Where are you headed?

blog-are-you-heading-in-the-wrong-brand-direction

First run out for about 10 months. A combination of laziness, pattern of life changes, and injury has meant no running.

Went out just to do a gentle 2 miler but felt ok, so I carried on for a 3.5 mile loop.

We have moved to a new house and a new area, so it was a first try at establishing a regular route.

Having had a look at Google maps before leaving I had an idea of the route. I went down a road to the next village, then took a left. There was a lake on the right, after which it looked like I could pick up the disused railway line. This then connected to a path leading home.

The original goal to go to the next village and back felt too short a ru8n by the time I got there. So I carried on to do the loop run.

I passed the lake and then in my mind I was looking for a canal. Somehow the canal – which is further away got lodged in my mind as the next way marker.

Fortunately when I passed the disused railway line, my brain kicked in and I realised that was where I should have been headed.

I made it home in around 35 minutes, which is not bad for a first run out.

It started a thought process though.

Why had I got my goal mixed up?

As a general life issue it is really important to know where you are headed, and that where you are headed is the right place to go.

How do we work that out?

The process is called spiritual discernment, noticing where God is inviting you to join Him.

It is based on the concept that God is fundamentally involved in His world;

“The earth is the LORD’s,

and everything in it, the world,

and all who live in it.”

Psalm 24:1, NIV

And that He is at work doing stuff. Jesus said,

“My Father is always working”

John 5:17, NIV

Perhaps Elizabeth Barret BROWNING expressed it most eloquently,

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God,

But only he who sees takes off his shoes”

Elizabeth Barret BROWNING, ‘Aurora Leigh’

For our lives to have meaning that survives beyond our death, we need to be getting involved in God’s work, joining Him in His activity.

This means living our lives attentive to where God might be at work, living as a

Detective of Divinity.

(from ‘The Preaching Life’, Barbara Brown TAYLOR)

One metaphor I have used with groups is to talk about having your spiritual antenna up and scanning for God’s Spirit at work around you.

As I ended my run I was delighted to see the spire of St Andrew’s Church, which is next to my home.

Seeing the spire confirmed I was heading in the right direction.

Which is a reminder that if you ever need a community to help you learn to discern the activity of God around you, it is the community under the spire that should be best placed to aid you.

Be assured that they won’t be perfect people, or have everything sussed. They are as likely to be as screwed up as you are!

Yet they will in some way be trying to correctly orient their lives to God, and that is a great thing.

Who knows, maybe you are exactly the kind of person THEY need to help them grow in their discernment ability?

What is your absence robbing them of?

Just a thought.

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Remembering to Count

Image result for gratitude

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 41’ 35” (PB 38’ 38”)

Out for a run on my 54th birthday.

If at age 18 I had been offered that as a life outcome – still running a 9 minute mile pace over 4.53 miles at age 54, I think I would have gone for it.

Of course I would also have laughed, as I was running around 6 minute miles then – admittedly only over 2 miles and I was 30 kilos lighter!

But to still be running after such a very long time is something of an achievement.

But I am increasingly aware that it is also – perhaps even more so – a gift and a grace.

So many of my friends and family have not been so fortunate with their health.

There is a saying full of wisdom that says;

You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

It is often the absence of blessings that we feel, rather than their presence.

One of the characteristics of a good and wholesome life is the ability to appreciate and give thanks for the good.

One of the characteristics of a good and wholesome life

is the ability to appreciate and give thanks for the good.

That can range from saying ‘thank you’ when someone holds the door open for you, or is considerate in some way; to noticing a sunrise or a sunset, or a flower, or the way the light plays on the ceiling; right up to valuing and appreciating the people who make your life better, more joyful, fun.

At 54 my life is filled with many good things. My goal is to appreciate them and to focus on them more than the things that aren’t so great.

There is also good and beauty in the world.

And I am grateful.

 

 


Run no. 95 –Difficult but Doable

Difficult

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 42’ 47” (PB 38’ 38”)

As I started off I felt that I was going at a good pace (for me!). I decided to try and maintain that pace throughout the run.

It was very painful as I’m just getting back to regular running after a break – although that seems to be my most common state!

I’m not usually someone who looks at split times, but for some reason I glanced at my watch at the half-way point and was amazed to see that it read 19’ 41”; which is actually pretty close to my personal best time.

Which I guess tells you everything you need to know about me as a runner; as I get fitter I don’t go any faster, I just slow down less.

