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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Running Well

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running and I’m not turning back. (Philippians 3:12-14)

We can often deal with emotional struggles, physical challenges, or other catastrophic hurtles in our own valiant efforts, all the while thinking that we “have it all together”. The reality of the matter is that we seldom “have it all together” – we are going through the motions, attempting to create a semblance of being assured in our stand or ability. The very best we can do is to create an illusion of “ability”, all the while dealing with intense emotional struggles that if we were to be real would reveal our internal inabilities and stress.

Paul knew the joy of reaching out to Jesus – of relying on the pull of the Savior over the pull of personal ability or individual limitations. Many times, our best falls well short of bringing us successfully across the goal line. The secret to success that Paul enjoyed was one of picking himself up each time he fell and extending himself toward the goal of knowing Christ just a little deeper each day. Each day was an individual progression toward an ultimate journey – one which he was being pulled toward.

The main advantage he had was focus – he had his eye on the goal. Focus determines our direction – our course is defined by that which we keep in the center of our aim. Aim well and your ultimate end will be better than if you go off haphazardly without any real focus at all. Aim does not involve guess-work or conjecture. It is purposeful, intentional living that directs our daily choices and affects our every action. Too many times, we see the path and just start running – this can prove devastating to us. We failed to take notice of what was required of us along the way and therefore, were not prepared for the commitment it would take to remain consistent in the path.

To truly be “off and running”, we need to understand our aim, prepare well for the journey, and exercise control over our desire to control the course. An athlete plans for the course ahead, conditioning his body for the race. As believers, we should also be “conditioned” for the course ahead: surrendered in prayerful obedience to the direction of the Spirit, open to the possibility of challenge along the way, and given completely to the race. Distractions will inevitably come – but the committed “runner” will not be distracted by these – he will remain focused on the goal and the beckoning of the coach ahead who is giving him each piece of “running wisdom” he needs to complete the course.

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision – you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it. Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. (Philippians 3:15-20)

Focus is something we take for granted. We don’t fully comprehend the life-altering power of focus. It is the adjustments we make in life that allow us to have distinct vision and purpose. Focus brings into clear vision that which was once hazy or less than accurately comprehended by us at a prior time. Paul knows that we have many choices that affect our focus – both good and bad. He urges his readers to keep right focus – on the goal God has prepared for us vs. the goal we see as beneficial, appealing, or momentarily challenging. It is a matter of commitment. Commitment is defined as being assigned, obligated, and pledged to a certain course or use. There is great safety in being committed (pledged) to the course that God sets out for us and avoiding the courses that we see as more appealing. It is God that does the work of clearing up our vision – setting out the way we should follow and then giving us the strength and ability to run that course well. It is also important to see that we don’t run this course alone – he has provided fellow runners so that we can be “paced” alongside someone who is running well. We’ll do well to find another runner in this race that is performing well, making progress at a steady pace, then come alongside that runner and allow that runner to guide the pace they set. The pace-setter will spur the runner along, helping them to finish well. A pace-setter also goes before the runner – preceding that runner in such a way that he leads those who follow across the goal line. We need to guard against allowing others to set our pace or determine our course that are not running well themselves – those with a focus that is cloudy, blurred to the things of the Spirit and given to the pursuit of things that flatter their earthly nature. These runners will take us down “easy street” – the course of the least resistance and the one that pampers our self nature. Be assured, the course we run requires sacrifice, laying aside some of the desires and passions of our self-nature, in order to run in such a way that the course we finish is the good course – the course that ends in the courts of God. A runner requires an excellent coach to assist him in the race. We have been given the Holy Spirit to “coach” us as we traverse this course. It is his powerful skill that brings us nearer the goal, keeps us on course, training our every fiber to be responsive to the Lord. It is his skill that clarifies our focus – showing us clearly the goal that is laid before us. We’ll do well to embrace his coaching.