Endurance and Encouragement

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope. May God, who gives endurance and encouragement, give you ….” Romans 15:4-5a (NIV)

Sometimes life is like that — a time when you need desperately need endurance and encouragement. Maybe you are a mom with small kids, or caring for an elderly parent, or starting a new company, or battling a chronic condition. Sometimes we simply need to cry out to God for endurance and encouragement.

The other day, I was out on a long run. Where I live in the mid-west, there are few hills of substance. Often, instead, there are these long inclines that seem like they might go on forever.  Kind of like those seasons in life. Long, drawn out, uphill battles that seem like they may never end. Not dramatically uphill, mind you, where the challenge is glaringly overt. But a slight, subtle incline that wears on you and just continues.

While I was running, I came upon  one of those dreaded inclines and was reminded of this verse in Romans 15.  And I was reminded that God is a God of endurance and encouragement. He wants to provide that for us. He wants to give us hope. He has provided the Scriptures to teach us and to do just that.  He has provided many stories about members of our “cloud of witnesses” to bolster our perseverance.  (See Hebrews 11 & May 4, 2014 post.)

So I kept running up that darn incline. And I kept thinking about the saints of old and of their endurance and encouragement.  And you know what!? That darn incline did end.

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Form First

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”  1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)

In exercise, form comes first. Whether you are an Olympic swimmer, a yoga guru or a weekend jogger, your form matters. It matters a lot. How you do your exercise — the motions and mechanics of your body movements — affects the results you receive (or fail to receive). Moreover, if your form is wrong, you can end up hurting yourself or someone else.

Take weight-lifting, for example. When you lift weights, form is paramount. Any decent trainer will tell you that. Correct form is more important than the amount of weight you lift, and correct form is more important than the number of repetitions done. Why? Because if your form is wrong, you not only fail to exercise the muscle group you desire to exercise, but you also run great risk of injuring yourself … or someone else.

And so it is with love. Love is paramount to followers of Jesus. Love comes first. If the things we do and the things we say are not rooted and grounded in love, then they can be harmful. If our practices — even seemingly good ones — are motivated by something other than love, after time we can end up hurting ourselves … or someone else. Just as we constantly check our form as we workout, we constantly need to check our motives and intentions. Are they based in love?

So the next time you are working out, pay attention to your form … and use it as an opportunity to consider the “form” of your heart.

Breathe

“The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4 (NIV)

One of the things I love about exercise are the constant reminders (to self or to others) to breathe. Regardless of the type of exercise — running, weight-lifting, yoga, etc. — we constantly need reminders to breathe. For some reason, we all tend to hold our breath when the exercise gets tough.  We clench and try to gut it out and forget to breathe.

Isn’t that true in our spiritual journeys too? Isn’t it true that when we feel things getting tough, we “hold our breath” and try to gut it out. We clench and dig deep and rely on ourselves and our own ability to get through.  Why do we do that, when the very thing we need to do is to breathe?

It is the breath of the Almighty that gives me life. When “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7 NIV). It is His breath that gives me life. In the New Testament, the Greek word used for breath (“pneuma”) can also be translated “spirit” … so I can also say that it is His Spirit that gives me life.

So when I breathe, I invite the Spirit in. When I breathe, I let go of the need to gut it out and make it on my own. When I breathe, I invite the Spirit in, and I surrender to His life-giving and sustaining power. The breath of the Almighty gives me life!

Exercise as Worship 2

“Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV) (see also Colossians 3:17, 23)

Sloth is another of the Seven Deadly Sins. Isn’t that interesting? Being lazy and failing to exercise our bodies was classified a sin in early Christian times. Try telling that to our culture today! But it is true, failing to care for our bodies is poor stewardship.  And exercise can be a form or worship — it’s just that our hearts and minds and intentions have to be in the right place.

1) God asks that whatever we do, we do as unto Him. That includes our time at the gym. So when you are working out, be all there. Give 110%! Hold nothing back. Give what you have at that moment (not more, but not less either). Jesus gave it all for us, so give your all for Him at each workout session.

