Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I Corinthians 9:25-27
I am in the beginning of my training regimen for the Avengers 1/2 Marathon at the Happiest Place on Earth. I must tell you, I’m sooooooo excited to run and high five the great Marvel superheroes that the Mouse now rules with an iron fist owns. I picture myself finishing with flare like Iron Man and raw strength like the Hulk.
However, as I’m starting to run regularly, I remember the days when I could run for quite some time and feel good about it. However, this time around, it seems like another emotion has taken hold. My perspective on training?
Well, friends, training sucks.
Training costs me something. It costs me through the stress of cardio and the soreness of my legs. It costs me in the hours I will put into it and the cost of saying no to certain food choices.
No wonder the Christian life has been compared to training as an athlete! Following Jesus is a lot like training for a race. We have to say no to certain activities in order to say yes to others. When we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, we say ‘yes’ to an abundance of life.
But it will cost us.
It will cost us if we choose to follow Jesus. If we follow Jesus the Messiah (whose only path to restoring our broken relationship was through the suffering of the cross), then we can bet that we too need to model this. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:16, the only path to reveling in God’s glory is through suffering.
Sorry Joel Osteen, following Jesus will cost us something and it will often remove the options of the standard American dream. Sometimes, God will call you to move from the house of your father like Abram or leave a profitable ministry like Jonah. Sometimes he will call us to stand as a prophet disregarded by everyone like Jeremiah. Sometimes we will even die before our dreams have been realized like Moses.
I have been confronted with this choice: Am I ready to give up certain things in my life? Am I ready to pay the cost of discipleship?
I have a confession for you all: I don’t think we can be authentic.
Even when we try to say we’re “being real” by swearing or being a total douche, our real self is buried deep under layer upon layer of choices, culture, and other environmental factors. I would argue that people who still claim to be authentic are not because they brush their teeth, comb their hair, and don’t shout out every single thought that comes to their mind. Well most people, anyways.
As Seth Godin wrote last month,
“Perhaps the only truly authentic version of you is just a few days old, lying in a crib, pooping in your pants.
“Ever since then, there’s been a cultural overlay, a series of choices, strategies from you and others about what it takes to succeed in this world (in your world).
“And so it’s all invented.
“When you tell me that it would be authentic for you to do x, y or z, my first reaction is that nothing you do is truly authentic, it’s all part of a long-term strategy for how you’ll make an impact in the world.
“I’ll grant you that it’s essential to be consistent, that people can tell when you shift your story and your work in response to whatever is happening around you, and particularly when you say whatever you need to say to get through the next cycle. But consistency is easier to talk about and measure than authenticity is.
“The question, then, is what’s the impact you seek to make, what are the changes you are working for? And how can you achieve that and still do work you’re proud of?”
It’s OK if you’re not authentic: just be honest.
Stepping out in faith is scary.
Whether it’s moving from the land of your fathers as Abram did or inviting a friend to church, the fear is all to real for the follower of Jesus.
Fortunately, I was reminded by Krish Kandiah in Christianity Today that Jesus does not send people out on their own. Instead, he connected his disciples with the mission of God– the very activity of the Triune God.
“The Father sends Jesus into the world, and Jesus sends the church in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The Church is the place where the Spirit is present as a witness to Jesus (as Lesslie Newbigin once noted) and where newness of life is brought. New life is breathed into the lungs of the Church and God initiates new creation through them.
If you are in Christ, you are a part of this narrative. Jesus promises Holy Spirit to us, and this Spirit is the same Spirit that rose Jesus from the freaking grave (holy smokes, Batman!).
So be encouraged, if Jesus was raised from the grave, he too can give you life.
Following Jesus, we will have moments of being uncool.*
The crowd is a fickle friend, and following it will often lead us down roads that are not in step with the Kingdom of God. Our thoughts and positions need to spring forth from faithfully following Scripture (with a measure of humility, see: When You’re Theologizing).
Following Jesus is countercultural and following him will require courage. Courage to speak truthfully. Courage to be winsome instead of a blustering bully. Sometimes, we will have to be fearless and resist the pressures of the crowds, choosing to fear God instead of a man or woman.
*some more than others
Have you ever been told by someone that you weren’t living a “victorious Christian life?” How about you need to claim certain promises or live by the philosophy of an author that start with O- and ends in -steen? The unfortunate news for these philosophizers is that the Christian life is not all marked by pleasant roads and pitstops. No, sometimes there is struggle.
