Consistency

Here’s something runners know that I have recently come to know too:  Consistency matters.

When it comes to running, consistency has never been my forte.  Before my trainer-friend got ahold of me, I’d run when I felt like it.  My progress was spotty because my running was spotty.  It took me more than a year to run a mile, and even then I was never sure if I could do it again.

Now, I run three days a week because my trainer-friend makes me.  (Accountability is a good thing.)  Twice a week I run with the training group and once a week I run on my own.  The other week I ran two miles.  Twice.  And that’s the amazing part.  Not that I did it, but that I did it more than once.  And as one of our running mentors shouted out the first mile, I thought “A mile is easy now.”  The amazing part to me is not so much that I can run a mile; it’s that I know I could do it again.

At a recent group run, my trainer-friend admonished us to not give up on our solo runs.  “Even if you can only get out the door for 10 minutes,” she said, “make sure you do it.  That extra day of running will make your long runs more manageable and your short runs feel awesome.”

Awesome. I don’t know about you, but I like to feel awesome.  And I find her words to be true.  I have made more progress in 5 weeks of consistent effort than I did in more than a year of inconsistency. Which says a lot for the power of consistency.

When I think of habits, I often think of bad ones. But habits can also be good.  They can be pillars in our life that give us structure, forward momentum, hope. And when our lives get turned upside down, it is the strength of our habits that give us footholds to find our way back.

The question I need to ask myself is what habits do I want guiding my life?  And if one of those habits is my relationship with God, what am I doing about it right now? How consistent am I in reading my Bible, journaling, spending time in prayer, sitting quietly, attending Bible studies, attending church services… No, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all of it all of the time, but there is always enough time to do some of it consistently.  We need to take one small step and commit to it.  A weekly meeting, a weekly reading, a weekly teaching scheduled into our routine.  We need to establish a level of accountability – a trainer-friend to ask if we’re following our schedule or a small group that meets regularly.

I’ve come to learn that it doesn’t matter how fast or how hard or how far I run on any given day.  Most days it’s not very far, and it’s definitely not very fast.  What matters is that I get up and do it.  And then I do it again.

The same is true for our relationship with God.  It’s not enough for us to meet with Him sporadically.  Pray without ceasing, Paul wrote (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Do not give up meeting together, Hebrews says (10:25). Like a runner’s endurance, relationships grow slowly, over time. And like consistent running, consistently meeting with God prepares us for the race ahead.  Indeed, consistency in our relationship with God makes the hard stretches of life’s run more manageable, and the good stretches feel downright awesome.

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:30-31).

Yes

The other night some friends invited me to an improv show.  Improv creates comedy by taking random audience suggestions and throwing them at the players (and sometimes audience members) on stage.  The players act out improbable scenarios, make up songs, and create comedic sketches completely on the spot. Improv shows are high energy, high audience participation.  In other words, improv is specially designed to entertain extroverts and terrify introverts. I, in case you missed it before, am an introvert.

But I’m fascinated by improv, so I said yes.

The thing that’s so fascinating about improv is how they do it.  How can a group of people spontaneously make up nearly two hours of dialogue, song, and dance and have it be anything but a train wreck?

Probably the same way you and I do.

When you come right down to it, improv is not so different from a day in the life.  We never know what’s coming, but there’s not much we can do once it does except jump in and make the most of it.  Sometimes things click and we race through laughter and camaraderie.  Sometimes things don’t, and we struggle just to make it through this scene.  (Please emcee, blow the whistle and make it stop.)

There’s actually a secret I read once.  The secret to improv is that the players must always say “yes.”  When you’re in the middle of an improv, you must always build off what another player does or says.  Even if you don’t like it, you have to grab hold of it and make something of it.  That’s what keeps the momentum and the story line going.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

We have an Emcee who not only controls the scene changes in our lives, He also orchestrates the audience suggestions and dictates the other players who are on stage with us.  Our job is to keep saying yes.  No matter what.

