Consider the difference between these perspectives on the Christian life. First up is Revelation 3:15-16:
15‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.
16‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.
What a sad statement from Jesus about a church. The church in Laodicea had become apathetic. A church only becomes apathetic when the people in it become apathetic, one at a time and little by little. Compare this with what Paul says in 1 Cor 9:23-27:
23I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
24Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
25Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
26Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
27but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
And consider his own view of his life at the end of it in 2 Timothy 4:7-8:
7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;
8in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
Paul wasn’t wondering if Jesus thought he was being lukewarm; he just figured that he would run hard after Christ and let Christ worry about the results.
I got a reminder of this difference this morning when out for my run with Laura. We have a race in 2 1/2 weeks (for which I have a pretty audacious goal), and this Saturday is my last long run before race day. With a long run on Saturday (12 miles), this morning we just wanted to take it easy and run our normal 5-miler without pushing. I know that if I pushed hard in speed work today that on Saturday I would be tired, and since I am going to test my race preparation I didn’t want to be gassed for it. So we took off to run easy, say 15-30 seconds a mile slower than normal.
To put it bluntly, it stunk. We got the first mile in okay, but neither of us felt great. Miles 2 and 3 were hard; mile 4 started off as a real chore. I felt really, really tired and like I was working incredibly hard for the slow pace I was keeping. Laura felt the same, so about mile 3.5 she suggested we push our pace for a little bit and then take it really easy for the last mile. I was all about taking it easy so I agreed! We stepped the pace up by about a minute a mile or so, thinking that we had about a half mile of hard before we could throttle back.
After a half mile we should have eased up, but neither of us did. We were running faster, but we both felt better. My energy came back big time, the aches went away, and I got some spring in my step. Laura was rockin’ it like always, so we kept the faster pace up and finished with our last mile being our fastest by about 30 seconds. I was tired like I always am after my mid-week run, but I felt better at the end of mile 5 than I had after any of the previous miles we had run.
The paradoxical truth is that our bodies are used to running fast, so running slower is harder. While I might think that an “easy” run will be a piece of cake, if I throttle back too far my stride gets all goofed up and it is actually much harder for me to run! I have to keep my pace up or I begin to labor. (For the record, for me that means sub-9:15 at this point, down to about 8:30 or so…lower than that and I am in speed training mode) Going easy made me want to stop altogether; it was only by speeding up and running harder that I got over the blahs and had a good run.
Can you see how this plays out the difference between the experience in Laodicea and Paul? They were lukewarm, shuffling along without any intent. This frustrated Jesus to no end, to the point that He gave them a stern rebuke. Paul, on the other hand, ran the race hard. He knew that there would be temptation to quit, but decided to give the race of life 100% effort for Christ. He knew that the victor’s wreath isn’t given for lackluster effort, so he laid it all on the line. And in 2 Timothy 4 we see that he is confident that his race was well-run for the kingdom of God. He went hard! And everything I read from Paul tells me that he didn’t consider his Christian life to be a chore, instead taking joy in the midst of the trials he faced. (if you doubt me, read Philippians)
So if you’re tired, run the race hard instead of backing off. If your walk with God isn’t what you’d like it to be or you’re feeling like you’re putting in a lot of effort for not a lot of return, make the paradoxical choice not to back off but to commit more to living life under the grace and Lordship of Christ.
- If you’re struggling in your devotional life, spend more time in the Word of God and more time in prayer and more time with other godly people, not less! Don’t pull away; dive in! God’s grace comes when we realize that what we are doing is not working and we ask Him to radically transform us from the inside out, so pray like it depends on God and then live like He heard you.
- If you’re struggling with your finances, commit to God’s method of financial success with more vigor than ever. That might mean giving more, saving more, cutting expenses, getting a second job, and taking wise counsel. Don’t give up; get hard core!
- Maybe you’ve all but given up on a child or sibling, because everything you’ve tried has failed. Don’t just plod along; re-invigorate your efforts.
- Maybe your church is kinda lukewarm…it’s not bad, but not good either. It gets that way when the people slowly get that way, but enthusiasm is contagious. If you catch fire for Christ, I am willing to bet that others will come along too. Imagine what your church might look like if you decided to pursue holiness with everything in you and invited others along for the run…and they came.
Go hard or go home, and never forget which one will be best for you and those you love today and forever. Don’t quit; step it up instead and see if you don’t experience the same truth in your life that I experienced in mine this morning.