Shining 2

 

You have said, ‘Seek My face’…”  Psalm 27:8a (ESV)

The funny thing is that we tend to seek God’s face only when we are in a casual, relaxed place — when we have lots of time & little pressure bearing down on us. It’s then that we seem to find the space to be with God and know Him just for His own sake.

At least that has been true for me.

But one of the things that I hope I can carry out of my gym time is the discipline to seek God’s face when I’m tired and stressed … or when something challenging is pressing upon me.

There’s a temptation to turn away from God when we are exhausted or stressed. Or, if we do turn to Him, to turn only to seek His help. When under pressure, we tend only to seek God’s hand. Rarely in our exhausted and overwhelmed places do we turn to God just to seek His face. (Or at least that’s the way it has been with me). But the truth is that His face is what I really need in those moments, not His hand.

What I really need when I am exhausted and overwhelmed is to know Who God is and what He is like … and to rest in Him.

So as I seek His face in the gym … while I’m tired and sore, pushing heavy resistance and completing long runs … I am praying that I am also training my heart and my mind to seek His face when I’m tired and overwhelmed in other aspects of my life.

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Training Ground

The Lord is my strength and shield.  I trust Him with all my heart.  He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.  I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:7 (NLT)

Hard times are training opportunities.  Think of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, taken to another country, imprisoned etc. (See Genesis 37 ff).   What others intended for evil in his life, God used and intended for good.  (Genesis 50:20)  God used seemingly disastrous events to train, prepare, and place Joseph in the right place at the right time for the right reasons.  We all know the story … but when it happens to us, we have the chance to learn it for real and anew.

Challenging times are the perfect time to become acutely aware of and to grow our dependence on Him.  As one author says:  “Challenging times wake you up and amplify your awareness of needing My help.” Challenging times forge our character.  They also prepare the way to God to reveal His glory in greater ways.

So I’m in training (as are a few other sojourners with me).  And I embrace it.  I want to know deep dependence on God.  I want to trust in Him alone to save me.  I want to see His glory revealed in my life like I have never seen it before.  And so I train — listening, watching, waiting, working, responding, obeying, trusting, and moving in faith.

The Lord is the strength of my life!  Not anyone or anything else.  The Lord God Almighty is my strength and my song!  And with Him, I am victorious.  No matter what.

Training ground is holy ground … when we have Him to train us!

Personal Training

“O Lord, you examine me and know ….”  Psalm 139:1 (NET)

Have you ever worked with a personal trainer?  Someone who helps you customize your workouts to your specific lifestyle, tendencies and goal?  If you get a good personal trainer and follow the program, you can see great results.

A good personal trainer will study you.  They will learn your workout history, and they will learn about your injury history.  They will study how your body adapts to training.  They will discover how easily you build muscle, burn fat, grow in endurance, etc.  They will see where your muscles are tight and where they are loose.  They will help you discover where you are imbalanced and what needs to be corrected.  They will also reveal your strengths and show you how to capitalize on those in beneficial and limiting ways.  A good personal trainer get to know the uniqueness of you so that he/she can help you get closer to your goals.

Said differently, a good personal trainer knows your story.

I have heard it said that, in Eastern thought, it is easier to experience God as an all-forgiving God.  You see, in the West, we tend to feel condemnation when we think of God as an all-knowing God.  If God is omniscient, to us in the West, that means He knows all of my flaws, faults and mistakes.  And that is true.  But to a more Eastern-mindset, the fact that God is omniscient means that He knows my story.  It means He understands me.  The fact that He is all knowing means, in fact, that He knows all about me.  He knows why I struggle with the things I struggle with.  He understands what brought me to that place.  He sees it all.  He knows why certain things hurt me the way that they do, because He saw it all.  He walked through it with me.  He already knows my underbelly, and He loves me anyway.  He always has.

The truth is that because He is omniscient — because He knows everything about me and my story — He can sympathize and understand and love me no matter what.  It is because He knows your story, because He understands you in detail, that He pursues you relentlessly and knows precisely how to restore and renew you.

The best personal trainer?  Jesus.  Simply Jesus.  Omniscient, omnipotent Jesus.