Think of how many heroes of the Bible are recorded because they said “yes” to a scenario God presented:

  • Abram was directed to a new and unknown land (Genesis 12:1-7).
  • Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus).
  • Elijah witnessed powerfully before the people (1 Kings 18:16-39).
  • Esther used her circumstances to save the Jewish people from massacre (Esther).
  • The disciples dropped their fishing nets and followed Jesus (Matthew 4:18-22).

I also think of Joseph dragged to Egypt against his will (Genesis 37-45). For years he kept his focus on God even though he did not like the scenes that kept getting thrown his way.  If Joseph had shut down, if he had turned his back on God, if he had said “no” at any point, then he never could have burst onto the stage at that pivotal time to save both the Egyptians and his own family from famine.

Most important of all, Jesus Himself said “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing…”(John 5:19).  And the night before his crucifixion, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).Ultimately, we are saved because Jesus said “yes” to His Father.

We will never experience a casting call quite like our Biblical heroes or our Savior. But we are called to look for God’s presence right here, right now. All around us are opportunities that God is presenting.  He is bringing people onto our stage. He is setting a scene. He is cueing us to begin.  Who has God brought into your life recently that you can reach out to?  What need is on your doorstep that you can respond to? What whisper is in your heart that you can listen to?

Do you remember how this story started?  Some friends asked if I wanted to go to an improv show.

I said yes.

 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

The Day I Discovered the Treadmill

The day I discovered the treadmill was cold and snowy and – did I mention cold?

The story begins something like this: On any given day, I would much rather lament my running incapacity than to do something productive to remedy it.  Every once in a while I do something advisable (recall Exhibit A).  But more often, I do not. (Notice there is only one Exhibit A.)

Secretly, I want to be a runner.  But running is intimidating.  To be a runner you have to – how should I put this?  To be a runner you have to… run.  Regularly.  And regularly is not something I do well.

Then it happened.  In a moment of weakness I succumbed to a friend’s request to come to an informational meeting about a training session she was starting.

“Just come to the meeting,” she said.  “You don’t have to actually join.”

“Will there be punch and cookies?”  I asked.

Unfortunately, I happened to be available the night of the meeting.  And while I didn’t really expect there to be cookies, there was always the chance…

So I went.

That’s all it took.  Which, of course, my trainer-friend knew all along.  Because as any good trainer knows, just getting to the starting line is the hardest part.  What my friend didn’t know is that for the last couple weeks I had been looking for an outlet to blow off the steam of a 10-hour-a-day desk job.  I had been coming up empty.  This is the door God opened.  Sigh.

I signed my form.  I paid my fee.  Okay then, let’s do this thing.

By the day of our first group run, I was pumped.  I had new running shoes and had cobbled together assorted pieces of hiking/exercise clothing that I thought could withstand a foray into this new and exciting world.  Then the run got cancelled.  They do that if it’s less than 0°F.  Wimps.  (Just kidding, trainer-friend!  I don’t actually want to run through snowdrifts at -20°…)

This is where it is either an amazing benefit or a curse to have your trainer also be your friend.  Because just when I was pretty sure I’d be walking my dog instead of going for a run, I got a message.

“I’ll meet you at the treadmill and help you with your run,” she said.

The Treadmill. (It would not be melodramatic to add Dah Dah-Dah music here.)

Up to this point, I had been on a treadmill exactly once in my life: three days prior in the running store where they were taking exotic measurements to match me to the perfect shoes.  I knew nothing about treadmills except that my trainer-friend had recently lamented she would rather eat dinner with rusted silverware than run long distances on a treadmill.  (Of course, her definition of running long distances and my definition of running long distances are a little bit different…)  The fact that she was willing to coerce me onto the treadmill proves that a) she is a good trainer, b) she is a good friend, and c) I was going to run on a treadmill.

In the end, our schedules did not line up, and I ventured to the treadmill solo.  But here’s the thing.  Even though I had walked by the fitness center in my apartment complex hundreds of times, the fact that I had easy access to a treadmill never even entered my mind until my trainer-friend pointedly brought it to my attention.  I had never thought about treadmills before, and so I didn’t think of them now.  The game had changed, but I was still in my old mind-set.

