Thursday, September 8, 2011

Running Into the Wind Makes You Stronger: Part 1

You have a choice.
You can throw in the towel, or you can use it to wipe the sweat off of your face.

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:1-4 (NIV)

            I do most of my running along a bike path that follows a county road.  To get to the bike path I run down my driveway and follow the highway for about a ½ mile.  Many times as I make the turn onto the bike path I am confronted with a stiff wind. There is not much along the bike path to shield me from the wind; it is mostly corn fields on both sides of the road. Most days I can expect a west wind to be blowing into my face.  The wind can be very strong at times so I have to lean into it and push myself to keep going. It would be easy on those really windy days to just turn around and go home. There comes a point in my run when I do turn around and head for home. At that point something marvelous happens. The wind, which has been fighting me up to this point, is now at your back. It feels like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.  I feel light and strong as I make my way home.  It’s wonderful having that wind-assisted run.

            When I first started running again I thought of the wind as a nuisance.  I would grit my teeth, put my head down and run into it.  One day it dawned on me that running into the wind was really a blessing.  When you run into the wind, it makes you stronger: not when you run with the wind, but when you run against the wind. I began to view the really windy days as a challenge to be overcome.

            On this journey we call the Christian life we are often running against the wind.  Facing resistance is a common experience for every follower of Jesus. In fact, Jesus told us that we should expect it.  In John 16:33 Jesus said, “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart, I have overcome the world.”  During our life’s race we are going to be running into the wind more than we won’t be.  It will be in our faces. At times it will be very strong. Running into the wind can be discouraging and tiring.  It can feel like we’re being pushed backwards. Then something happens to shift the wind.  God changes our direction or our circumstances and we feel like we can fly. Those are glorious moments of refreshment and relief. Because running into the wind is common, there are some things that we need to keep in mind. 

            When you are running into the wind keep a positive perspective. James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds”. When we face resistance in our lives our first reaction is often less than positive. Yet James tells us to consider it pure joy.

            I can be a complainer.  I don’t like that about myself, but I have to confess that it is true.   I have an uncanny ability to see the negative side of almost any circumstance. When I face resistance I sometimes respond with an over-inflated sense of justice. At the same time I have a low tolerance for pain, so when things get uncomfortable I complain about them. One time I called up a good friend of mine to complain about some situation I was facing. I told him that I felt like I was running into the wind all the time and always facing resistance. He just listened.  He let me get it all out, and then he said, “Do you feel better now?”  I said, “Well, yeah”.  He said, “Good.  Now stop complaining and get back in the race.” 

            In a sense, James is saying, stop complaining! He challenges our negative attitude and instead calls us to see trials as a means through which we can grow.  James had a far different attitude toward running into the wind than we do – a much better attitude.  He tells us to consider it pure joy when we are put to the test. Joy is not being happy because we’re being tested, but being confident in the grace of God in our lives.  We experience the grace of God more keenly during times of testing.  When things are going great it is easy to coast along as if we don’t need His grace. It’s when we’re tested that we are fully aware of our need for grace.

            James was a realist.  He knew that trials were going to come as part of our experience.  They are a normal part of following Christ.  Sometimes we naively think that if we are followers of Christ all of the trials of life will be eliminated. The reality is that, more times than not, when we put our faith in Christ we face more resistance not less.  We have turned around and we are running into the wind instead of with the wind.

            James tells us to expect trouble, but don’t let it overwhelm us.  He understood that trials were going to come from many different places, and in many different forms. Some of them will be trials of our own making. We make bad choices and we face the results of those bad choices.  How many times have you or I made a bad choice and then complained because we got a negative consequence from a bad choice we made?  We quickly want to deflect this trial and say that it is someone else’s fault.  Of course it has to be – it can’t be because of something I did. We are faced with this kind of trial all the time.

            We also face trials because of our faith.  Following Jesus puts us at odds with the prevailing culture.  Jesus said that.  No servant is greater than his master.  If they rejected me, they’re going to reject you.  Get used to it!  It is part of what it means to follow Christ.

            There is another kind of trial that all of us face. It is the kind of trial that comes from living in a fallen world. This kind of trial can be very dramatic such as getting cancer or having a heart attack. It can also be mundane; the normal stuff of living in a world that is off center with God. Instead of looking for someone to blame we need to accept the truth that we live in a fallen world. Bad things happen to everyone, believer and unbeliever alike.   

            What makes the difference in these trials is how we respond to them. We can let them overwhelm us or we can face them head on. James tells us to embrace all our trials as opportunities to grow stronger. Trials test our spiritual mettle. They afford us an opportunity to demonstrate our faith in real-life situations.  God uses trials in our lives as a refining fire for our faith.

            When the apostles faced opposition, they saw it as an opportunity to be strong witnesses for Jesus Christ.  In Acts 5:40-41 we can see the courage of the apostles.  The apostles had been brought before the Sanhedrin where they were flogged and told to never preach in the name of Jesus again. The apostles left the Sanhedrin moaning and crying and complaining about what a raw deal they had gotten.  Wait! That is not what they did. “They left the Sanhedrin rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name”. The disciples didn’t complain, they rejoiced in what God was doing.

            The struggles we face in life are an opportunity to advance in our faith. If we choose to grumble our way through trials, we just make them harder.  When we face trials with joy, we can find confidence in God’s grace.  God has promised that no matter what we face he will walk with us through it. We can handle any trial life throws at us when we put our confidence in Christ.

            I Corinthians 10:13 is a powerful statement about God’s provision in a time of trial. The word “temptation” in this verse is the same word that is translated as “trials” in James.  If we could plug “trials” in for “temptations” the verse reads like this.  “No trial has seized you except what is common to man and God is faithful.  He will not let you be tried beyond what you can bear, but when you are put to the test, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it.”  God promises us that He will not let us be crushed by the trials of life. 

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