I was 52 years old I believe when I started running. Well I think you could call it that, though for most people, particularly people who run, any resemblance to what I did and true running was purely coincidental. It was nothing I ever pursued as a boy or a younger man. The majority of my running memories are from my days in the Marine Corps beginning with boot camp where it seemed that we ran all the time (except when we were marching). While the fog of time has reduced a lot of my memory clarity, I do remember with certainty that I didn’t like it very much and the longest run I ever made was done in platoon formation when we ran across the island of Okinawa at one of its narrows spots. This distance I believe was about 11 miles.
What prompted me to begin running in my fifties was a desire for change. I didn’t like who I had physically become. So with grit and determination, I stepped out into an unfamiliar world ran as best I knew how, accumulating hours and miles along the way until in August 2010, I ran in the Valley of Fire Half-Marathon. The road to getting there was about 1600 miles or so long and a loss of more than 100 pounds. I was regularly running distances of 10 miles and my long run was just under 19 miles.
I was pleased with my accomplishments and knew that I was going places. Ha! I felt that I had graduated from my earliest running days which were more aligned with John “The Penguin” Bingham, the author of “The Courage to Start.” A great book by the way, not just about running but about life in general. I highly recommend it. But those days were behind me and I was looking out into the future, knowing that I would never be a fast runner but tantalized with the notion of running greater and greater distances.
Then I was laid off.
After 15 years in my current job, I was looking for another and that search forced me to leave Las Vegas, finding work in Oregon where the trees grow tall and the rain falls sideways. While I tried to adapt my running to narrow and very busy two-lane highways and the continual rainfall an injury sidelined me. Discouragement soon followed and I eventually stopped. For five years we lived in Oregon, and though I attempted to kick-start my program a few times, I never was able to get it going again.
Now I’m back in Las Vegas, unemployed again but trusting the Lord, looking for a job and thinking about running.
I am not only thinking about lacing up shoes and hitting the asphalt, I’m thinking of another run and might I say a much more important run.
…and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1
The writer of Hebrews uses a foot race to describe the Christian’s life on earth. From the moment of our new birth until we are with God in glory we are in a race. Even if you are not someone who steps outside your home, running down the road while braving the weather and dodging traffic, we all have a sense of what a spiritual run should be like. We can at least imagine moving towards the finish line, placing one foot in front of another at a pace beyond a normal walk. It’s a race after all and because it is a race we expect progress, right?
And yet for some of us, progress seems evasive and discouragement can quickly take hold. We go through our checklist—running shorts and a good shirt that will wick away the perspiration. Then of course there are the shoes. You have to have good running shoes and socks. They kind of go together. Yep, checklist done. We’ve got the equipment we need. In fact, we even brought a music player and ear plugs just to help pass the time. With a deep breath we take off—left foot, right foot, left foot, right—wait! I’m not getting any place. What’s going on?
…let us lay aside every weight… Hebrews 12:1
John Hunter, a former missionary with The Capernwray Missionary Fellowship of Torchbearers who now with our Lord was frequently asked by Christians, “Is this all there is?” Their eyes confirmed the deep and earnest desire of their hearts. “I know that I am saved and going to heaven, but in a real and experiential way, what can God do for me now?” Those types of questions were extremely practical as John recognized. Perhaps it is the type of question you have asked yourself.
So let us get down to the practicals of the matter. You and I are here—saved, and thank God for that. Now I have my suspicions, though I cannot speak definitely in your behalf, but I bet, if you are like me, our lives have at times resembled more of a battlefield littered with the dead and wounded that a marching parade celebrating victory. Day in and day out struggles and failures intertwine with just a bit of victory thrown in every now and then just to make things interesting. If we were to continue on such a cyclical path it is possible that failure could become a major player in our identity. But I must apologize for I am really jumping ahead. We will talk more about identification in another posting.
