Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Ebb and Flow of the Christian Life

            I recently purchased a treadmill. I had resisted this for a long time because I prefer to run outside. Also I saw a treadmill as a boring alternative to “really” running. As things go, my schedule kept me from getting outside to run, so my wife convinced me it was time to get a treadmill. At least I could run at night without fear of getting hit by a car. I have begun using the treadmill and I have to admit that it isn’t bad. I can turn on the TV and watch a baseball game or a movie while I run.

            The other day I was able to get outside for a long run. As I was running outside I realized a major difference between the treadmill and running free outside. On the treadmill I am forced to maintain a constant pace. The treadmill is unyielding. If I set the speed at five miles an hour, then I have to run at five miles an hour constantly. My goal when I am running outside is to run ten-minute miles or about six miles an hour. When I am running outside I don’t maintain a consistent pace. The truth is that I speed up and slow down multiple times during my run.

            Sometimes we are told that the Christian life should be like running on the treadmill. We make a commitment to follow Christ and from that point forward we maintain a consistent pace of spiritual growth. We get discouraged when we are unable to keep up the pace. The Christian life is really much more like free running on the trail. We indeed want to be making consistent forward progress, but our effort ebbs and flows along the way. There are times when we are full of strength and make enormous strides forward. There are other times when it takes all that we have to just keep moving forward.

            When we read the Gospels, it is easy to believe that life with Jesus was one spiritual adrenalin rush after another. This is especially true in the Gospel of Mark. Mark loved the word “immediately.” Eleven times Mark uses the word to introduce the action that was going on. He makes it seem like the whole of Jesus’ public ministry happened in a breathless rush to the cross. If we stop and examine the text, we discover that Mark, and the other gospel writers, condensed three years of life with Jesus into a spiritual highlight reel. There were many amazing things that happened during those three years, but every moment was not filled with unceasing activity.

            The Gospels do not tells us about the hours, days, and weeks of normal, mundane life. Because Jesus lived in a walking culture, there had to be long stretches of time when nothing of significance happened. Jesus and his disciples were simply making their way from one place to another. For example, to make the journey between Galilee and Jerusalem could have taken days.

            God did not design us to live non-stop, treadmill lives. He designed us to live with times of rest and times of activity. Jesus modeled this for us. He had intense times of meeting the needs of people and preaching the truths of God. He also had times of quiet reflection, away from the crowds. He taught large gatherings and he spent time with just his disciples. He was full of energy, yet he needed to stop and rest, just like us.

            God does not want us to be exhausted followers, desperately trying to keep up. He expects us to vary our speed according to our needs, as long as we keep moving forward. Isaiah understood that our spiritual journey is not always a full-speed-ahead affair. If we will wait on the Lord, He will give us the energy and the strength to keep moving forward, even if it is at a walk.

Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)
But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

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