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

Spankings, Samuel and a Box of Lemonheads

Proverbs 23

13Don’t fail to correct your children. They won’t die if you spank them. 14Physical discipline may well save them from death. (Proverbs 23:13-14, NLT)

1 Samuel 3

11Then the LORD said to Samuel, “I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel. 12I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli and his family. 13I have warned him continually that judgment is coming for his family, because his sons are blaspheming God and he hasn’t disciplined them. 14So I have vowed that the sins of Eli and his sons will never be forgiven by sacrifices or offerings.” (1 Samuel 3:11-14, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

I’ve mentioned before that the Bible reading program I’ve been following for the past several years in the Grant Horner Bible reading plan. You can read about the plan here from a pdf that includes a handy list of the 10 “lists”.

What’s unique about the plan is that every day, you read one chapter from each of 10 different lists – Gospels, Pentateuch, Wisdom literature, Psalms, Proverbs and so on. Each successive day, you read the next chapter from that list. When you reach the last chapter in any list, you return to the beginning. Since each list has a different number of chapters, you will never be reading the same 10 chapters. What you begin to realize, as a reader, is how Scripture is interwoven and how different sections comment on and bring clarity to other sections.

A perfect example of this occurred just a few days ago.

On one day, I read Proverbs 23, which included verses 13-14 and the writer’s admonition to not avoid spanking your kids.

Spanking was very common when I was a kid but it seems that there has been a lot of talk in recent years about whether or not spanking is moral. Those against spanking generally feel that it is abusive and unnecessary and that there are more effective ways of dealing with bad behavior and problem youths.

I agree that spanking, when done in anger, and done in a punitive manner, can absolutely be abusive. But it doesn’t logically follow that all spanking is abusive. When done properly, it can be very corrective.

I remember when I was 10 years old, I used to walk home from school with a friend. Some times we would stop off at a Pharmacy that was on the way home and browse and maybe by some candy. When my dad found out that I was sometimes stopping at the pharmacy, he told me he didn’t want me doing that anymore.

Not long after that, as I was walking home from school, my friend wanted to stop at the Pharmacy. Against my dad’s wishes, I went along, and I even bought a box of Lemonheads.

When I got home, my dad happened to be home from work early and he noticed the bulge in my front pocket where the Lemonheads were. He asked, “what’s that in your pocket?” I pulled out the Lemonheads and my dad replied, “you stopped off at the pharmacy didn’t you?” I told him I had and he reminded me that he had expressly forbid me from going there on my way home from school. I was supposed to come straight home and I hadn’t done that.

My dad then informed me that there were consequences for my disobedience. I had been spanked before with a belt and I expected that would be forthcoming. But my dad actually gave me a choice. I had a Little League game later that afternoon and I was scheduled to be the pitcher. My dad told me I could get a spanking, or I could skip the game – it was my choice. I told him I wanted to think about it.

So I went to my room and I thought about it, and I thought about it some more, and even more. I honestly didn’t want to get a spanking. I was a small, scrawny kid and I didn’t have a lot of meat on my glutes to soften the leathery blows.

But I was scheduled to pitch in the game and I knew that if I didn’t get the spanking, I would be letting my team down and my coach would be wondering why I didn’t show up.

At the last possible moment, I went to my dad and told him I would take the spanking, after which, I threw on my uniform and we raced to the field, where I was already late for pre-game warm-ups. I didn’t miss the game though, and like the verse states, I didn’t die from getting spanked. Instead, it was a valuable lesson in obedience and consequences, one that I obviously still remember to this day.

So what does this have to do with the Grant Horner system?

Well, the very next day, I read the chapter in 1 Samuel 3. Actually, on the same day I read Proverbs 23:13-14, I read 1 Samuel 2, where I learned that Eli’s sons Phineas and Hophni were priests who were taking advantage of Israelites who came to the temple to worship the Lord. The text calls them “scoundrels”. Eli is warned by God about what his sons are doing but Eli essentially does nothing about it. He does not discipline his sons. He provides no meaningful correction.

As a result, in 1 Samuel 3, the Lord speaks to the boy Samuel and tells him that he’s going to bring about justice for the wrongs committed by Eli’s sons. Verse 13 says that God is bringing this about because he has warned Eli about what his son’s are doing but Eli “hasn’t disciplined them.”

I think our culture has a hard time with physical discipline like spanking because we think of discipline as punishment. But the more general understanding of discipline is the word “training”. Athletes discipline themselves in order to train their bodies. Spiritual disciplines are for the purpose of training ourselves spiritually.