How many times do we start something new but carry with us old patterns of thought?  Sometimes, even when we know something (I had walked by that treadmill hundreds of times!), we still need someone to point it out to us.  Paul exclaims excitedly that the old has passed away and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17), but this is not always an instantaneous transformation.  Whether we’re talking about a physical run or our spiritual walk, we need the willingness of someone to come alongside us and give us that extra push.  We need one another to try new things, to be challenged, and to grow.  We need one another to lean on, to learn from, to follow and to lead.

God bless the gift of encouragement.

 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Anyplace

I am practicing being able to write anyplace.

I admire those people who can write anyplace.  People like that often say, “If I needed peace and quiet to write I would never get anything written!”  I agree.  The difference is that they fall into the “manage to get it done” category and I fall into the “nothing gets written category.”  So tonight I gave myself a challenge: take my laptop to my town’s weekly outdoor concert and write a post before the music stops.

So here I am.

I found a spot, after much deliberation, on the grass in a partially shady spot behind the band.  This means that when I look up, 90% of the crowd is facing me.  (Nothing like having an audience while you try to write deep thoughts.)  The cymbals are about 20 yards away. As are the drums (five different kinds that I can see) and the xylophone (cool, a xylophone!)  The trumpets are even closer.  Beneath them are – excuse me for a moment while I clap – beneath them are the saxophones, and bassoons and oboes and tubas and clarinets and probably some others… there’s a white pillar blocking part of my view so I can’t see it all for sure.  But I can hear them, and while I’m no musician, I’m impressed.  These folks sound good!  (Apparently there is at least one other lady who is equally enthused.  She yells “Woo-hoo!” after every song.)

But back to me.  I decided that this would be a good place to practice writing anyplace.  It’s more interesting than my kitchen table, that’s for sure.  And much more distracting.  I’m half listening to the conductor introduce the songs, I’m definitely listening to the music, and I’m interrupted every few sentences to clap.  Oh, and there’s a train.  (For a minute I thought that sound was part of the band!) There’s also a little girl turning cartwheels and plucking grass stems and spinning in circles until she falls down giggling.  If I stretched out my arm I could touch her.  And yet, I have managed to write.  Nothing insightful, but still… I consider this progress.

The real test is whether I can make that leap. (The little girl is now marching and waving a bunch of leaves in each hand.  She also just declared that there is broccoli in the grass.  I’m not sure whether there is actually broccoli in the grass, or a plant that just looks like broccoli.)  But as I was saying, the real test is whether I can make that leap.  Can I actually make a point and close this out before the music stops?  A couple lessons come to mind that I could potentially draw from this little exercise.  Here’s one of them: it’s easy to establish our habits, whether it’s a writing routine, a route to work, or a daily schedule.  We can begin living so inside our own pattern that we never even try to step outside.  We say, “I must have peace and quiet in order to write!”  “I can’t do that,” we say.  Or, “That won’t work.”  But our God is not a God of the can’t.  Our God is a God of the can.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me, Paul wrote (Philippians 4:13).  Sometimes that means the little everyday things we don’t have time for.  Like going to a concert when we should be writing.

It doesn’t matter what we can’t do.  If we give God the opening, He can.  It is Christ who strengthens us.  It is the Holy Spirit who guides us.  Sometimes all we need to do is try something a little different.

Our final song is underway, the early-leavers are folding their lawn chairs, which means it’s time to wrap this post up. If you’ve never checked out a small town citizen’s band, go find one.  Not into music?  Go find something else.  You might be surprised at what God can accomplish through you along the way.

His work is something worth clapping about. (Woo-hoo!)

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours will be thwarted (Job 42:2)

If Life Were Like the Super Bowl

This week at a Bible study, my pastor lead us through an interesting discussion beginning with the question, “If life were like the Super Bowl, what would our role be?”  I liked his analogy so much, I decided to share it.  Credit for this analogy goes to my pastor; any misrepresentations in my embellishments are my own!

If life were like the Super Bowl…

SuperBowl

We would not be the spectators.  It is not our role to simply sit back and watch.  We are not called to idleness, but to action.  We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good (2 Thessalonians 3:11-13).

