When the road gets dark

Toward the beginning of September, I went for a walk on the narrow gravel road that runs by Safe Haven Farm. Since spring of this year, I’ve been walking about two miles almost every weekday. It’s a great way to clear the cobwebs out of my head, and I love to see the wheat growing.

As the summer progressed, though, the days got to be sweltering. So if I couldn’t walk in the morning, I waited until evening. That strategy works great in summertime because even at 9 p.m., there’s still enough light to see by. But all that changes in September. That’s when the days grow noticeably shorter. But I didn’t really think about that.

I left the house at 7:30 p.m. As I started down the road, I realized the sun had already set. But I didn’t think much of it. There was still plenty of light left. But in half an hour, as I was coming back toward the house, I realized just how dark it had gotten.

[su_pullquote]It’s easy to get scared in the dark. Fear and uncertainty can creep up on you without warning. [/su_pullquote]

We live in the middle of a wheat field. Like 640 acres of it. There are no streetlights. There are no neighborhood lights, because there isn’t a neighborhood. My house is the only inhabited house in a square mile.

And as I walked toward the yard light, the only visible light in the dusty evening, I started to hear skittering feet around me. Mosquitoes attacked in force, and I passed through thick curtains of gnats that stuck to my sweaty neck and crawled on the lenses of my glasses.

It’s easy to get scared in the dark. Fear and uncertainty can creep up on you without warning. The what-if scenarios can start whirling in your mind if you let them. In the middle of the prairie, in the dark on the central plains, you’re alone. And even if you have your phone, even if your phone has signal, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to dial for help in time to prevent an animal attack.

But what are you going to do? Stop?

I could have stopped. I could have called for help. I could have refused to take another step until someone came to get me. But I’m not sure that would have solved the problem.

I was out in the dark on a country road, trying to get home. Stopping would have made me an easier target for whatever might have been out there. Waiting around would have only provided the mosquitoes an easier meal. So the only viable option was to keep walking.

And I mean, come on, that road hasn’t changed in the 20+ years I’ve lived on it. I’ve walked that road from the time I was 12 years old. My house has been in the same place for over 100 years, and it hasn’t moved. So it wasn’t like I could get lost. If I just kept walking straight, I’d get there eventually.

If something was going to attack me, I couldn’t stop it. So worrying about it wouldn’t do me any good. The best chance I had was just to get home. Realizing that, I calmed down. I could enjoy the cool air of the post-sunset evening. I could smell the dusty sweetness of the milo fields. I could smile at the crunch of gravel beneath my walking shoes.

And in 15 minutes, I reached the driveway at Safe Haven Farm. And everything was fine, although my legs were covered in mosquito bites, and it did take me a little while to get the gnats combed out of my hair.

What changed?

My situation didn’t. I was still stuck on the dirt road in the dark being eaten alive by bloodsuckers. What changed was how I chose to see my situation. I did what I could do, and I left the rest up to the Lord.

race-post-1We’re all stumbling around in the dark. Just admit it. None of us know where we’re going or where we’ll end up. We can make goals. We can have dreams. We can predict what the next ten years will be like, but nobody really knows.

Cancer strikes. Drunk drivers and drug overdoses steal our loved ones. The economy tanks, and the job we thought we couldn’t lose slips through our fingers. Nothing is certain. Or is it?

In the dark, in those moments when you can’t see where you’re going and unseen enemies are gnawing at your heels, you have to focus on what you know is true: God hasn’t changed, and the road is the same.

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. Philippians 3:13-14

God is who He’s always been (Hebrews 13:8). You still get to Him the same way—through Jesus and Jesus alone (John 14:6). The road is straight. The path is clear. You know the way. It may be dark and scary, but the only viable option you have is to keep walking. Stopping won’t help. Going back won’t help. Just keep moving forward. You’ll get there eventually.

Do what you can. Let God take care of the rest. Run toward the future with open arms, and don’t be afraid.

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Faith is a process you have to repeat

faith-tested-endurance-growth-runner_1170x350

My roommate is training for a marathon. Well, it’s not specifically a marathon. It’s only a 5K.

“Only a 5K.”

Ha.

I don’t run. The only time you’ll see me run is if someone is chasing me. And the way I see it, when the zombie apocalypse gets here, I don’t have to run the fastest. I just have to run faster than the guy next to me. So I’m set.

