Run no. 86 – Habit eats willpower for breakfast

Willpower

 

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 41’ 14” (PB 38’ 38”)

 

The hardest thing about running for me, is getting out there.

Once I’ve got into my running gear and got out the door I’m fine.

But making that happen regularly is a challenge.

Today was a case in point. It was a hot day and I just wasn’t in the mood.

What got me out there was that a few weeks ago I decided that I needed to run more regularly and that the only thing that was going to make that happen was habit.

So I started the habit of running every second day. Over the past few weeks that habit has got ingrained and it really helps.

Today, knowing that tomorrow it will be very difficult to get a run in, as I’m away all day, the idea of missing today felt like something I just couldn’t do.

In John ORTBERG’s great book ‘Soul Keeping’ he makes the statement that;

‘habit eats willpower for breakfast.’

A good habit, say giving 10% of your income to good causes each month, will keep you giving even when you don’t feel like it.

A bad habit, reacting aggressively to criticism, will eventually get you to the point when nobody can help you with your weaknesses, your worst attributes will be irrevocably fixed.

Which is why being lost or saved, is not so much a destination, as a diagnosis of who you are becoming.

To quote ORTBERG again,

This is what it means to lose your soul. It is not a cosmic threat. It is a clinical diagnosis.

It is not “I could end up there.”

It is “I could become that.”

If you are a lost soul your surroundings don’t matter – I mean this literally – one damn bit.

When it comes to our souls, as with everything else, habit eats willpower for breakfast.


Run no. 82 – When the wind’s against you

against-the-wind

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 41’ 48” (PB 38’ 38”)

Out for a lunch-time run today. Quite warm but overcast so not too hot.

There was a pleasant breeze that was both cooling and at my back.

Which is of course where you want any breeze to be! You want it to be a help and not a hindrance; to reduce the effort and not increase it.

In the spiritual life it is much the same. God’s Spirit is often described as a wind, an invisible force that we experience without being able to see His presence.

Sometimes that Spirit-wind feels like it is at our back. The spiritual life is easy and fruitful. We feel that we are making progress. Our chosen spiritual disciplines do not feel burdensome and we sense they are helping us to grow and to change.

At other times we feel the opposite. Everything is hard, nothing seems to be happening spiritually, we wonder if it is all worth it.

I think that there are two possibilities when we feel like this.

Firstly it is entirely possible that God’s Spirit is blocking us because we are heading in the wrong direction.

St Paul had such an experience.

Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.

When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.

So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.[1]

Paul was trying to do what God had called him to do, to share the message of Jesus with the non-Jewish populations of the Roman Empire. And yet he is thwarted in some way both as he tries to enter the province of Asia and when he tries to enter Bithynia.

It is only after being blocked twice that he is open to receive a Spirit-inspired dream that guides him to Macedonia.

So sometimes when we are struggling to make any progress spiritually, it may be that we are heading in the wrong direction.

There is a further possibility;

Sometimes God allows trials and difficulties in order to strengthen our faith.

God’s primary goal for our lives is that we come to love Him more and more and be able to live in His love. This is why Jesus said;

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment.[2]

Anything that God asks us to do, or allows to happen in our life, is designed to support this goal. In order to love God we need to know Him and sometimes we only get to know Him through difficult experiences. Jesus also said to his disciples;

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.[3]

So I guess the wise approach is to enjoy those halcyon days when everything is going easily, they are a grace and a blessing, enjoy them!

But when things feel tough and difficult and hard, pay attention. For either we are heading in the wrong way, or God is about to use something difficult to take us deeper in our relationship with Him.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.[4]

[1] Acts 16:6-10 NIVUK

[2] Matthew 22:37-38

[3] John 16 :33

[4] James 1 :12


Run no. 79, 80, 81 – It’s the Cost

Cost

 

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 33” (PB 38’ 38”)

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 07” (PB 38’ 38”)

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 30” (PB 38’ 38”)

 

I was out running at 7:15 this morning as it is going to be hot today. But even at that time the temperature was around 23°C.

It was a hard run, my legs felt heavy and I was more tempted to stop and walk that in any run for a while.

I felt slow and when I finished my time was not brilliant.

A good time makes me feel better about having run, so a poor time is demoralising to me.

As the more negative emotions started to stir I reminded myself that the value of something is often expressed more in what it costs than what it is. I was taught this lesson many years ago.

At the time my wife and I were a young married couple with our first child. We were active members in a church who had just called a new minister. This is always a very exciting time in a church’s life as we wait to see what vision the new person has for the future direction of the church.

The church leaders had decided to have a church weekend where the new minister could share his thoughts and vision with us.

We quickly agreed to go. Then one of the church leaders rang us to say that more families had booked up than they expected and so they needed someone to look after the children while the main meetings were going on; and would we do that.

My heart sank. We wanted to be part of the exciting meetings with the new minister, not looking after other peoples’ children. But because we had been brought up to believe that if someone asks you to do something for God and you haven’t got a good reason not to, you should do it, we said yes.

So while the meetings were on we found ourselves in a port-a-kabin with about 8 children. We found that space was shared with the kitchens, so while we were trying to do stuff with the children the cook was banging around with pots and mixing machines making meals for everybody. It was not ideal, but we tried to do our best. We had chosen some holiday club material to use and every time a leaders said ‘The J Team’, the children had to shout out ‘I wish I could be in it!’ And I guess we had fun and did a reasonable job of it.

About 4 weeks later we were in church one Sunday evening and the new minister said I’m going to invite someone up now and they are going to share what God has been doing in their life

Imagine our surprise when it was the cook from the weekend that came up the front. He said that he had been invited to go on the weekend and cook as he was unemployed and had a friend that went to our church. He wasn’t a Christian and had had a tough life struggling with alcohol and other stuff. He said that he never attended any of the meetings that weekend as he was always in the kitchen preparing food.

But there was a young couple who had shown such love to the children that he had listened in to what they were teaching them. He said that suddenly the message of Jesus and of God’s love and forgiveness made sense to him and he had decided to turn to God. He looked at my wife and I and said,

“I’ve just got one thing I want to say; the J Team, I wish I could be in it!”

By this time my wife and I were in tears, humbled, amazed, astounded.

That lesson taught me that God works in 360°, we never know what parts of our life, or which of our words and acts might be a vehicle for God’s grace.

It also made me play the ‘What If’ game.

What If we had declined the request to look after the children and perhaps someone had done it, someone who more interested in keeping the children busy, and less interested in helping them explore faith.

What If we had not been as loving towards the children because of our feelings of missing out on the important meetings, as it was our love for them that got the cook’s attention.

What If it was only the fact that we did something we didn’t really want to, as a sacrifice to God, that made it something that God chose to bless.

The value is in what something costs, not what it is.

 


Run no. 78 – Shall I call the ambulance now?

health_heart

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 54” (PB 38’ 38”)

The cheek of some people!

As I was running around Watermeads Country Park on my usual run; in reply to my cheery, “Good afternoon. God bless you!” some cheeky beggar shouted out to me,

“Shall I call the ambulance now?”

Which made me realise that I do not have the running equivalent of a ‘poker face’.

Some people have a running gait that looks effortless – even when they’re pushing hard.

Some have a beatific facial expression that belies all effort.

Not so me!

It is very obvious that every ounce of pain and effort is writ large on my face and shown in my belaboured running gait.

I guess this is true in the spiritual life too.

For some people the spiritual life looks easy. They exemplify certain verses in the Bible that seem to indicate this is how things should be;

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,

and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,

for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[1]

For others the spiritual life doesn’t look like that at all. Rather it is more like some other scriptural verses. I think of St Paul’s use of metaphors from the boxing ring and the gym;

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?

Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.

They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly;

I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.

No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.[2]

So which of these is the truth about the spiritual life?

I guess the classic answer is both/and.