We long to feel the wind in our face against the backdrop of blue skies and a cheering crowd as with great strides we push ourselves down the racetrack to the finish line. How we long to sprint in victory. How we long to finish well. But too often, those dreams are dashed against the rocks of a different reality of a Christian’s life. The finish line is just ahead but the ravages of the struggle are really taking their toll as we limp toward the checkered flag, bleeding, bandaged and broken. Lives filled with anger, depression, worry and anxiety are not lives which bear the flag of victory for a believer in Christ. These behaviors and many others can grip us tightly with no sense that they will ever let us go. Addictive behavior of any kind is a cruel taskmaster which feeds the craving with scraps from the table, reminding you of your weaknesses and your failures again and again and again.
This is not the life God intends for any of us to live.
This is not the race God desires for any of us to try to run.
So let’s take this opportunity to talk about these weights in the bible.
…let us lay aside every weight… Hebrews 12:1
Running can be difficult and taxing on the body as it is. But can you imagine trying to run miles with let’s say 20, 30 or 50 pounds strapped to your ankles and another 100 on your back? With those burdens I doubt I could make it 5 yards let alone 5 miles. Yet many of us are attempting to run our Christian lives carrying burdens such as these. In fact, some of us have been carrying them so long we have actually come to believe that this is what God intends for us and is the normal Christian life.
You cannot see the weights simply by looking down at your ankles or staring in a mirror. You won’t see anything other than the face and body of someone whom God dearly loves. Nevertheless, the burdens are there for we are told to lay them aside or to put them off. It is the same language that the apostle Paul uses several times with regard to putting off the old man or the flesh in other areas of the text. Cast it down!
That’s all well and good.
The problem is that I don’t see anything to cast down. Do you?
How are we supposed to put something off if we don’t know what it is?
Often we see only the outcroppings—the offspring of these mysterious and hidden weights as they sinfully manifest themselves repeatedly in our lives. We see what’s immediately in front of us and seize upon it in prayer, in confession and in our personal bible studies looking for an answer to our quick tempers or to our addictions. We pounce upon them with every conceivable tool we have in our disposal and yet, after the storm clears welcoming another bright and glorious day, something happens and we find ourselves immediately back in the muck and mire of our failings. God, what can you do for me now?
To emphasize the truth of hidden issues which can bring about defeat, we turn to the book of Joshua chapter 7 where we find Joshua and the army of Israel preparing to face the city of Ai after a spectacular victory over Jericho at the hand of God. There is great confidence in the Israelites…let not all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai…for they are but few. The recommendation came to Joshua that there was no need to send the entire army and people of Israel against Ai, for their forces and their people were few in number. In other words, the people of Ai wouldn’t put up to much of a fight.
And why wouldn’t Israel be confident? Look at what God did at Jericho and God did promise that wherever Joshua planted his feet, it would be given to him (Joshua 1:3).
The two campaigns, the first since Israel crossed the Jordan river couldn’t be more striking in their contrasts—the miraculous victory of Jericho and the resounding defeat at Ai.
How quickly they fell.
How quickly we fall.
Joshua and the elders had no idea.
It was a hidden thing—in the midst of 2 million people, under the cover of a tent and layers of blankets belonging to one man. It was hidden to everyone but Achan and his family, oh yes, and of course, God. Nothing is hidden from the Lord God. Nothing!
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. Hebrews 4:13 NLT
Joshua was beside himself after their defeat at Ai, fully expecting another great victory.
And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads. Joshua 7:6
They were upset and confused—wouldn’t you be?
Haven’t you been?
After a time, our gracious Lord spoke to Joshua and explained to him that there was devoted or accursed things within their midst. Things which had been set aside by God for himself had been taken from Jericho. Until they had been found and removed, the Israelites would continue to face defeat. God told them that you would not be able to stand before their enemies.
There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you. Joshua 7:13 ESV
It is interesting to read that God told Joshua that there were things in their midst which needed to be found and removed but he did not declare exactly what it was or where it would be found. Instead Joshua was led by the Lord on a detective hunt through the tribes, families and households until the culprit was finally identified. The Lord could have immediately named the man, but instead chose to guide Joshua through the process of discovery. It is important that we realize that he works in exactly the same way with you and I. Trusting him and relying on him, he will guide us into all truth, even into the dark recesses of our hearts—the hidden part.
Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Psalm 51:6
In the next posting we will take a closer look at these troublesome hidden things in our lives from the perspective of an Old Testament king.
Thank you for stopping by and I hope you come back.