The Struggle for Endurance

James 1

2Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. 3For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything. (James 1:2-4, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Last year around this time, I decided I wanted to shed about 10 pounds by the time I hit my birthday about 3 months later. I developed a plan that involved counting my calories through an app called LoseIt and increasing my fitness level through running.

I should say that I really don’t like running. Actually, that’s too generous. “Hate” would be a more appropriate word to describe the feelings I had for running.

My twins are runners so I’ve been exposed to the running culture for a number of years and I’ve made many attempts to get myself out there. But honestly, it was always just so dreadful. I couldn’t go very far before I was completely gasping for air and I almost always developed some kind of knee/leg/calf/shin/ankle/foot injury within a couple of weeks, which always required time for healing which in turn meant a complete restart a few weeks later.

I was in the habit of driving over to the high school and doing laps around the track because it was flat. I thought that anything I could do to make running easier would be better. I was wrong.

It turns out that when Covid hit, the school closed the track to the public. Those of us in the know knew how to get onto the track even when the gates were locked but then the school hired security guards to kick out anyone who might try to circumvent the rules.

At that point, I had no choice. If I was going to try to burn off excess calories via running, I was going to have to do it in my own neighborhood, which meant running up and down hills.

It turns out that running only on flat surfaces was not exactly helpful for my progress. It also turns out that running up hills is helpful. The struggle of going up a hill actually builds endurance.

After a few weeks of running, I was able to slowly extend my distance. Three miles had been about my max but I was now able to do three miles more regularly.

One day, I decided to do a long run of 6 miles. The plan was to run out of my neighborhood and over to the man-made Lake Mission Viejo. There’s a walking loop around the lake that’s about 3.1 miles. Running that loop and then running back would be about 6 miles total. The problem was that there are a number of long hill inclines around that lake and I found that I couldn’t run that whole loop without having to make several stops to get my heart rate down and control my breathing.

But one day, I was able to push myself and make it all the way around that lake loop without stopping. It was a big achievement. I decided that I would make another attempt in a few days, which I did. Running around that lake became easier and more routine, precisely because I had to struggle to do it in the first place. It was the struggle that increased my endurance and helped me build my stamina, a feat that had always seemed to elude me.

Now, a year later, my typical daily run is 6 miles, including the lake loop. About once a week, I’ll run a longer run of 10-13 miles. My times have gotten better and I find that I actually enjoy running more than I ever thought I would.

When James talks about struggles in this first chapter of his letter, I think about running. Just as the struggle of running up hills helped increase my endurance, so the struggles of life increase our faith and ability to trust God.

The struggles of life actually help your endurance grow. Of course nobody likes struggles but they are an inevitable part of life. So James’ advice is to embrace the struggles of life and look at them as an opportunity to develop endurance, which in turn will mold you into a person who is “strong in character and ready for anything.”

Reflection

What examples do you have from your own life that demonstrate how struggle actually promotes growth?

What are some current struggles you’re currently experiencing? In what ways could these struggles be used as an opportunity for growth?

Many missionaries who have served overseas among more underprivileged communities and cultures have remarked how deep and strong the faith is of believers who have relatively little compared to American Christians, whose faith, by comparison, has often been observed to be shallow and lacking in depth. What do you think might be some reasons why American believers, despite our vast biblical and financial resources, often are seen as having a shallow faith, while believers in third world countries are often described as having deep and enduring faith?

What are some steps you can personally take to develop your faith and build endurance?

 

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

The Importance of Conditioning

1 Corinthians 9

24Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. 25All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. 27I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post about spankings and discipline that included passages from Proverbs 23 and 1 Samuel 3. I also included a related story about a box of Lemonheads. If you’re wondering what that’s all about, you can read about it here.

The big idea was about discipline and how we tend to think of discipline as punishment, but the broader idea behind discipline is the idea of training.

In today’s reading, Paul provides the classic passage regarding discipline as training.

Paul compares the Christian life to a race that we run. But this race is not a sprint or a relay; it’s more like a marathon.

