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.

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


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. 46 and 47 – The importance of distance markers


5 Km

Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 42’13””  (PB 38’ 28”)

When running longer distances it is important to know where you are in your run.

At the various points you are liable to certain things:

At the start, particularly in a race, the adrenalin is pumping and you are apt to go off too fast, burning up too much energy too soon, which will cause you to struggle in the later stages.

In the mid-point you can lose focus and unwittingly slow down. You need to know where your body is in regard to any ‘second-wind’ effect.

Towards the end you need to know how your body is doing and how far the finish line is, so you can time any final ‘push’.

In a similar fashion our earthly life is often compared to a spiritual race – a brief period of sentient existence where we are invited to recognize the love of God that surrounds us; a love that is expressed in the beauty of what God has made and also, supremely, in the person of Jesus. We must then each choose what response we make to that love, but a positive response ushers us into a new level of existence;

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.[1]

As in long distance running it is important for us to know where we are in the race of life.

Birth – We are alive and in the process of becoming, of actualising our divinely gifted potential. We learn about the world and ourselves.

Childhood – We are growing, developing. Through the experience of family we learn about love, which enables us to start to imagine what God might be like – our heavenly Father/Mother. We explore, we are in awe of wonder and beauty – all of which point us to God.

Adolescence/Adulthood – We establish our own identity, we choose who we are and decide what we will be. We consider the meaning of our existence; we start to consider what a successful life might mean. We set our values, our goals, and what means we are prepared to use to attain them; will we reject or accept the boundaries God places upon us?

Marriage – We experience human love in all its wonder. We decide whether to give and receive love, whether to work at cherishing and protecting it. We experience a deeper understanding of the depths of love and glimpse a new dimension of the love God has for us.

Parenthood – We experience for ourselves the powerful nature of fatherhood/motherhood, we get a new insight into the love of our perfect heavenly Father, and we learn something of the cost that God the Father was willing to pay when Jesus died for us at Calvary.

Middle-Age – We become increasingly aware of our mortality. We realise that our earthly existence is limited and we start to examine how we have lived. Have we lived well? Is there much that we still need to do?  What changes do we need to make that we might consider our lives to have been fulfilled?

Old-Age – We prepare to die. We set ourselves to finish well; we prioritise the really important and we let go of the inessential. We take pleasure where we find it, we celebrate the good that our lives have brought us; we look forward to the next stage of our adventure with Jesus.

Each of these stages in our ‘run of life’ has its own opportunities, dangers, and challenges. It is good to know where we are, it is good to know where we are going, it is good to prepare ourselves to face what comes next.

[1] John 17:3 NIV

Run no. 22 – Keep breathing


Distance: 4.53 miles   Time: 40’ 30”

Someone once said that the secret of eternal life is simply;

Breathe in, breathe out, repeat…

Breathing is one of those things that you mostly forget about. It’s an automatic thing, unconscious.

In fact, you only ever start to think about breathing when, for some reason, it becomes a problem.

Such as during exercise, when your ability to take in oxygen is less than your muscles requirement for it.

Or when you get a really bad cold and are ‘bunged’ up, or when you get a chest infection and cannot seem to get a breath.

Or when you are trying to swim a certain distance underwater, or just hold your breath for a certain time, and you feel your bodies raging need for oxygen.

Suddenly, in these particular instances, breathing is not a thoughtless, automatism, but an essential, life-preserving activity.

As I ran breathlessly, around King Lear’s Lake this morning, I found myself thinking how the spiritual life is a little like breathing.

When God first starts to make us aware of Himself and of our need for Him, it is like when we are underwater and our bodies start to crave oxygen. Our first encounter with the divine, is like when our head breaks the surface and we take that first massive gulp of life-giving air.

As we take into our bodies the life-giving air, the pain in our lungs subsides, we feel life and energy rushing through us, and we feel alive.

Our first encounter with God is very much like that. Suddenly God’s love and power overwhelm us, touch every part of our being and we feel, for the very first time, truly alive.

It is not by hazard that the origins story in Genesis contains the sentence;

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.[1]

It is not by accident that Jesus performed a similar act upon His disciples;

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”[2]

The act of the impartation of physical life, and of spiritual life, are both accomplished by the receiving of the divine breath.

Our capacity to receive air is limited by the size of our lungs, we have a world-full of air to breathe in.

Our capacity to receive spiritual life is similarly only limited by ourselves, in God we live and move and have our being, there is more of God than we can ever receive.

It is through our praying, seeking God, meditating on His word that we receive God’s life, that is our spiritual act of breathing.

Breath in, breathe out, repeat…

[1] Genesis 2:7 NIV

[2] John 20:21-22 NIV