Even Jesus had times of tremendous peace (think about the small revivals where he healed people in Galilee) and tremendous turbulence. Jesus dealt with pain and sorrow, and I don’t have to refer to the crucifixion to make this point. Jesus stood on a hill by Jerusalem and cried for the city to listen to their prophets and return to God. He wept on the road to Lazarus’ tomb. He no doubt suffered the sting of rejection by his family and neighbors in Nazareth!
In this life we will face both good and bad. The poet George Herbert puts it this way,I will complain, yet praise; I will bewail, approve: And all my sour-sweet days I will lament, and love.
Friends, if you have not suffered in some capacity, you will. But cling to the one who is well acquainted with sorrows, for he will strengthen your legs and lighten your weary load.
“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32
If God is for us who could be against us? When I hear this promise, I instinctively shout “YES!” But when I’m in the midst of trial and turbulent storms that is quite a different story!
It’s all too easy to be triumphant when all is well, but the heart of the Christian faith is that God loves us so much that he would even be subjected to death on a cross for us. The promises of God are rooted in the full extent of Jesus’ passion.
He went to his unjust execution with you in mind.
Because this demonstrates God’s character we can be sure that the other promises will ring true. He will give us all things based on this reality.
Pretty wild, huh?
“Has it ever occurred to you that 100 pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which one must individually bow. So 100 worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
If you are trying to wrap your head around God, what I suggest the first things to do is to not imagine a perfect human being. Don’t picture a big Gandalf in the sky as I used to do.
Why? Because God is not like us.
He is entirely other, so far from our own preconceived thoughts and emotions.
While we can write about how God is a father or a mothering hen or a warrior king or a tender bridegroom, we simply are grasping at straws. For the God who brought Israel out of Egypt and raised Jesus from the dead is so much greater than our imperfect metaphors. He made us in his image and our language can only describe a small portion of the original image. Let me give you an example to this point.
Men and women were made in the image of God and we reflect his image much like the moon reflects the light of the sun. But while the moon lights up the dark of night, it is not nearly as bright as the radiance of the sun.
The moon can only reflect the light given by the sun. Similarly, humanity can only reflect the light given by God to others and our reflection is much like the metaphors we use to describe God.
So with this in mind, when we communicate to others about the grandeur of God, bring an element of humility to the conversation. We are all looking through a window covered in dust and dirt, but one day we will see it clearly.
God is wholly other than our metaphors. As Karl Barth said, “One cannot speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice.” God is God and not a better version of humanity— no matter how loudly we might speak.
Any other theologizing tips?
Here’s a thought:
Augustine once said our hearts are restless apart from God.
Calvin once said our hearts are idol factories left to their own devices.
Reader, our hearts do indeed grow restless apart from God, and left to our own devices, we rest in front of idols of our own making. Left to our own devices, we will create idols to worship, idols of our own ego, politics, pleasure, or study.
So what we really need here is to rest and stop being busy!
Have a restless spirit? Try resting in the Author of rest.
I wrote last month on how we can find God’s will (if you haven’t read it, check them out here and here). I originally thought that God’s will was for me to marry the “one” and to work at ACME Enterprise, but instead I discovered that God’s will was for me to be sanctified in Christ and be renewed in him. It wasn’t about taking the right train to find the right person who will then introduce me to the right mate three years into the future. As Paul would relay to the Romans, God’s will is found in not conforming to the world, but instead being transformed through the work of Jesus (Romans 12:1-2).
If God’s will can be found through the transforming work of Jesus, then we can verify this will through believing in the name of Jesus and loving each other (I John 3:23). In short, trust in the testimony concerning Jesus the Messiah and then out of that belief will flow love toward each other.
The thing I didn’t get as a high schooler was that God’s will is not this mystical map or target I needed to hit. Instead it is a life that is easy to talk about but much harder to live into. That’s where Holy Spirit shows up in our theology and in I John. He shows up to assure and confirm that we are in Christ. He shows up to affirm that we are children of God.
God’s will can be found and it can be assured when we trust in the testimony of Jesus, for God will give us his Spirit to confirm whose we are and will lead us into who we are meant to be—sons and daughters of the King.
How do you find God’s Will?