I have twin boys who were distance runners in high school. In the Fall, they competed in Cross Country and in the Spring, they ran track.

For distance runners, training is year-round. Even in the off-season, they are still running 5-6 days a week.

Some sports require a lot of what I call “skill acquisition.” Think about baseball and the hand and eye coordination needed to hit a 90 mile per hour fastball.

Or think about a golfer who has to learn the exact right mechanics of his or her body to be able to hit a golf ball off a tee in order to make it fly 250 yards down the green. These are not easy skills to acquire. It takes time and patience and repetition. But if you get injured and have to take several weeks or a month off, when you resume, you can often pick up right where you left off. You haven’t lost the skill.

But this isn’t the case with a distance runner because their success is not so dependent on acquiring certain skills as much as it’s dependent on developing their level of conditioning. To miss a week of training means your conditioning suffers and when you resume, you will not be able to pick up where you left off. There is often ground that needs to be made up to get back to where you were.

This is the idea Paul is presenting when he says we should train like an athlete. He’s talking about training like an endurance runner. This kind of training takes focus, intentionality and consistency. There are no short-cuts and it is hard work.

Can you imagine a distance runner who only trains one or two days a week? Or how about an Olympic marathon hopeful who rarely runs 26 miles in a week, let alone 26 miles in one race! What kind of results would you expect for the person who approaches running with this kind of mentality?

And yet, many Christians approach the Christian life by investing in their personal spiritual development only once or twice a week. This kind of haphazard approach will never yield the kind of conditioning necessary to compete in and finish the race.

For the distance runner who is not properly conditioned, one of two things will generally happen when they run in a race. He or she will fall so far behind the rest of the group that functionally, they are not even in the race. There  is ZERO measurable impact.

The other potential outcome is they may give up and drop out of the race altogether. Paul equates this with a person who ultimately abandons the faith, walking away from the Lord.

This was Paul’s biggest fear. You probably know people who once called themselves Christians but who have abandoned the faith, forsaking the person and the cause of Christ.

If we don’t want that fate to befall us, we have to discipline ourselves, training and conditioning ourselves spiritually to be able to handle whatever course we run with whatever obstacles we may encounter.

Reflection

What kinds of activities or hobbies have you engaged in that required discipline (sports, music, mental, etc.)?

When is a time you engaged in an activity where you didn’t have adequate conditioning? What were the circumstances? What were the results?

What has been your practice for training yourself spiritually? 

What are some steps you could take to develop a more focused, intentional and consistent approach to your spiritual development and training?

 

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

God Wants You to Get Married

The Daily DAVEotional

Luke 9

57As they were walking along someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you no matter where you go.”

58But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have no home of my own, not even a place to lay my head.”

59He said to another person, “Come, be my disciple.”

The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”

60Jesus replied, “Let those who are spiritually dead care for their own dead. Your duty is to go and preach the coming of the Kingdom of God.”

61Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”

62But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”


At the end of Luke chapter 9, someone tells Jesus he will follow Him wherever He goes. Jesus then lays out some requirements for truly following Him.

The first thing he says, in verse 58, is that “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have no home of my own, not even a place to lay my head.”

What’s he saying? Jesus is saying that following Him may be uncomfortable and will require sacrifice. Are you willing to give up a life of comfort and ease in order to follow me?

Another person responded to Jesus’s call to discipleship by saying he wanted to first go home and bury his father. Jesus responds, in verse 60, saying “Let those who are spiritually dead care for their own dead. Your duty is to go and preach the coming of the Kingdom of God.”

Is Jesus against family responsibilities?

No. It’s unlikely the person’s father was already dead for if he was, the man would not likely have been there in the first place to interact with Jesus. What the man was really saying is that he would follow Jesus at a later date, when life circumstances are different. Jesus responds by saying that following Him means making Him a priority over everything else, including family.

Finally, a third person says he will follow Jesus but only after saying goodbye to his family.

Jesus responds by saying, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Again, Jesus is not against families. He’s merely pointing out that following Him means enduring to the end.

What does this have to do with marriage?

