Sorry for being so scarce since returning from vacation. It’s been a little hectic with renovations going on at church, school starting at Southwestern College and Phoenix Seminary, and starting a new series in my preaching ministry. It’s been right back to my hectic life! I promise that there are a couple of important lessons I learned in Rwanda that I have not had time to blog yet; there’s a lesson on relationships and on food that are coming, so hang in there with me!
One of the challenges of our crazy summer was our fitness and running in particular. I like to run and have completed two half-marathons. (check here and here for my thoughts on those; the first one still makes me emotional to read) However, in the craziness of the trip to Rwanda and the cruise my running definitely tapered off. In the weeks of the trip to Africa I ran not one iota. In Belgium I was too tired or busy, and in Rwanda it was either too early, too late, too much air pollution, too much to do, or what have you. I ran once in the week between Africa and the cruise, and twice on the cruise while eating enough for a whole family. I gained about 10 pounds over the month.
So needless to say my running shape was long gone. I was overweight, had no muscle memory, and couldn’t keep close to the pace I was hitting in June. 3 miles was a huge undertaking, whereas I had just run 13.1 and felt great at the end. How discouraging!
As I was slogging through a run last week I thought about the fact that I was really “suffering” through my run. It was harder than expected, it was hot, I was tired and slow, blah blah blah. I was frustrated that my fitness was garbage and started talking to God some while running, asking Him to ease my suffering and to get me through it until I could get back where I wanted to be.
And then he whacked me upside the head.
Loud and clear in my heart I heard, “Enjoy the suffering. Don’t endure it; enjoy it. It is making you into the runner you want to be, so be grateful for it.” If you re-read my post from the PF Chang half in January linked above, that is the same spiritual lesson that He reminded me of there.
11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble,
13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:11-13, NASB)
Discipline is no fun, and we can really resist suffering in our spiritual lives like I was resisting it in my running. But that’s not how God works any more than it is how physical fitness works! You’ve got to be willing to train in order to run, to start small and make incremental improvements to get better. Records are not broken on accident, and frankly they are not broken on the race course. Instead, they are broken on purpose on those solo training runs where you push yourself to be better than you were. The race is the celebration more than it is the test.
The same holds true in our spiritual lives. Enjoy the trials, the struggles, and the tests of faith. Recognize that they are the “training runs” of your walk with Christ and that He will use them to make you into the person He wants you to be. It’s that discipline and suffering and struggle that will mold you into a Christ follower who brings Him glory and has true and lasting joy in the midst of whatever comes. That is how to experience what the author of Hebrews wants for us in Hebrews 12:1-2:
1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
So with that lesson from God in my mind I set out to regain my form. I am not nearly there, but I can see little flashes of the old me as I regain my form. My weight is headed in the right direction, with about 10 pounds to go total. More than that, though, I am enjoying the process again and looking forward to lacing up my running shoes.
My prayer is that whatever you’re going through today that you hear the lesson I learned and find a place to enjoy the process, not just the product. Whether your struggle is spiritual, emotional, relational, vocational, educational or financial the same truth can change your outlook on your day.
Enjoy the suffering and the struggle, not just the result. Try it and see what God does to your outlook on life as well as your results. As the founder of American Kenpo, Ed Parker, once said, “Whatever the attitude, so is the response.”