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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Strength-Training

“The Lord strengthen and protects me; I trust in Him with all my heart.”  Psalm 28:7a (NET)

“Will you trust Me in the shadow as well as in the sun?'” God said to me. “Do you not yet know that inner strength comes in and through the struggle?”

Strength comes through the struggle.

Yes, it does. And the same is true for strength-training. In order for our muscles to grow stronger, they need to be progressively overloaded. In other words … to get stronger, muscles need to be systematically and repetitively loaded beyond the point at which the muscle is normally loaded. Plain English? A muscle needs to repeatedly work against resistance to a point of fatigue. Then the muscle repairs and grows.

This is how God made us. As we struggle to lift a heavier weight, our muscle is growing stronger.  It is one of His principles in this world.  And when we struggle to get through trying times, we get stronger in spirit too.  (See also “Growing Stronger” post (8/10/15) and “Growth” post (6/24/14)).

So every time I weight-train these days, I think about growing stronger. I think about all of me growing stronger.  Because, rest assured, the thought and intention I put into my weight-lifting routine is nothing compared to the thought and care God puts into the “shadows” He allows me to go through.

“Will you trust Me in the shadows as well as in the sun?” He asks.

Yes, I will Lord.

And with You by my side, I trust that I can and will come out stronger on the other side.

Faith Exercise 2

“So Moses thought, ‘I will turn aside to see this amazing sight.  Why does the bush not burn up?’  When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to look, God called to him … ”  Exodus 3:3-4a (NET)

As we walk through this season — a season dripping with meaning and pregnant with power and purpose for life change — we are also bombarded by so much busyness.  So many tasks and chores and stress.  And all those things that bombard us have the tendency to drown out the meaning and the potential for purpose and power.

Moses had many responsibilities too.  He was out shepherding a flock — and while that might sound slow and peaceful, it is actually a very stressful job.  Looking for food and water for the entire flock, keeping track of the multitude of sheep, staying on constant lookout for predators, protecting the sheep, inspecting each of for injuries or parasites, getting them to a safe place to rest each night, etc.  Moses was busy.  But he noticed the bush that burned.  He had the awareness to notice the bush that burned but was not consumed.  More importantly, Moses took the time to turn aside and look.

Taking the time to turn aside and look is a faith exercise.  It is an act of faith because it means setting aside the lists of tasks and responsibilities, and trusting that all will be well if you choose to focus on the things that really matter.  It means putting first things first, and letting the rest fall as it may … and resting in the knowledge that what matters most was tended to.  And that is enough.

The meaning of Christmas and the purpose and power provided through the Christ-child awaits for each of us … IF we can slow down enough to focus on what really matters.  And I pray that each of us will exercise the faith to do so.

And as you begin to turn toward the ritual of New Years resolutions, know that it too can be more than a meaningless ritual.  It too can be a practice of turning aside.  It can be an opportunity to strengthen your resolve to put first things first in the new year.  It can be the chance to put a step of faith behind a seemingly “small word” from God.  It is a time to choose to obey.

Is it for a healthier new year?  Is it a commitment to give God all of you in 2016?  Is it a desire to turn your body into a temple for the living God?  Every “small word” carries the seed of change and growth — but we need to participate.  So,  despise not the day of small beginnings.  Just begin.

What if Moses hadn’t turned aside to look?

 

Oppositional Training

“[T]he land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys ….” Deuteronomy 11:11 (NIV)

If you’ve done any strength training, you’ve learned the principle of oppositional training. To really strengthen any muscle group, you have to strengthen the opposing muscle group. If you want to strengthen your biceps, for example, you need to also strengthen your triceps. If you want to grow your quadriceps, you also need to grow your hamstrings. To train effectively, you have to train in opposition.

Interestingly, the rest of life is like that too.  We cannot have pleasure, for example, without pain (otherwise it would all seem the same and all feel neutral). We cannot have highs without lows, or as the writer of Ecclesiastes so adeptly put it, we cannot have laughter without tears or dancing without mourning (see Ecc. 3:4).  It is the order that God created.  We cannot achieve great heights without going through great valleys.

Problems arise, of course, when we ignore the principles of oppositional training. When we want large biceps, for example, but don’t like the triceps exercises … so we don’t do them much. Not only do we become out of balance, but we can’t achieve the results we really desire when we deny the way in which God made things.