We would not be the referees.  We do not make the rules, nor do we enforce them.  It is not our place to judge the thoughts and actions of others.  There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12)

We would not be the coaches on the sidelines.  We do not get to call the plays. A person’s steps are directed by the Lord (Proverbs 20:24a).

We would not be up in the press box.  We are not a neutral observer, hovering over the game.  It is not our job to analyze the stats and interpret the plays of the game for others.  No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).

So what would our role be?

We would be the players, out on the field, getting muddy.  Each one of us would have a specialized job to do for the benefit of the whole team.  For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us (Romans 12:4-6a).

This does not mean we can’t do things outside our primary skill.  Only a fool would say, “Well, I could have intercepted that pass, but that’s not really my primary job so I left if for someone else to do.”  No.  There are times when we are called to do the work that is at hand, regardless of our comfort or skill. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10a).

If we were players in the Super Bowl of life, there would be both challenges and victories.  Sometimes we would perform a spectacular block that saves someone else from harm.  Sometimes we would catch the touchdown pass.  Sometimes we would take a blow to the head and be carried off the field.  But no matter what was happening around us or to us, we would play with a foreknowledge that no one in the Super Bowl has:  We know who wins the game.  The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).

We have to play hard until the clock runs out.  That is our job.  But we can also play with the knowledge that when the final whistle blows, we are not left muddy on the field.  We are invited to the victory party of our Lord.  And if you thought the Super Bowl party was fun, you haven’t seen anything yet.

SuperBowl-Celebration

 Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

History Class

Don’t worry.  This post isn’t really about history.  I wouldn’t have much to say in that regard anyway.  Partially for a reason which you are about to see.

As a student, I rarely slept in class.  But by the end of my undergraduate years, after consistently burning through more than one box of proverbial candles, I was struggling.  It was World Cultures, and the professor had one of those wonderfully soothing voices that could knock me from attentive to comatose in under five minutes.  It wasn’t that I didn’t find the class interesting; I did.  But I could not, for the life of me, keep my eyes open for a solid 50 minutes under this professor’s spell.  For years afterwards, I kept the notebook for that class for the sheer novelty of the story that it told.  Each class period began with fresh looking penmanship that slanted quickly down the side of the page and ended with a single fading line.  You could almost pinpoint the exact point at which my eyes must have fully closed.  And then the jagged line when the pen jerked back alive at my friend’s whispered, “Beagle, wake up!”

Needless to say, I have not carried forward a wealth of World Cultures knowledge from that class.  But I have carried forward an interesting lesson that I have only now come to realize was being demonstrated to me even then by my more attentive friend.  You see, one of the more fascinating aspects of our exchange was that she sat in the seat directly in front of me.  So unless my head actually hit the desk with a bang – which I thankfully don’t recall it ever doing – she had no way of knowing when I was falling asleep.  I remember asking her once, “How do you always know when I’m falling asleep??”

“Easy,” she said.  “Whenever I feel myself falling asleep, I figure you must be, too.”

Brilliant, isn’t it?  She too was suffering under the soporific charms of our professor, but unlike me, she chose to do something about it, single-handedly keeping us both in at least a semi-conscious state.

This is the lesson which God instructs us to follow outside of the classroom as well.  Am I feeling lonely?  I should be reaching out to someone else who may be feeling lonely.  Am I feeling tired and discouraged?  I should be speaking words of encouragement to those around me who are probably also feeling tired and discouraged.  It is easy when things are going well to get wrapped up into my own daily schedule and pay no attention to those around me.  Sometimes it takes a bad day for God to remind me to pay attention.  Sometimes it takes feeling lonely to remember those who are lonely.  Sometimes it takes feeling discouraged to remember those who are discouraged.  In fact, my moodiest days may actually be God whispering: “Beagle, wake up!  Take note of this.  I have something for you to do.”