Well, if you’ve ever been to a wedding ceremony, it’s traditional for the officiant to lead the participants in an exchange of vows. Usually, the official will ask each participant if they will commit themselves to the other person and stay committed through a variety of life’s conditions, including:

    • For richer for poorer (sacrifice)
    • In sickness and in health (priority)
    • ’til death do us part (endurance)

Notice that these conditions are the same conditions that Jesus set forth as necessary to be His follower. If you want to follow Jesus, it will take sacrifice; He must be your priority and you must endure to the end.

If you think about it, Jesus is asking us to marry Him. Not literally, of course. But to be a follower of Jesus carries that same level of commitment, dedication and intentionality.

Reflection

What do you think about the idea that when Jesus invites you to follow Him, it’s like He’s asking you to marry Him?

Which of the three conditions Jesus lays out for following Him do you struggle with the most?

What would keep you from committing yourself to Jesus in the way He invites His true followers?

 

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Gaining Insights on Endurance

Last week, Jen and I attended a parent mixer for our boys’ Cross Country team. Because I’ve somehow become the team photo/video guy, I was asked to bring Cross Country videos that could be shown on a big screen TV, creating some background ambience for the event.

As I scoured my hard drives to look for videos I could show, I found a few videos that were shown at the last two Cross Country banquets. These were almost entirely photos of runners who ran during the course of the season with pictures zooming and and out to popular music.

I was particularly interested in the video from 2 years ago (see video below), when Jacob and Joshua were freshmen. I was surprised at how many kids in the video I didn’t recognize at all. I wondered who these kids were.

There must have been 50 freshman boys who were on the Cross Country team that year and most of them are no longer around.

Even this summer, it was almost a daily occurrence for Jacob and Joshua to come home from running and announce another kid from their class who had decided to quit the team.

This year’s team has a total of 6 seniors and only about 16 juniors.

Several of the kids who have recently hung up their running shoes were quite good as freshmen, and yet, for some reason, they did not have the desire or the determination to stick with it.

Cross Country runners must be disciplined, determined and mentally tough.

It’s hard to blame them, really. It’s a grueling sport that requires discipline, determination and mental toughness. There is no academic benefit to continuing beyond your second year as the graduation requirements only demand that students fulfill 2 years of Physical Education.

I realized how similar the Christian life is to distance running. Paul likens the Christian life to a race. He says in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”

The author of Hebrews also compares the Christian life to a race, but he qualifies it as a race of endurance, rather than a sprint. The author encourages us to, “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”

When I think about my twins’ Cross Country team, I wondered why some kids decide to stick with the sport while others quit.

Jen (middle) is helping Audrey and Hilary get connected to a larger community of Young Professional Christ-followers

You may have heard the statistic that Millennials make up the largest segment of our culture and yet they are the least churched. What is fascinating to me is to see the number of Millennials who were once really active in church and yet are now not involved.

Part of our task as we reach out to Young Professionals is to figure out why so many who once were quite active are now totally uninvolved.

I think the reasons Young Professionals give up on church may be similar to the reasons kids give up on sports like Cross Country. Some kids give up because of discouragement. Others are dealing with injuries and get weary of dealing with setbacks. Others don’t see themselves as really contributing. Still others leave because they don’t have close friends on the team. Finally, I think some kids quit because their interests and focus is somewhere else, whether on academics, another sport, or something else entirely different.

I think the reasons Millennials are leaving the church are likely the same. Our focus is on trying to create some systems and structures that will make it easier for Millennials to stay engaged in the race without giving up.

Athletes who feel they are directly contributing to the team’s goals and accomplishments may be more likely to persevere through hardship and barriers

We want to help create community so they feel like they belong. We also want to help them figure out their unique contribution to God’s Kingdom purposes. We don’t want to see anyone exiting the race because they don’t see themselves as being essential to the team.

Finally, we want to help Millennials develop a game plan that will help them stay engaged and make an impact. When you lose focus on what’s important, it’s very hard to stay in the race for a lifetime.

Thanks for your role in helping us stay engaged in the race and helping Millennials do the same!