Run no. 102 – You don’t know you can until you do

runner lower back pain

Distance: 3.6 miles (5.8 km) Time: 39’ 13”

Emerging from another running hiatus. Second run after a 6 month break. At the moment just getting round without stopping is the goal. Geologically slow pace!

This time I almost didn’t even make it. Immediately within the first 100m I got a massive pain in my lower back; an agonising jolt with every step.

I was really, really close to turning back.

But I’m stubborn and decided to try and ‘run through it’.

Gradually the level of pain subsided and by half-way ‘round it was only a dull ache.

Now I’ve stopped it has come back pretty full on, so ‘Pass the ibuprofen, please’.

But the experience made me think about how many times we stop too early. We assess our chances and capabilities too negatively. How many achievements do we talk ourselves out of?

In my working life I find that at 55 I am doing lots of things for the first time. A new role is pushing me out of the areas of comfort.

I am fortunate to have colleagues who encourage me. Who maybe see things in me that I don’t yet see myself. Who have a measure of my ability and gifting that exceeds my own self-evaluation.

And it is great when I surprise myself. When I do things that I didn’t know I could.

Sometimes you don’t know what you can do until you do it.

I have a sense that it is the same with the spiritual life.

How many times do we not try operating out of our comfort zones?

Have you ever prayed with someone who is ill, that God might heal them as a demonstration of His love for them? Have you dreamed of it, but never done it? How do you know that God has not gifted you with the gift of praying for healing?

Certainly we can never promise anyone anything, for it is God who acts not us. But what about offering to pray saying, ‘I don’t know what God will do, but I am convinced that He cares about you and I feel He is prompting me to pray.’ After you pray ask the person whether they were aware of anything. Listen and decide together what the next step, if any, might be. Maybe you’ll both get a surprise…

Have you ever spoken to someone about Jesus? How do you know that you are not gifted in helping people encounter Jesus for themselves?

Why not ask a friend an open question like, ‘Has there ever been any time in your life when you felt close to God?’ Listen to their response and have a conversation. Maybe they’ll ask you in return and you can share how Jesus became a real person for you and the difference He has made in your life.

Or maybe you could say, ‘You know the Bible is the most amazing book. It’s been the No. 1 best-seller since the invention of the printing press. I mean a book that, in parts, is around 3500 years old! Would you be interested in looking at some of the stories that Jesus told and exploring what they might mean, if anything, for us today?’

Maybe they’ll say yes. Maybe you’ll find yourself reading the parables of Jesus, imagining how they might be retold today in our culture. Maybe you might imagine together what difference it might make if people took them seriously in their lives.

How many times do we miss out on something good because we talk ourselves out of trying?

Sometime you don’t know what you can do until you do it.

Where are you headed?


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.

Run no. 95 –Difficult but Doable


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,



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

Run no. 42 – The Importance of Club Uniforms

athletic uniforms



Distance: 4.53 miles  Time: 43’07”   (PB 38’ 28”)

When out running you see people in club kit. The name of the club proudly emblazoned on the chest. You notice that this shared uniform enables club members to recognise each other, you hear the ‘hellos’ and see the salutes and waves.

Of course the primary reason for a club uniform is in competition, it enables the runners of each club to be identified, particularly important in inter-club meets.

All this is the positive benefit of uniform, but some things are lost too.

The individual becomes harder to identify, their uniqueness somewhat diminished by a common kit.

As usual, I was prompted to reflect on this in spiritual terms.

The Christian faith, which I espouse, has only one goal for those who follow Jesus – transformation. A goal sometimes explained by the double metaphor of putting off the old man’ (Ephesians 4:22-24) and ‘putting on Christ’ (Romans 31:14).

The picture is of someone taking off old set of clothing and getting dressed in something new. Those who would follow Jesus are expected, commanded even, to take off the old clothes that are no longer appropriate and dress themselves with Jesus. That is to say that their thoughts, words and actions should no longer represent their old values and priorities but those of Jesus.

In order to be able to do this, followers of Jesus need to know what Jesus said about Himself, about them, and what He commands His disciples to do. There is only one source for this information and that is the Bible – our record of the life of Jesus, the message of Jesus and the response made to that message by those who knew Him best.

It is only as people get to grips with this that they can start to discard ‘clothing’ that doesn’t fit with their new identity, and ‘dress’ their lives and actions with ‘clothing’ that looks like Jesus.

Whilst this process certainly involves the loss of some elements from our lives, and the embracing of a common uniform, this does not undermine individuality.

It is like a football team. At the presentation most players are fairly indistinguishable, their size and stature fairly similar. However when they start to play their individual styles, abilities, tricks and techniques, will be expressed.

In ‘putting on Christ’ we do not lose our individuality, rather we are freed up to express that individuality in a new and fuller way.

Run no. 29 – Running and the ‘Phantoms of Dread’


Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 40’58”

During the whole of the four and a half miles that I run, there is one particular step that I find the most challenging; and that is the first one, the one that takes me out through the door.

I lie in bed thinking “I should go for a run this morning”; but then the negative thoughts come rushing in, think how hard it might be, think how cold it might be…etc.

And the stark contrast between how warm and comfortable I am in bed and the imagined awfulness of struggling round in freezing conditions; and the choice between that and another 40 minutes in bed…

That first step is really hard to take.

But I managed to take it this morning, and you know what? It was ok. It actually wasn’t cold, it was pleasant. And I found that my run wasn’t painful, it felt comfortable; yet when I looked at my time it was ok, not too slow (well not for me, anyway!).

And when I finished and the endorphin kick came in and I actually felt good about it.

All of which made me start reflecting on the uselessness of dread in our lives.

I was dreading running, yet none of the elements I was dreading – the pain, the cold – even existed. They were figments of my dread yet they weighed heavy in my thinking and decision making and came close to altering my behaviour.

They were mere insubstantial phantoms – yet they might have easily changed my mind and actions.

I started wondering what other ‘phantoms of dread’ are active in my thinking and decision-making? What insubstantial fears prevent me from being and doing all that I might?

As usual my reflections turn to the spiritual life; what prevents me from going deeper with God; getting closer to Him; allowing Him to set the direction and content of my life?

What are the phantoms of dread that hold me back? Fear of what the cost might be? Yet what do I take with me to the next life anyway? As they say, “There are no pockets in a shroud”.

Fear of failure? Yet God calls us to obedience and faithfulness, not necessarily success.

Fear of unpleasantness? Yet God loves us, we are to call Him “Father”, does a loving father impose unnecessary suffering on His children. Any such struggles and difficulties He allows in our lives must have some possible benefit or redeeming possibility – otherwise He would not be true to His nature of love.

Good luck exorcising your phantoms of dread.