Real runners would want to talk about speed training, but at my age I am really so not interested in speed!

I just want to maintain a reasonable level of fitness and control my weight; both of which have suffered in recent months.

It has been a complicated time in my life circumstances, as a job comes to an end, and as yet there is nothing else in sight. I have been applying for posts that I thought were a good fit for me, only to be rejected every time; which even though you rationalise it, is still a psychological blow. And when you don’t feel good about yourself that tends to express itself in ways that aren’t helpful and feedback back into the negativity.

It was amazing to me that unfit, carrying a few kilos too many I was still able to run at my fastest ever pace – even though I fell off quite badly towards the end.

I fell off quite badly towards the end

I discovered that it is still doable, just difficult; just really painful and unpleasant.

Which was my spiritual lesson of the day. We are told in the Bible that;

 without faith it is impossible to please God Hebrews 11:6

Which, if ever you needed a starter for ten on whether the Christian life is easy or hard, you have your answer.

Someone once said;

Faith is like a muscle, it only gets stronger when exercised.

Others have said;

Faith is spelt R.I.S.K.

And in some senses I believe both of these to be true. However I think the key component of faith is learning to live with not understanding. Learning to embrace the mystery of God, who is often, opaque, obscure, confusing.

the key component of faith

is learning to live with not understanding.

Learning to embrace the mystery of God,

who is often, opaque,

obscure,

confusing.

It is only faith that can hold on when nothing makes sense. If you want to see the awfulness of that experience played out in a human life you have only to read the story of Jonah or Job.[1]

But although their faith was rocked, fissured, stretched to breaking point, it did not fail. God would not allow it to.

All that God asks us to face is difficult but doable.

 

[1] You can get an in-depth look at Jonah through my book Jonah the Epistle of Wild Grace – available free here http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/stephenjohnmarch


The Oddest People

Lucien Guitry: Sa Carriere Et Sa Vie [SIGNED} by Guitry, Sacha

Distance: 4.53 miles (7.3 km) Time: 46’ 30” (PB 38’ 38”)

Almost 4 month gap since my last run – not good. Disturbing life circumstances have left me feeling drained with little energy and motivation for running. But I made it out today and it was ok, so that’s a start.

As I was running it struck me again how you often find the most unlikely of people are runners.

A couple of time I have met rather tubby blokes, who I subsequently found out were capable of marathons and half-marathons! Something I would never have predicted by looking at them.

As I think about the Christmas story I find I am equally surprised. I am surprised by who is invited to greet the new-born Saviour of the World.

The first on the scene are shepherds. This is a shocking as shepherds were considered social outcasts. They were wild, tough men, who needed to be capable of driving away both sheep thieves and wild animals. They lived out of doors most of the time and were not quite considered civilised by polite society. Given their outdoor life they couldn’t even follow the Jewish religion properly, never mind attending synagogue.

And yet when choirs of angels are sent to announce that Jesus is born it is shepherds to whom they are sent! I can imagine the angels asking to have the order checked,

“Shepherds! Really?!”

If the shepherds are surprising the next on the scene are totally shocking – wise men. These aren’t even Jewish! They are pagans from Babylon, probably followers of the Zoroastrian religion.

It is interesting story how they came to interpret the presence of a new star as sign of the birth of someone so important they were willing to travel around 500 miles to greet him.

A pagan prophet called Balaam was once hired by a King to come and put a curse on the people of Israel as they travelled through his kingdom. It must have been a well-paid assignment for Balaam to be willing to travel all the way from Babylon to do it.

But he duly arrives and starts his sacrifices and incantations. Then, to his total surprise and shock the Spirit of God comes upon him and instead of cursing Israel he blesses her. This happens several times until in the final blessing that he is forced to pronounce he states;

“‘I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not near.
A star will come out of Jacob;
a sceptre will rise out of Israel.”
Numbers 12:17

It seems likely that this prophecy was taken back to Babylon and became part of the holy writings of the Zorastrian religion. Preserved for around 600 years it is this prophecy that they link to the appearance of a new star in the sky and follow to Israel (probably a comet).

So when the Saviour of the World is born it is the rough, tough, irreligious social outcasts and the foreigners who don’t even worship the true God who are invited.

If ever you wonder whether or not there is a welcome for you at the manger, please remember this, we are ALL invited, no-one is excluded – just come.


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.