There is, of course, a trap in this.  I could, as I was prone to do in World Cultures, simply sink deeper into whatever I am feeling.  I could ignore God’s wake-up call and think instead only about how I am feeling.  It could never occur to me – as it never did back then (leave me alone, I’m sleeping!) – that God can use this feeling to encourage me to reach out to others.

On the other hand, I could reach out for the wrong reasons.  I could reach out with the coercive expectation that my actions will be reciprocated.  “I am going to help you and therefore you are going to help me.”  But this is acting from wrong motives.  This is not me listening to God’s call and responding; it’s trying to manipulate others with the sole purpose of making myself feel better.  God does not call us to be manipulators; God calls us to be blessings.

Both of these – not acting at all or not acting for the right reasons – are easy emotional traps.  True, reaching out to others often is the quickest road back to where we want to be.  After all, by keeping me awake, my friend also kept herself awake.  By encouraging others, I often find myself encouraged.  But the motivation needs to come not from an expectation that other people will return the favor, but from the recognition that God has given me an opportunity.

Whatever I am feeling right now, whatever I am experiencing right now, God can use to bless someone else if I am simply willing to find them.  They probably aren’t far away.  In fact, they may be right behind me.

And I call learning that lesson a good day in any class.

Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10:24

Going Through, Part II

Click to read Part 1.

When I was writing the first “Going Through” article a couple of months ago (seriously, where does the time go??) I was already thinking of part 2.  Unfortunately, rather than sitting right down and writing it then, which would have been the smart thing to do, I waited.  Now, I have two completely unrelated thoughts racing through my head and absolutely no thoughts related to the topic at hand.  But if I don’t try it now, I may never try it.  So I am gong to jump in and start…going.

I took the title of these articles in reverse.  The first article focused on the second part of the title – the “through” part.  This article, then, is on that all important first word.  The “going.”

Unfortunately for us, not only is “through the valley” not always the most pleasant experience, through doesn’t even begin to happen without us first going.  Life is not a scenic bus ride.  We don’t get from here to there without a little work.

David said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (Psalm 23:4a). 

Even though I walk…

This is not a passive verse.  It starts with an action.  It starts with David stepping forward into a very scary place.  He is not being carried through the valley.  He is also not going quickly through the valley.  (How I wish I could speed through the valleys!)  No, David is walking.

In the NIV translation, this passage continues “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4b).  I love the verb tense of this line.  It doesn’t say, “I am not afraid right now.”  It says: “I will fear no evil.” Future tense, definitive.  Like a promise.

For David, fear was a choice, and he willed himself to not be afraid.  How?  Because God was with him.

This is powerful, but I think we do ourselves and David a disservice if we think it is easy.  I don’t believe we can walk into a dark valley and say, “I will not be afraid!” and have all fear immediately vanish.  Our emotions are not tied to a switch that we can flip on and off at will.  I think David probably was afraid.  In fact, we read lots of David’s writing where he is clearly terrified.  But I think he is talking here about a different kind of fear.  Not just what we feel, but what we believe.

We can feel afraid but still trust God enough to go.  Our actions can declare, “I will fear no evil,” even when our emotions say otherwise.  Sometimes it is during our slow walk through the valley – not before – that God’s presence becomes real enough for us to believe, if not actually feel:  I will fear no evil, for you are with me. 

Fear is the devil’s ploy.  Fear can prevent us from going through the valley… but only if we let it.  David knew, as we should know, that even in the darkest valley, God is with us.  His rod and his staff are there to comfort us. 

I may feel afraid, but I will not be afraid.  When God calls, I will lace up my walking shoes and go.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

Running

I am not a runner.  But I admire people who are.  I would like to be a runner.  Except for that fact that becoming a runner would require me to, well, run. 

I am the epitomy of everything you should not do to become a runner.  I follow no schedule whatsoever.  I wait for a day when I am entirely stressed and have been sitting hunched over a desk for way too long.  Then I leap out the door and pound the pavement until I am completely exhausted.  In other words, about a quarter of a mile.  I then can’t move for three days.

