We are in the midst of some spiritual training in our church family; the idea is to get spiritually ripped. My husband’s creativity with sermon titles makes me smile; he’s good. I, though, am not a weight lifter – well, unless you count lifting babies, vacuum cleaners, dishes, laundry baskets, and the occasional heavy piece of furniture that I’m not supposed to lift. I’m a runner. I love the first whiff of fresh air as I step out of my door, be it sunny, rainy, snowy, hot, warm, crisp, or freezing. That first breath is my “Yes” to the invitation for my soles to hit the pavement and for my soul to fall in step with my Jesus once again.
I have very few and very short amounts of “alone time” with God, and that’s alright because Jesus had very few while He was on earth too. (I mean, He even climbed a mountain or two to have alone time and people still followed Him there!) Nevertheless, when I can steal away with just my Jesus, I find breath, life, completeness, joy, peace…a piece of my eternity right there in the two to three mile loops near my house. I talk, He listens; He talks, I listen (hopefully). All that seemed muddled before I stepped out my door, seems to have cleared up by the time I return to my driveway. I pray; I share my heart. He teaches; He shares His heart. Some days I feel like I’ve been given literal wings, and some days (like yesterday) I am overcome with just Who He is, and I get weak in the knees and just about fall right there on the side of Pony Tracks, hardly able to take another step as I glimpse His glory.
Running, though, is not always easy. I may want to most days, but some days, I don’t. Some days I think about all I’m going to do (you know like how many times I’ll go up and down the stairs, so maybe that’ll count for two miles worth of a run), and I’ll reason that I don’t need to run that day. (And the truth is, I can’t realistically get away every day to run.) Some days I plan on running a certain amount, and then have to really push myself past the, “I really don’t feel it today” point. Running is all those wonderful things I began this post with, but it is also all the enduring things. Enduring the tired legs, the not-so rhythmic breathing, the pollen, the road that seems longer today than yesterday, the changing weather, the changing body! Sometimes I need a little extra push or maybe a slight change or a challenge to reignite my desire to keep running. Sometimes, don’t we all?
Our walks (or runs) with God need these pushes, changes, and challenges too. We can go years on the same route and not realize that we’re no longer growing in God, just kind of sustaining. Many will live lives and come to the end of their lives on that philosophy of “good enough,” but from what I read in scripture, the life that isn’t always growing in Him, has already died. It’s a life no longer pushing past pain or discomfort or suffering; sometimes it’s a life no longer risking pain or discomfort or suffering. So, the life stays comfortable and as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would put it, the cross of Christ remains cheap in the life. We let all the right Sunday School answers roll off the tongue while not realizing they no longer linger in our hearts. We speak of a new life in Christ; yet, narry a step do we take in the real journey of a life in Christ.
Most of us don’t kill anyone, so we think we are good enough and, really, should God ask much more of us? We attend our churches, we give our amounts in a box or a plate, we may volunteer once a month in the children’s ministry, we hang scripture plaques on our walls, and we don’t cuss in public too much. We don’t watch the really bad shows or always listen to the really bad music. Surely all of these “sacrifices” count for something.
9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer[b]: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” LUKE 18 NLT
So, our church family is seeking some spiritual renewal – some challenges that get us out of our Christian monotony and into shape (or ripped). We will be beginning our new “diets” soon, and while this is still another week away, I know my Trainer is already preparing me. He’s working on my heart and mind so that when it comes time for my body to take some action, I’ll already have everything I need to take the first steps. I thought I’d share some of the words being poured into me right now – words laying the foundation for what’s ahead.
1-8 “I am the real vine, my Father is the vine-dresser. He removes any of my branches which are not bearing fruit and he prunes every branch that does bear fruit to increase its yield. Now, you have already been pruned by my words. You must go on growing in me and I will grow in you. For just as the branch cannot bear any fruit unless it shares the life of the vine, so you can produce nothing unless you go on growing in me. I am the vine itself, you are the branches. It is the man who shares my life and whose life I share who proves fruitful. For the plain fact is that apart from me you can do nothing at all. The man who does not share my life is like a branch that is broken off and withers away. He becomes just like the dry sticks that men pick up and use for the firewood. But if you live your life in me, and my words live in your hearts, you can ask for whatever you like and it will come true for you. This is how my Father will be glorified—in your becoming fruitful and being my disciples.
9-15 “I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. You must go on living in my love. If you keep my commandments you will live in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and live in his love. I have told you this so that you can share my joy, and that your happiness may be complete. This is my commandment: that you love each other as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this—that a man should lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I tell you to do. I shall not call you servants any longer, for a servant does not share his master’s confidence. No, I call you friends, now, because I have told you everything that I have heard from the Father.
16 “It is not that you have chosen me; but it is I who have chosen you. I have appointed you to go and bear fruit that will be lasting; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it to you. John 15 J.B. Phillips Translation
17 “But remember the root command: Love one another.
Hated by the World
18-19 “If you find the godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me. If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you.
20 “When that happens, remember this: Servants don’t get better treatment than their masters. If they beat on me, they will certainly beat on you. If they did what I told them, they will do what you tell them.
21-25 “They are going to do all these things to you because of the way they treated me, because they don’t know the One who sent me. If I hadn’t come and told them all this in plain language, it wouldn’t be so bad. As it is, they have no excuse. Hate me, hate my Father—it’s all the same. If I hadn’t done what I have done among them, works no one has ever done, they wouldn’t be to blame. But they saw the God-signs and hated anyway, both me and my Father. Interesting—they have verified the truth of their own Scriptures where it is written, ‘They hated me for no good reason.’ John 15 The Message
Every time you venture out in the life of faith, you will find something in your common-sense circumstances that flatly contradicts your faith…Can you trust Jesus Christ where your common sense cannot trust Him?…Faith must be tested , because it can be turned into a personal possession only through conflict. What is your faith up against just now? The test will either prove that your faith is right, or it will kill it…The final thing is confidence in Jesus. Believe steadfastly on Him and all you come up against will develop your faith. There is continual testing in the life of faith…Faith is unutterable trust in God, trust which never dreams that He will not stand by us. ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest
And this lady, is still rockin’ my world; her heart connects with mine like no other. Just today, she writes on the diet that will never fail us.
Maybe you too are experiencing His gentle yet steady preparations. Would you like to share?