Spiritual Obesity

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourself.  Do what it says.”  James 1:22 (NIV)

Obesity continues to be a growing epidemic in the US. That’s no news flash. But for clarity’s sake, here are a few recent statistics: the US’s obesity rate continues to rise with a recent study finding 35% of adults obese (& another 34% overweight) and 17% of children obese (& another 15% overweight). And childhood obesity is a devastating phenomenon. Not only are we raising an overweight/obese generation, but we are also raising a “physically illiterate” generation. This means that the upcoming generation is beginning to lack the fundamental movement skills, confidence & desire necessary for physical activity … & this leads to a chain of inactivity that has life-long consequences. (E.g., if a child does not learn fundamental movement skills in the first 5 years of life, this child will have poor motor skills and coordination in elementary school, less movement confidence in the tween years, etc.). Add to that the amount of sedentary time our kids have (a 2010 study found that the typical American kid spends 7 hours per day in front of a screen), and we have a growing problem. The reality of he movie “Wall-e” is not far behind.

We are already experiencing the monetary drain that obesity and poor health has on our country. And we are just beginning to discover the many social and psychological distresses that obesity causes (depression, anxiety, decreased productivity, etc.). I am certain, too, that obesity also has spiritual side effects. God created us as integrated beings, and the decline of one aspect of our beings inevitably effects the others.

That being said, we are arguably a “spiritually obese” people too. As consumers focused more on consumption than production or distribution, we list this way in our spiritual lives as well.

If obesity occurs (in otherwise healthy & balanced people) primarily by consuming more calories/energy than one expends, spiritual obesity occurs by consuming more spiritual information than one puts into practice.  In both instances, it is more input than output.  Does God want us to read the Bible, go to church, consume Christian literature and participate in Christian activities? Sure. But He wants us to do those things SO THAT they change us. He wants us to take the input SO THAT it produces output. We are intended to be His hands and feet. Just as He made food for our physical bodies to consume and use for energy, movement and output … He gives us spiritual food for us to consume and use … not just for consumption purposes … but to change us so that He can use us to change the world. The amount of spiritual consumption that I and the others around me have consumed is to the proportion that world-wide revival should have happened years ago. But it hasn’t. Instead, many of us have consumed for consumption sake, and we are spiritually obese.

So my prayers are changing. For myself and for others. Obesity, in general, means there has been more consumption than necessary. It doesn’t matter whether it is food consumption, spiritual consumption or whatever. Perhaps we should focus on consuming only consume what is profitable for us. More isn’t always better. I only need more input once I’ve used the input I have already received.

For me, I’m fairly trained in eating what my body needs and in using what food energy I consume each day … But I cannot say that my spiritual consumption has the same exchange rate. So my prayers are changing. Prayers that I become increasingly effective at using all the spiritual input in my life. May I begin to see spiritual input as something that is meant for me to use, not just consume. May I grow in the self-control to first use what He has revealed to me before I keep asking for more and more revelations. May we not just be hearers of the Word, but doers also. May we curb the obesity epidemic in our lives, Lord, in all areas.

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.

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).

Focus

“It was by faith that Moses left the land of Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger.  He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the One who is invisible.”  Hebrews 11:27 (NLT)

We don’t have a dog (yet?), but every time I’m at any of my friend’s house that have dogs, I love to watch how the dogs behave in the kitchen.  It’s like the dogs have been trained to watch their master’s hand.  Watching and waiting for the moment when a morsel of food may come their way.  Watching and waiting for a crumb to fall from their master’s table.  Then running to gobble up whatever the master has offered, then waiting and watching for more.

Every time I watch this, I wonder if we are as watchful and attentive to our Master’s hand. And what makes it even more impressive is that no dog-owner has ever intentionally trained their dog to behave this way in the kitchen.  The dogs have trained themselves.

So I must ask: Have we trained ourselves to watch and wait for God’s hand?  Have we trained ourselves to respond automatically and enthusiastically when we see our Master begin to move, and do we enjoy His offering to us only to wait and watch for more?

It takes training to watch and wait for God.  It takes training to wait and to move only when we see our Master move.  It takes training to act as if we know that there is a world of difference between His strength and my own. And waiting to do it in His strength and power and timing.

And, just like in the physical realm, training is not a one-time deal.  Training requires practice and repetition.  Lots of it.  Training requires doing it over and over again, each time learning from our mistakes and tweaking our performance.  It means watching and waiting and then acting on promptings … and sometimes falling down, but getting back up because we are keeping our eyes on the One who is invisible.

So where’s your focus these days.  May it be true for you and for me that our focus is increasingly on our Master’s hand.