I have friends who are runners.  Impressive runners: trail racers, half-marathoners, full marathoners, high altitude sprinters.  At 7000 feet I can’t even stand up without having to pause and catch my breath.  Forget about running.  These people amaze me.  Because I (as many of you have heard me say) am training for a 5K the way most people train for a marathon.  It is a life’s goal that is going to take me most of my life to get there.  Except, of course, that my “training” is not really training at all. 

My friends give me advice.  Good advice.  They show me stretches.  They talk about posture and conservation of motion and momentum.  They say I should set a known distance and see how long it takes me to cover it.  “Run and walk it as needed,” the say, “and over time you will find yourself running more and walking less.”  Enough of my running friends have told me this that I think it must be true.  I’ve just never actually tried it.  Until recently.

Yes, that’s right.  A few days ago, I actually chose one of my favorite trails at a local park that, according to the map, is about 2 miles long.  And I ran it in… are you ready for this? 

32:44 minutes.

Now to be fair, I stopped midway through for a solid 3 minutes because my shins were killing me and I needed to stretch them out.  So if I subtract that time, I averaged about a… 15 minute mile.  And that, my friends, is why even when I am “running” I get lapped by the speedwalkers.

The interesting thing about this, though, is that it was a rather spur of the moment thing.  I needed to go for a run, and I decided that this time, this is how I was going to do it.  And yet at the same time, it did not feel like a spur of the moment thing at all.  I’ve been doing my haphazard “training” for three years now.  I’ve been hearing my friends’ advice, even though they probably think I’m ignoring them entirely.  Perhaps the last friend that said “Set a distance and run it.” finally pushed me over the edge.  Perhaps years of fermentation finally generated some action.  Perhaps I just plain had a day where I needed this particular type of distraction, where I needed to feel that strange kind of connection that occurs when you actual heed the repeated advice of your friends.

All of this makes me think of another kind of advice, another kind of fermentation, and another kind of friend.  How often do we share the word of God with another to seemingly no effect?  Or how often are we ourselves the recipient?  Perhaps you are not yet a Christian.  You hear the words, you watch others running their race, but you have not yet heeded their advice.  Or perhaps you’re already a Christian but are – as we will continually do – still growing in your faith.  Perhaps there is one particular area you’re struggling with right now, and friends around you are either knowingly or unknowingly speaking the advice you need to hear.  Perhaps you are watching someone else running a particular path you aspire to.  You want to get there, but your training seems haphazard and sporadic.

Take heart!  God is at work in all of our lives.  In those to whom we minister, and in us when we ourselves are being ministered to.  Nothing is ever wasted.  We are impacting one another more than perhaps we ever realize.  Every step, every word along the way, leads to where we are going.

For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false.  Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3).

Going Through

I had a screen saver on my computer in college that rotated through inspirational quotes.  I don’t recall exactly where I got it.  I think my roommate received it from someplace; maybe it came with a bookstore promotion. That part doesn’t really matter.  What matters is there was one particular quote that always resonated with me: The best way out is always through.

This is the only quote from the whole lot that I remember, even though I probably stared at that screen for hours.  I’m not sure why I liked this particular quote so much, except for the potential that God knew better than I what was coming down the road.  He let this thought sink in during the fun times.  He was preparing me for the challenging times.

It has been said many times that if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.  There is a hymn that reminds us “All the way my savior leads me.”  God himself reminds us that he will never leave us or forsake us (Joshua 1:5). Unfortunately, I can know these things intellectually and still not feel them in my heart.

During some of my darkest times, I came to curse my “favorite quote.”  It would roll again and again through my head like the drum beat of a death march.  And that’s exactly what “through” felt like: like death itself.  I didn’t want to go through.  I wanted to go anyplace except through.  I wanted to go back.  I wanted to go around. I wanted to go over.  I did not want to go through.  But again and again that cursed quote would pound through my head: the best way out is always through.  Seriously, God?  Seriously?

The 23rd Psalm is referenced so frequently that my eyes often glaze over the moment I begin to think about it.  But I was thinking of this Psalm the other day, and how we jump frequently to the pleasant parts, but don’t dwell much on that very powerful line in the middle:  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (Psalm 23:4).