Running is one of those things you don’t just go out and do if you haven’t done it. I mean, you can, but you’ll probably hurt yourself. If you want to run for any length of time, you have to work up to it. You have to train for it. If you don’t, your body won’t be able to handle the strain.

But lots of things are that way in life, not just running or physical activity. You have to work up to them. If you try to accomplish something without preparing yourself first, you’re likely to fail. So is it really surprising that faith is the same way?

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” That’s what the Bible says in James 1:2-3, one of the shortest, most practical, most painful books on the New Testament.

You don’t start out with strong faith. Faith starts small, and it has to grow into something bigger. But it can’t grow until it’s tested.

[su_pullquote align=”right”]Faith starts small, and it has to grow into something bigger. [/su_pullquote]

What does a test of faith look like? That varies from person to person, but some tests of faith are financial (do you trust God to provide?). Some are relational (do you love God more than your significant other?). Some are physical (do you believe that God has your best interests in mind whether He heals you or not?).

Tests of faith come in many forms, but they’re always about the same thing. Do you trust God?

That’s what faith is about, following Jesus, trusting that He knows best, trusting that He’s got everything under control even when it doesn’t feel like it.

But God doesn’t drop you into these situations until He believes we’re ready. Looking back on my life, some of the tests He gave me as a child seem pretty insignificant. But I chose to trust Him then, and He came through for me. So I learned that I could always rely on Him, no matter what I needed.

So do you want powerful faith? Start small. It’s like training for a marathon. You can’t just do one day of training and expect to run the whole race without stopping.

Trust God for something small. And when He comes through, trust Him with something else. And something else after that.

Just like anything else you have to get better at, faith is a process you have to repeat. You won’t always see immediate results, but neither do runners.

The more God answers you, the easier it is to trust Him. The more you trust Him, the bigger you’ll realize He is. And before you know it, those giant problems that seem overwhelming to you today will just be a tiny blip on your radar that God helped you overcome.

Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Get your head out of yesterday

I don’t run. I’m not built for it. My body tends to revolt against me whenever I try, but I have a lot of friends who run. And they don’t just run; they compete. These folks do triathlons and marathons and all sorts of other forms of torture like that. And one thing that I have noticed when you’re running is that you really need to keep your focus on what’s in front of you, otherwise you could run into trouble … literally.

I’ve never seen a runner trying to compete by running forward and looking backward. I’m sure people do it because people are strange, but I’d be willing to bet, they don’t run well. Because even if you find a way to look backward as you’re running forward, your focus won’t be where it needs to be–on the goal.

I’m also reminded of a line from an older movie, Gumball Rally, an old racing movie we used to watch with my dad. It was a movie about racing. All these different people in all kinds of different cars had to race from coast to coast, regardless of the legality of their actions, and one of the racers was this Italian guy who ripped the rearview mirror off the car windshield and tossed it in the backseat, proclaiming: “What’s behind me is not important!”

These people race. They’re moving forward toward a goal. Looking behind and focusing on where they’ve been will only slow them down and make them unhappy in most cases. And in all honesty, following Christ is very much the same.

 

Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Rough road to San Miguel Alto Uno, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:12-14.

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

We all came from somewhere. Some Christ-followers came from Christian homes; some didn’t. Some have come from a legacy of people who always loved God; some didn’t.  But no matter where we started, God is moving us somewhere else, sometimes physically, always spiritually. We’re all moving forward, and if we look backward, we’re going to slow down or we’re going to hamper the efforts that are going on around us.

Paul was majorly into sports from what we can tell from Scripture. He talks about running and racing and fighting and wrestling, and actually there are a lot of comparisons between the Christian life and sports. Sports require training. They require focus. They require pushing yourself to achieve something you’re pretty sure you aren’t able to achieve. They require teamwork most of the time. The Christian life isn’t a competition, though, but the other similarities are kind of cool.

And in this case, running is a great example because all of us are runners. If you follow Christ, you’re in a race. You’re not competing against anyone. It’s like a marathon or a triathlon, and Christ has already run the race and won. So the rest of us are competing against ourselves really, and it’s our goal to finish. And you can’t finish the race in front of you if you can’t get your eyes of what’s behind you.

The past is important. Don’t get me wrong. In some cases, it is important to remember the past. We need to remember where we’ve been and recognize what God wants us to learn from where we’ve been, but you can’t focus on yesterday. What’s done is done and can’t be changed; what can change is how you react to it.