2) Set reasonable and realistic goals for your workouts, then don’t give up. This does not mean to abuse yourself. First of all, the goals you make are to be reasonable goals (given your current fitness level, amount of sleep or sleep deprivation you are operating on, etc.).  Secondly, never giving up does not mean refusing to listen to your body. You can do both. For example, your goal was to run 3 miles but halfway through you don’t think you can make it. Instead of quitting, slow down or even walk for a little while if you have to, but don’t quit. Listen to and honor your body, but don’t quit. Jesus doesn’t quit on you, so don’t quit on Him.

3) Give your workout to God.  Give it to Him for His pleasure and for Him to use as He will.  Forget about vanity and the results you desire; trust Him with the outcomes. For when we workout as unto the Lord and take care of this amazing body He has given us, we honor Him.

Nourishment as Worship 2

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)

Don’t you find it interesting that at least two of the Seven Deadly Sins are against the body? Personally, I am not Catholic or of Catholic decent … but I still find it very interesting that since early Christian times, these seven “sins” were emphasized … and two of them are sins against the body. I consider this to be further evidence of how God honors the body. And, even more interesting, are the two sins themselves: gluttony and sloth. In other words, they are input & output. Nourishment & exercise.

So let’s talk about gluttony.  Too much intake.  In American culture, where food is bountiful and indulgent, we have to be more mindful to view our intake in light of God’s glory. We need to prayerfully change our attitude and language.

1) Delete the word “full” from your vocabulary and mindset. Our culture talks all the time about being full, about eating until we are full, etc. The truth is that eating until you are full is eating too much. Consider this: when you are thirsty, do you drink until you are full and bloated? No. You drink simply until you are no longer thirsty. And so it should be with food. Don’t eat until you are full. Eat only until you are no longer hungry. Try it for a week, and I think you’ll be surprised at the results.

2) At mealtime, start with the food category that’s been lacking in your day’s input thus far. For most of us, that probably means starting our meals by eating with vegetables first.  Put into your stomach what your body needs first, then move onto other categories in the order of your needed daily requirements. (Consider the “plate” or “food pyramid” or something else as a daily guide). If you are no longer hungry by the time you get to the potato, for example, then you are no longer hungry … so stop. Save the potato for another day or another person, so that whether you eat or drink, you are doing it for the glory of God.

Team Jesus

“[A]part from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us throw off … and let us run …. ” Hebrews 11:40b-12:1 (NASB)

This passage in Hebrews has left me awe-struck. And I find it curious that, although I have read and studied it many times before, it has never struck me in the way it does now. God is using it in profound ways in my life.

Hebrews 11 & 12 discuss the reality — God’s reality — that how I live my Christian life matters not only to me and to God, but also to every one of God’s people in the course of history. How I run my race matters to Moses and Abraham and Paul and Peter, etc., etc. That blows my mind!

You see, for the most part, I have never really enjoyed participating in team sports. I have always loved fitness and exercise, but as for sports, I always gravitated to the individual sports. Too much pressure or something in the team sports. But now I am on Team Jesus … and the team members are not only those I interact with in the here and now, but also those who have ever played for Him throughout the ages. Given my history with teams, you’d think that might paralyze me, but actually it inspires me to run my race more intentionally — with more focus and inspiration. As only the Spirit can do, this passage is increasing my desire to play my role well because it can help the whole team.

God made people the crowning jewel of creation. And a God sent His one and only Son to restore and redeem people. On top of that, God desires to see all of creation redeemed and restored. I’m not sure what goes on in heaven, but I am now convinced that if those are the things that are on the heart of God, then those are the things that are on the heart of His saints in heaven. Just because their “at bat” is over, do you not think they are interested in how the rest of the team in doing? I do, for Hebrews tells us that apart from us, they will not be made perfect.

Therefore, let us through off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.