Of course, I see myself in this paradox frequently. I would much prefer to avoid great pain, sadness, loss or mourning.  I’d much prefer avoid, deny, repress or run away from that side of life.  But I am learning that even God’s Promised Land had mountains and valleys … and that in His economy, I cannot avoid one without losing the other.

So I am learning afresh the principle of oppositional training.  And it’s hard.  It’s hard to sit in the hard places and remain present and not to rush through or ignore it.  It’s hard.  Really hard sometimes.  But I want the other side.  I endure the valley because I want the mountain-top.  And I strive to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, my example … who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross.  (Hebrews 12:2b).

Growing Stronger

“‘You don’t have enough faith,’ Jesus told them. ‘I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.'” Matthew 17:20 (NLT)

Faith is like a muscle. The more you use it and exercise it, the stronger it grows.  I have yet to move a mountain (so my faith must still be smaller than a mustard seed), but my faith is growing. It is a muscle I want to grow and develop and use to its utmost.

God made our bodies covered with a myriad of muscles. If you’ve never admired the muscular system, I’d highly recommend it! It’s an amazing thing. Layers and layers of muscles — some large, others tiny — each with a specific purpose and role.  But God also designed our muscular system with this principle: muscles are to be used, and if they aren’t used, they atrophy. If you don’t exercise them, they dwindle. And the more you exercise, the bigger and stronger they grow.

And so it is with faith. The more we exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Sometimes we face circumstances where we can choose to step out in faith. Other times, we find that circumstances have come upon us that give us no other choice but to exercise faith. But either way, we end up with the chance to develop our faith muscle.  We get to find and tap into a muscle that perhaps we haven’t used in years, but as we do, we find it grows.  And in the end, that’s a gift.

Faith is like a muscle.  Perhaps one day the mountain will move.

Pain

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  Romans 8:28 (NIV)

For the past several months, I’ve been negotiating some pain.  Every time I go for a run, I am left with aching pain in my right hip socket.  Come to find out that my pelvic girdle has somehow shifted and my right hip is slightly out-of-place.  So now I have to work in getting my pelvic girdle and that right hip back in alignment.

And so it is with our souls.  God often uses pain to show us that something is out-of-place.  Maybe it’s a long-standing issue that still needs work.  Maybe it’s something that has recently gotten out of alignment in our perspective or internal world.  Maybe it’s just good old-fashioned growing pain.  But God uses pain.

Truth is, I hate pain.  Internal or external, I hate pain.  It messes everything up. It’s uncomfortable and debilitating, and it hurts!

But, as I work on my hip and sit though my pain, I am reminded that maybe it’s time to consider pain from a different vantage point.  Maybe it’s time to consider pain as the beacon pointing to where I need to focus my efforts right now.  Maybe it’s time to see pain as an ally to getting me to where I truly want to go.

Maybe it’s time to remember that God uses pain … because He loves us and doesn’t want us running our race with a limp.

Cherish Life

“God, the Lord, created the heavens and stretched them out.  He created the earth and everything in it.  He gives breath and life to everyone in all the world.”  Isaiah 42:5 (NLT)

God is the creator of life.  He brought living creatures into the world and breathed His life into dead soil to make the first man.  Life is personal to God.  It precious to Him.

And so it should be precious to us.

That’s why I love organizations like Feed My Starving Children (www.fmsc.org) — an organization that seeks to feed both body and soul of the millions of children around the world who are starving.  Literally starving.  These are kids who would love to grow and develop and play and celebrate life.  They would love to use the body that God has given to them and discover its potential … but the lack of food resources has stunted their ability to do so.

Those of us in the “developed” world have more than an abundance of opportunities to care for the bodies God has given to us.  We have an abundance of food resources … and yet many of our bodies remain neglected of what they really need.  Most of us have the ability to care for our bodies well, but choose not to (by action or inaction).  Oh, how the children of the underdeveloped world would love to have the ability to care for their bodies as we do.

So here’s my plea: cherish the life that God has given you and don’t squander the opportunity you have to care for it.  And while you do, seek opportunities to help those who can’t.  Life is precious.  Cherishing it is a choice.