I know people who bury themselves in the past. They forget about today and don’t even consider tomorrow, and all they can talk about is what happened before. Where they used to be. What they used to do. And living today is torture for them because all their focus is on yesterday, and they can’t handle the stress of right now or the implications of what might happen tomorrow because they can’t get their heads out of yesterday. And they’re miserable for it.

So what does this mean for us in 2013? Stop living life in a rearview mirror. Stop looking backward to find happiness and contentment in yesterday and start looking forward to what’s coming. Yes, what’s coming is unknown. What’s coming might not be fun at all. But it’s very likely that you’re already prepared for what’s coming, whether you know it or not. You probably experienced yesterday what you needed to know for today and for tomorrow. That’s what yesterday is for.

Learning.

You can learn from yesterday. Just don’t live there.

God sets our paths. He doesn’t let us run alone. And He always provides exactly what we need exactly when we need it.

Keep your eyes forward and run. Don’t worry about the other runners; they’ll handle themselves. Don’t worry about the road behind you; it’s past. Don’t worry about the road ahead of you; take it a day at a time.

 

Dirt road through the jungle - Peten, Guatemala

The goal of a marathon

My dad was a race car driver before he became a professional business type. He raced Ford Fiestas and Volkswagen Rabbits. My earliest memories are sitting in the front seat of that beat up old Rabbit pulling the buttons and dials off the dashboard. But because my dad loved racing so much, we grew up with NASCAR and Formula 1 races on the television. So the concept of racing got an early start in my young brain.

I have met a few people in my life who don’t think that racing is a sport. And maybe that’s because they’ve never tried it or have never spoken to anyone who has. Because racing isn’t just driving around in circles. It’s a sport of endurance. And it’s not as easy as it looks.

Dirt road through the jungle - Peten, Guatemala

Dirt road through the jungle – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Romans 12:1.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.

In this context, Paul is referring to running a race in a literal sense, not driving a car. But the concept is the same. When you’re in a race, whether you’re physically running or directing an engine that’s running, you don’t want anything extraneous that will slow you down.

Paul uses sports metaphors to refer to the Christian faith many times throughout Scripture, which leads a lot of folks to believe that he was athlete of sorts. He could have been. I don’t really know. But many sports metaphors do fit the Christian walk very well. Racing is just one of them.

In a race, you’ve got a bunch of people all trying to get across the finish line. But have you noticed the difference between the attitudes of people who run the 50-yard dash verses a marathon? The 50-yard dash is all about speed. The 50-yard dash is about who can run the fastest. But a marathon? The goal of a marathon is to finish. Yeah, it’s great if you can win, but most people you talk to are just thankful that they can reach the end of the race without dying.

One will finish first and win, obviously. There always must be a winner. But whether you come in first or last, it’s your job to finish.

It’s the same with race car driving. Yes, there will be a winner. There must be a winner. But if they can actually finish the race without crashing, they count themselves fortunate.

That’s the kind of race Paul is talking about. Not the short sprints. Not a drag race. Not a race to determine who is faster. The race God has set before us is a marathon. It’s Talladega or the Indianapolis 500. It’s not about speed; it’s about endurance. And we’re not competing against each other to win; Christ has already won the race. He just wants us to finish alongside Him.

Hebrews 12 begins with the word therefore which means you need to refer to what was said in the previous verses to truly understand the context of what follows.

Hebrews 12 comes after Hebrews 11 (duh, I know, right?), but if you have the opportunity to read Hebrews 11, you should. Hebrews 11 is called the Faith Hall of Fame. It’s a chapter of names of people in the Old Testament who ran the race and ran it with endurance. They suffered. They struggled. They stumbled. But they finished.

Faith isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. The day is coming when something will hit you so hard you won’t know what to do about it. Something in your life will break loose. You’ll lose your job. You’ll lose a relationship. You’ll lose an opportunity. Your dreams will come crashing down around you. Your family will fall apart. And all you’ll want is an answer. All you’ll want from God is for Him to fix it … or to tell you why. And He may not do either.

But that’s His prerogative. And that’s where faith comes in, believing that even though things in your life aren’t going the way you think they should be that He still knows better. And that His way is better. And that however your story is going to end, you will keep running the race. You won’t look back. You won’t pick up additional weight as you run. You’ll just keep running.

It’s not an easy choice. But the wisest choices in life are rarely easy. Nobody accidentally finished a marathon; someone made choices before they started running and during the race itself to reach the finish line.

Romans 12:1-3 (The Message)

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!