Cramping Up

“So Jacob named the place Peniel (which means ‘face of God’), explaining, ‘Certainly I have seen God face to face and have survived’ … but he was limping because of his hip.”  Genesis 32:30b-31 (NET & NLT)

I went for a run today. Part of the way through, my left calf started to cramp up. Dehydrated? Maybe.  Still recovering from a prior workout? Probably.  Should I slow down our walk it out a bit?  But if I constantly accommodate for every ache and pain, I’ll never getting stronger.  Should I push through it?  But what if it’s really injured, or if I end up really injuring it?  Then I’ll be out of commission for a longer period of time.

The Christian journey can be like that, can’t it?  How are we to interpret events or circumstances that come our way?  Is God telling me to slow down or change directions?  Should I read the circumstances as a cautionary flag?  Or maybe he is trying to build perseverance and endurance in my character?  Maybe I need to look to Him for strength to push through?  How do I know how to respond or react?

I ask Him.

I ask the God who knows every cell of my frame & who loves me beyond my wild imaginings.  I ask Him what I am to do.

Sometimes He tells me.  Other times I have to try, in faith, what seems to be good and true.  Sometimes His answer is in accordance with conventional wisdom and knowledge.  Other times, it is completely counterintuitive. Sometimes I never really know.

And sometimes it is simply because He wants me to walk with a limp — for reasons of His own.

And I trust Him.

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Victory

“But the people who know their God will firmly resist ….”  Daniel 11:32b (NIV)

Have you ever tasted victory?  The thrill is achieving, of conquering, of overcoming?  There’s no other feeling quite like it.  Knowing that you beat whatever it was and came out on top.  Sweet victory!

But victory often comes at a cost.  Victory usually comes after hard work, serious investment and continued dedication.  Any kind of race — especially the big ones like a marathon, triathlon, or iron man — requires tremendous training of the body and mind.  Weeks and months of training, working through injuries and pain, learning to fuel the body properly, getting adequate rest, denying body and mind of things it might rather pursue in the moment, etc.   Just completing the race is a victory of sorts … and it comes at a cost.

Other parts of life are like that too.  We all face trials and temptations of various kinds and sizes.  Things that get in our way, make us stumble and fall, draw our eyes and our hearts away from the true and right things that (deep down) we really want.  Sometimes the things that lure us are actually good things, but as the Lord says, they are not the best.  (See e.g., 1 Corinthians 6:12). And the victory of saying “no” — while ultimately sweet — hurts.  Sometimes it hurts deeply.

Victory can be bittersweet.

I don’t know what you are going through right now.  I don’t know where you are seeking victory (or where you may be tempted to admit defeat).  But I can tell you that I understand.  I can affirm that sometimes it hurts.  A lot.  I can also tell you that it is worth it … that the Lord will provide a way out and the strength that you need.  The God we know is waiting to supply what we need to resist.  That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, but it does mean that you will taste the (bitter)sweetness of victory.  It does mean that you will feel the joy of the Lord’s good pleasure upon you (as well as your own satisfaction that you did it).

So the next time you see a runner cross the finish line, with tears running down his face, collapsing in pain and relief … remember the bittersweetness of victory.  Remember the bittersweetness of God’s own Ultimate Victory … and praise the Lord for each and every victory He has enabled you to experience.

And may that fuel you to continue pursuing victory-in-Christ in whatever your face today.

Training 

“I press on ….”  Philippians 3:14(a) (NIV)

Some days are like that.  Seasons in life can be like that.  And sometimes it seems that all of life is like that.  Requiring me simply to press on.

Sports training and conditioning can be like that too.  Whether it’s for a triathlon, marathon, or plain-old health improvement … some days we just need to press on.  We need to make ourselves run the required miles for the day, swim and bike for the day, or simply just get up and go to the gym even when we don’t feel like it.  Why?  Because we know it’s all cumulative. We know that, ultimately, we are in pursuit of a bigger goal and that we might not reach it if we let today’s feelings get in our way.  We press on for the goal (of the triathlon or marathon or whatever it is).

Spiritually, we are in training too.  Life on earth is a training ground for what is to come — a victory that Christ has already won for us, and yet (in some inexplicable way) we partner in and participate in as we journey through life.  We press on … sometimes even when we don’t feel like it … because ultimately we want to prove ourselves grateful and worthy of all He has done for us.  We want to be faithful to the One who created us and gave His all for us.  We keep doing what He has told us is right and good (and avoiding the opposite), because He has told us it pleases Him.  And we want to please Him.

So today, I press on.  I press on, even though it’s hard today.  I press on because I know that one step forward and two steps backward is really one step in the wrong direction.  I press on, as Paul says, “toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

And I hope you press on too.

War

“If any of you wants to be My follower, you must … shoulder your cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23 (NLT)

I met yesterday with a friend who lives with chronic pain. It’s a world I don’t live in, and one that I want to better understand. I get injured and sore and occasionally have odd aches and pains, but I don’t live with chronic pain.

Jesus encountered many people with chronic, debilitating conditions. He healed many of them. (Oh, to have the faith and the power to do that for my friend!). But whether He healed them or not, Jesus loved and understood and encouraged all of them. He saw them, heard them, empathized with them and encouraged them.

The truth is, we live in a fallen world. And the fallenness of that world and the sin that pervades it affects all of our lives. Some of us are affected mentally, others emotionally … and people like my friend are affected physically. And those “wounds” so-to-speak become part of the “cross” we each must carry. We all have different burdens to carry and consider as we run our race towards Jesus. (See Hebrews 12:1.) They are some of the defining characteristics that make each of our “races” unique and our own.

My friend tells me that living with chronic pain leaves her feeling “at war” with her body much of the time. And as she was describing this to me, I felt great compassion for her. Much of the time, she experiences her body as the enemy. Now, as I write this, I pray that the Spirit might turn my compassion for her into personal compassion for herself. (And, I am convicted that we all have areas of our lives for which we also need greater self-compassion.)

We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Even if we live with debilitating conditions, our bodies remain awesome creations of God. Our “races” just look different. Harder? Perhaps. Definitely different. And stewardship looks different too.

So I am praying for my friend today and for everyone who is living with chronic pain or other debilitating physical conditions. And while I pray for healing and relief, I also pray for encouragement and self-compassion … and for endurance to run the race set before them …

As we all run with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Growth

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character develops our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)

Growth is hard. Any kind of growth is hard work. Whether we are trying to grow new muscles, learn new things or grow aspects of our character, growth is hard. I think that’s why Paul chose to remind us of the benefits of growth in this passage of Romans. He knows that growth is hard. Whether the growth is forced upon us as a result of circumstances or whether we are choosing to grow and train in a particular area, we need reminders of the end game. We need reminders of the ultimate goals and objectives we desire for ourselves. We need reminders of the goals and objectives God desires for us.

I don’t know about you … but when I am training to grow in a certain area, sometimes I get tired. Sometimes, usually when it’s getting really hard, I want to quit … or slack off … or “adjust” my goals. I begin to doubt if I really want what I am pursuing or whether it is worth it. But the truth is, those are the moments when I need Paul’s words the most. That’s when I need to remember that the hard moments are the ones when strength of character is forged, if I will just press on. These are the moments when I can, if I choose, become closer to my true self — the self that God made and desires for me to be. These are the moments over which I can rejoice, if I simply don’t quit. (And, by the way, the hard moments are not the best moments to consider adjusting goals. It’s wiser to wait until we are out of the hard spot and more sober-minded.)

Growth is hard. But the outcomes are good. Rejoice!

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.