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

Faulty Earbuds?

My typical running gear includes dri-fit shirt, sunglasses, running hat and earbuds to listen to audiobooks or music.
Photo by Dave Lowe

A few weeks ago, I left the house for my daily run. I had my phone to track my route and also provide the tunes to keep me moving during the 6 mile trek.

As I was nearing the end of my run, I noticed I was not getting any sound out of my left earbud.

I tried pushing the earpiece harder into my ear, but that didn’t work. I wondered if maybe the earphone jack was not in all the way. No, that wasn’t the problem.

I jiggled the wire, thinking maybe there was a short. That didn’t work either. I started thinking maybe these earbuds had reached the end of their lifespan and I was bummed at the thought of having to buy new ones. I’ve been told I’m cheap that way!

When I finally got home, I thought I’d try one more thing. Perhaps it was a software issue. I figured a reboot of my phone would solve it if that was the issue. But that didn’t work either.

I had one more idea to determine if it was a problem with my phone or the earbuds. I decided to plug the earbuds into my computer and listen to some music. If the earbuds still only gave sound out of only one ear, then I would know it’s the earbuds and not the phone.

However, as I was getting ready to plug the earbuds into my computer, I looked more closely at the earpiece that wasn’t producing sound and I quickly realized the issue. There, in the small opening where the sound was supposed to come out, was a small glob of ear wax that was fully covering the opening.

The opening on these earbuds is small. It doesn’t take much to clog the opening, making it harder for sound to come through.
Photo by Dave Lowe

Yes, I know it’s kind of gross, but we all produce the stuff, and to be honest, I really can’t tell you the purpose. I just know that when I removed the small piece plugging the hole, I was suddenly able to hear perfectly again out of both earbuds.

I had a problem hearing and all of my initial thoughts were that it was a problem with something else – my phone, the earbuds, the jack, the wire, etc. The reality is that I was having issues hearing clearly because of me – something I produced and wasn’t even aware of.

I think there’s a spiritual illustration here. Often I’m wanting to hear from the Lord and He’s not responding, at least not the way I want. I wonder why He’s not answering my prayers or responding clearly to my requests.

Sometimes, the reason I’m not hearing from God is because of me. Sometimes the Lord IS wanting to speak to me but my attitude, or my heart blocks my spirit from hearing the Lord.

I’ve found that there are often several reasons why I’m not hearing from the Lord.

A primary way the Lord speaks to us is through His Word. Yet, it’s easy to get distracted by other things.
Photo by Nick Bondarev from Pexels

One reason I sometimes don’t hear from God is because of unconfessed sin in my heart. Psalm 66:18 says “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, my Lord would not have listened.”

Sometimes, I’m not even fully aware of my own sin, such as unresolved conflict or anger. This is why it’s so important to invite the Lord to examine our hearts and reveal to us any areas in our lives and hearts that may be keeping us from experiencing His presence (See Psalm 139:23, 24).

A second reason I may not be hearing from the Lord is distractions. Sometimes Jen will be telling me something important but my focus is on something else, like my computer screen or the TV. I find that when I’m not fully engaged in what she’s saying I often have to ask her to repeat what she’s just said.

I often do the same thing with the Lord. I read my Bible but my mind is thinking about something else. I’m spending time in prayer but distracted by notifications that are popping up on my phone.

I cannot always expect to hear directly from the Lord when I want. But as a follower of Christ, I can make sure that the airways are clear and that there are no impediments that would keep me from hearing His voice when He does speak to me.

What keeps you from hearing clearly from the Lord?

What have you found to be helpful in keeping you focused and tuned in to hearing the Lord’s voice?

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