There are times when things go easy, God seems close, blessings are abundant and we can very well agree with Brother Lawrence that;

Our business is simply to love and be happy in God.[3]

At other times God will seem remote, blessings none existant, the demands of the spiritual life burdensome, and the rewards absent.

It is at times like these that the mental toughness developed by running can help.

We run even when it isn’t fun, because we know it is good.

Likewise we love and centre our lives on God, regardless of the payoff. It is simply the right way to ‘be’. And our perspective is the long game; not the close horizon of our earthly existence, but the far horizon of an eternity with God enjoying Him and all the good He has planned for us.

From the perspective of eternity our pains will be our pride;

they will be the inerasable evidence of our love for, and commitment to, God.

 

[1] Matthew 11 :28-30 NIV

[2] 1 Corinthian 9:24-27 NIV

[3] The Practice of the presence of God, 2nd conversation.


Run no. 74 – One Man’s Meat

2017-05-17 15.08.14crop

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 46’ 05” (PB 38’ 38”)

It has been raining solidly all day; which, for me, is fantastic running weather. I love running in the rain.

I know that other people hate it. There are many who only enjoy running under a balmy blue sky, feeling the sun’s warmth on their backs. But not me; I love running in the rain.

For me any temperature above 20°C is too hot for running and I find it deeply uncomfortable.

No, it’s cold and rain for me, every time. Perhaps I’m a masochist, perhaps it’s just because I first started running in Scotland, a place known for its ‘rigorous’ climate. But for whatever reason that’s my preference.

It struck me that in our spiritual growth preference plays a large part too. What suits one person down to the ground as a way of expressing their faith, what helps them move forward in their relationship with God, won’t necessarily be helpful for someone else. Our individual personality, preferences, life-situation, age etc. all play a part in how we respond to the many different ways there are of expressing and exploring faith.

I have had the great privilege in my life to spend significant periods of time within many different spiritualities – Evangelical Protestant, Charismatic Baptist, Roman Catholic, and Anglican. I’ve also had the opportunity to encounter Orthodox, Methodist, and Pentecostal spiritualities, and I could probably list many more.

My experience has been that each of these has enriched me in some way.

The Evangelical Protestants taught me about how incredible the Bible is and how scholars through their books and sermons can really help me encounter God trough His Word. The Charismatics taught me how to encounter God in worship, His presence amongst us as we glorify Him. The Orthodox taught me how the senses can help us in worship and how glorious sounds, sights, and smells can help us move into the presence of God. The Catholics taught me how to encounter Jesus in the Mass. The Anglicans taught me how important unity within the Christian family is – however difficult it may be to achieve and maintain, and that perhaps preserving a difficult and fractious unity is the greatest act of worship we can give to God.

In fact all my experiences have encouraged me to see the differences in how Christians express their faith as riches we can share, rather than reasons to divide.

All of this means that if ever you are struggling spiritually and your current form of Christian spirituality is not doing it for you, then there are a whole range of different ways for you to try, one of which may be just what you need at this moment.

Try reading a book written by someone from a different Christian tradition, try watching a sermon on YouTube by a teacher from a different church, go and experience worship in another church, or go to a conference organised by a different denomination.

It’s like a child’s paint box. You might have your favourite colour – and that’s fine – but another colour might be just what you need at this moment. And if you tried something different, from a different spiritual tradition to your own and found that helpful, wouldn’t that make you appreciate your brothers and sisters in Christ just a little bit more, and wouldn’t that be a good thing?

 

 


Run no. 73 – Transformation

pound coin flaws

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: unrecorded (PB 38’ 38”)

Second run out after a 4 month lay off.

My return to running was sparked by a few things – my conscience telling me I should be doing regular exercise; the unpleasant feeling of unfitness during heavy exertion; the fact that I stood on the bathroom scales and they indicated 92 kg.

I guess the latter was the final straw. My ideal weight would probably be around 84 kg, so I’m 10 % overweight – that’s a lot.

And so I begin the slow and painful process of self-transformation. I’m trying to eat better – less food, less often. I’m trying to avoid the late evening wine, crisps and sweets that are my nemesis. I’m also back to running.

The hope is that these together will make a gradual difference. But I’m under no illusions as to the difficulty and the time this will take.

I was thinking how that analogy fits very well with the process of spiritual transformation.

The human person is a paradox. On the one hand we are ‘created in the image of God’[1], that is to say there are aspects of God’s nature in us, we are capable of God-like love, kindness, self-sacrifice, mercy, justice, beauty etc. On the other hand we have to recognise that this image is flawed and broken.

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God[2]

The recent debacle over the flawed pound coins is an apt illustration. The image of the queen is marred and broken. It is still recognisably her, but not what it should be.

The Christians life is the process of transformation of self into what we should always have been; our truest and best self, our God-like self; a self that is only actualised as the result of being in relationship with God. Only God can restore Godlikeness in us.

The first step in the process starts only when we recognise our estrangement from God. The Christian faith holds that God Himself, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, has made it possible for us to be reconnected with God.

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.[3]

Once that divine-human relationship is re-established then God Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit comes to indwell us, and it is His energy working in us that enables the transformation of self.

We all show the Lord’s glory, and we are being changed to be like him. This change in us brings more and more glory. And it comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.[4]

This is a long, slow, and costly process. It requires devotion and discipline – but it is possible.

We are what we are, but what we become is a choice.

[1] Genesis 1 :27

[2] Romans 3 :23

[3] John 14 :6

[4] 2 Corinthians 3 :18


Run no. 72 – You won’t think that later

endorphin high

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: unrecorded (PB 38’ 38”)

Today was my first run for 4 months.

I knew it was going to be hard and to hurt.

I didn’t time myself, as the objective was to see if I could still run 4.53 miles without stopping – I could, but only with great difficulty.

In my running loop I passed a lady walking her dog and gave my usual greeting “Good morning, God bless”. As I passed her again on the return part she shouted out an encouragement, “You’re nearly there!”

I replied “This is my first run for 4 months; stupid idea!”

She shouted back, “You won’t think that later!”

Which made me think.

Of course she was right.

You finish your run and the endorphin kick hits you – your body’s self-reward mechanism for your having done exercise.

You also experience the warm glow of satisfaction that you can still run, when many of your friends of the same age can’t.

You get the sense of righteousness that in that doing exercise you are protecting your body against 30 different types of cancer.

That helped me – lungs afire, heavy-legged, and uncomfortably hot. That reminder of the good that was to come got me through the final third of my run.

This reminded me that the spiritual ‘race’ is no different.

St Paul described his approach in the following way:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

None of the things which foster our spiritual life – prayer, engagement with the Bible, attendance at a worshipping community, serving others and sharing with them, the de-centring of my own wants and needs, giving God control of my life – are easy. They never become easy. They are always costly and challenging and go against our nature.

The only reason that we will embrace them is the hope of where they lead, to goal to which they can take us.

What s that goal? Well God is His own reward – He has nothing better to offer us than Himself. The more we embrace the disciplines of the spiritual life, the more God will reveal Himself to us and in us.

Recently I have had a powerful reminder of the latter.

A man I know has recently become a monk. He still lives in the same village, he still carries out a full-time job, but he lives according to the monastic rule of life and he lives to serve God and his community.

He rises at 3:45 to spend 3 hours in prayer and meditation. He stops every three hours during the working day to pray the monastic offices.

The change I have seen in him over the past year has been dramatic. There is a presence in him, a peace, and an authority. Just to be with him is to experience God.

Obviously we are not all called to be monks, but we are all called to be in relationship with God, and we are all capable of it.

All it takes is discipline.

All that will sustain it as we experience the pain and challenge is the knowledge of where this leads us – to a deeper encounter with that being who is all good, all wise, all love, all power, all majesty.

I think that this should motivate me more.