So when we think about disciplining our kids, we are not trying to punish them, though there may be negative consequences for disobedience and bad behavior. Instead, we are training our children to know what is right and to respond in right ways in varied circumstances. This is godly and as we can see from these passages, it is also biblical.

Reflection

What was your experience with discipline growing up? If you’re a parent, what has been your practice of discipline with your kids? What do you think are some effective ways you have found for correcting and disciplining your kids?

The idea of spanking has become a controversial issue in our culture today. What are your views on spanking and physical discipline? What has shaped the position you hold today?

In what ways can physical discipline, such as spanking, be done in a way that is corrective and not abusive? 

We often think of discipline as “punishment”. When you think of discipline in it’s broader sense, as training, how does this affect your view and understanding of discipline as a corrective measure?

What are some common ways you discipline or train yourself (i.e. finances, fitness, sleep, other habits and routines)? 

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

The Struggle for Change

I’ve been on a diet since 2005.

At the time, I realized I had gained over 30 pounds since college and I decided I needed to be more proactive about my weight and overall health. You can read about my initial weight loss journey here. (https://bit.ly/Mar05-LD)

Photo by Jamie Matocinos on Unsplash

Since losing those 30 pounds fifteen years ago, I have found that keeping the weight off isn’t easy.

There are so many forces working against us, including, but not limited to donuts, chocolate, french fries, chips, cookies, ice cream, pizza and cheesecake.

Donuts and junk food are just a few of the challenges that face those who desire to get fit!
Photo by Jae Park on Unsplash

There are other non-food forces working against us as well, including lower metabolism and energy levels, slower recovery rates, and of course, Netflix.

The truth is that losing weight and maintaining fitness requires a certain level of surrender. I’m free to eat whatever I want and exercise as little as I want (or not at all), but every choice has its consequences. If I want to maintain a certain weight and fitness level, it will require some sacrifices and some intentionality.

With my 55th birthday approaching, I decided to once again embark on the fitness roller coaster in my attempt to lose 10 pounds. If I’m being honest though, my interest is not just in losing 10 pounds. What I’d really like is to get rid of this spare tire around my waist. I’d like to look different!

I’m doing the work, but so far, I look more like the guy on the left than the guy on the right!
Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

I’m four weeks into this current program and every day I’m reminded why so many people give up. It’s HARD work. And while I’ve made some progress on the weight loss portion of the goal, I’m not sure I’ve made any changes to my waistline as my desired 6-pack still looks more like a keg!

I’m reminded that transformation isn’t immediate. Change takes time.

I think that’s true in our spiritual lives as well.

Years ago, I heard a speaker ask this question: “What do you want to become?”

He said that the choices we make today shape the person we will become in the future. I remember him saying these memorable words, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said to his disciples,

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Many people become Christians because they want forgiveness and eternity in heaven. They want the eternal benefits that come after they die. This isn’t bad or wrong, but Scripture is clear that Jesus has a different purpose for those who follow Him – TRANSFORMATION.

Jesus’ desire is that we would become more like him – that we would be a reflection of His character to those around us. The theological word for this is sanctification, which simply means that over time, my life becomes more and more like the life of Jesus.

Sanctification isn’t easy though, because it requires surrender, discipline and intentionality, just like dieting. This is why Jesus said that those who would follow Him must DENY themselves.  If we want to change spiritually (and physically), we have to deny that part of us that just wants to sit on the couch eating donuts and binge-watching Netflix!

Spiritual fitness. like physical fitness, requires sacrifice, intentionality and training
Photo by Tomasz Wozniak on Unsplash

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul compares the Christian life to a race. In order to win, strict training is required. Paul says that he beats his body and makes it his slave so that he might run the race and win!

Paul’s language shows the reality that our bodies don’t necessarily want to comply with our demands for discipline and training. We know this intuitively when it comes to fitness training or other skills like musical talent, but we don’t always think of our spiritual growth in the same way.

As Jen and I continue to minister to Young Professionals, we’re asking them this question, “What do you want to become?”

As they wrestle with the challenges of becoming the Christ-followers they desire, our job is to come along-side them, as coaches, and provide encouragement and support to help them “win the race.”

How about you?

What do you want to become?

How are you doing in this race Paul described? Are you winning or are you finding it to be a struggle?

If you’d like to share your thoughts, concerns or prayer requests, you can reach out to us through the Prayer Tab!

 

Butterfly Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash