in our ability to keep going when the battle is raging. If we can learn to keep our focus in the battle no matter how hard it becomes, we will find ourselves on the other side looking back without regret.
This life we live by faith is one lived much like an athlete who is training to run a marathon. We have to keep our eyes set on what we are going for, God’s Kingdom. We’re not running for bigger houses, new cars, or even raises and big retirement accounts. None of those things are, of themselves, bad. However, if our sole focus is on these very temporary things, we will get tired and risk giving up and going back to where we came from (see Hebrews 11:15). The opportunity to return will always present itself when we open the door to it.
There will be things we are believing God for that we won’t touch because we are preparing those things for others who will come after us. Hebrews 11:32-40 gives us a glimpse into what those who have gone before us endured that looks a great deal like what we are going through today. They believed for more but didn’t experience it, and we are now the ones who are receiving the labor of their work:
Vs. 39 “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.”
We aren’t here to see how much we can get out of life, we’re here to see how much we can give, dream, and reach for God’s Kingdom. That means that we won’t always see what we are praying for, those answers are reserved for those coming behind us who will stand on our spiritual shoulders.
As I face another New Year, I’m shifting my focus from the very temporary conditions that I’m in at this moment. Right now, I’m shaking myself of the weariness that tries to wrap itself around me and am returning to the well-trodden roads of the early days of my faith. I’m soaking in the newness of what, if I’m not careful to focus, could easily seem old.
Happy New Year!