Did you see it?  Even in this psalm that is used so often as a source of comfort, the path described is through the valley.  God does not lead David around; He leads him through.

There are a lot of valleys in life.  Some are small and inconvenient.  Some are large and overwhelming.  Some are so long and dark we get part way through and can’t see light out either end.  The most frightening are those where we stand at the entrance looking down a path that seems to be pointing in… and no further than that. Just where exactly is God taking me??

God’s rod and God’s staff can comfort us, but there is no denying the fact that the valley is terrifying.  And there is no denying the fact that we eventually reach a point where we have to walk through it.  Sometimes God’s rod and staff not only comfort, they prod.  Us.  Forward.

I’ve been through a valley like that. I went in kicking and screaming and trying to convince God and myself that there was an alternative route.  But no matter how I tried to turn the other way, I came right up against the cold hard fact that the best way, the only way, was through.  No matter which way I tried to turn, God kept prodding me forward.

Someplace in the middle, when I was still clawing my way through the dark, my plea changed from “Please let me go a different way” to “Please help me through.”  This was not an easy transition.  But through that valley, I eventually learned in my heart what I initially knew only in my head.  In some of the darkest and most terrifying valleys, there is still a path forward.

The best way out is always through.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).

Plow Forward

You may have noticed the last two articles seem a little contradictory.  After all, the moral of Cooking Tip #1 is to consider your actions before you leap; the moral of Non-Newtonian Fluids is to leave the pondering to someone else.  Leap out of the boat and go with gusto!  So wait, aren’t those contradictory?

Personally, I prefer the term “complementary.”  Here’s why. 

In Cooking Tip #1 we looked at what happens when we act impulsively on our own hasty desires without considering the consequences.  In this case, the desire originated from us.  It’s something we want.  And anytime it’s something we want, we need to pause and consider the consequences.  Is it also something God wants?

Interestingly, Peter’s walk on the water (Matthew 14:22-33) also originated with something he wanted.  It was Peter who first said, “Lord if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.”  But think about this for a minute.  Peter didn’t just decide: “Check it out!  Jesus is walking on the water!  I’m going to walk on water too!” and hurl himself out of the boat.  He told Jesus “[You] tell me to come to you.” 

Jesus could have said, “No, you fool, stay in the boat.”  But He didn’t.  In another exhibition of His glory and power, Jesus said, “Come.”  And at that point there was no more time for second thoughts.  It was too late for Peter to shout “Just kidding!”  The time for pondering was over.  The time for action had arrived.  Peter got out of the boat and went.

Jesus is very clear, at several points within the Gospel accounts, that when He calls, it is our job to follow.  We see this in the calling of the disciples.  “Follow me,” He said.  And every time He called, his true disciples dropped everything and followed Him.  Then, before sending out the seventy-two, Jesus told those following Him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

Once we are called, we must move forward.  Once we step out of the boat, we must not look at the wind or the waves.  We must not hesitate.  Even when opposition blocks our path or makes us stumble – physical opposition, emotional opposition, mental opposition – we must put our hand to the plow and move forward.  Even when faith itself is weak, we must dig in and plow forward.

I love what C.S. Lewis wrote about faith in Mere Christianity1.  “Faith…is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods” (p. 140).  In other words, faith is keeping our hand to the plow once we have started.  Even when, as C.S. Lewis wrote, our “emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz” (p. 140).

Plowing forward is not blind activity; it is commitment to what we believe.  It is commitment to Who we believe.  C.S. Lewis noted: “I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up.  Those have to be faced and that is a different matter.  I am talking about moments when a mere mood rises up against it” (p. 140).  He is talking, in other words, about the wind and the waves that we must simply plow through.  The wind and the waves are scary, but they do not change the fact that Jesus is still standing there, calling. 

Christianity has never been a contradiction between reason and faith.  It is prudent to check our desires and to seek wise counsel in our actions.  But once God has called us – whether generally into His Christian family or specifically to some purpose you feel He is guiding you toward – the time for hesitation has passed.  When He calls, we must plow forward.

 “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

1 Lewis, C.S. (1980). Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins.