Fight the clock or focus on the finish line?

One of the things I like the most about MBC is that so much of what they do is first thrown up on a white board and talked about, debated, marked out, rewritten, and reframed. If you walk around through the upstairs office areas, almost every cubicle and conference room has one. There’s always vision being written down, pictures being drawn… notes being taken. I love that work culture!

The point? I’m really visual. I’m so much better at seeing than hearing (something I really need to work on). So last night, when a friend drew an illustration to drive a point home, it helped a lot with redirecting my perspective.

I wish I could recreate it for you – just so you could see it too. I should have taken a picture with my blackberry.

But since I didn’t, I’ll attempt to explain it.

So many times we’re somewhere between the starting line and the finish line. But instead of focusing on the finish line – where we’re headed – we’re instead looking at our stopwatch and timing our progress. Instead of a race to the finish, we race against time. It’s like there’s a huge clock just above us that weighs us down and we can never quite outrun it. When we do that it’s almost like time stands still and we seem to move in slow motion. That, according to my friend, is the best way to get impatient, take your eyes off of the goal, and lose focus.

And it’s true. It reminds me of the story of Peter walking across the water to Jesus in Matthew 14:22-34. He took his eyes off of Jesus, probably just for a second, and remembered where he was instead of who he was walking to and where he was going. In that second, he stepped from faith into fear and began to falter.

I’ve always loved Hebrews chapter 12. Verses 1-2 are favorites of mine, but today I read the whole chapter and really took some time to think about the context (Heb. 11-12) and the illustrations therein. Here’s chapter 12:1-14:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.’

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”

So what does this mean to us? We sin when we lose sight of the goal and live in fear. Jesus endured the cross because He focused on the joy that would come. Likewise, we’re to not grow “weary or fainthearted.” Fainthearted means “lacking courage,” and weary means “physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.; fatigued; tired.” Basically, we’re not to become exhausted and we’re to run hard with our eyes focused ahead.

It’ll take discipline. And discipline is good. It’s one of the ways God loves us and I think I’m getting a lot of it right now. I need to better discipline my heart, my mind, my will, and my emotions. I all too often find myself weary, lacking courage, and checking the time. The promise here is amazing – if I will be disciplined – if I’ll lift my hands and strengthen my knees – righteousness and holiness will be present in my life. Pretty cool. I’m going to work to focus on the goal instead of fighting the clock.

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Contentment 2.0

Tuesday evening I was running and listening to a sermon on contentment by Josh Patterson of the Village Church (the sermon can be found here). I used to run, watch a muted tv show, and also listen to sermons – all at the same time. I’m constantly the multitasker, even in what I consider to be “me time,” or “alone time.” Recently I’ve realized that I need to focus more during that time, and so now I just run and listen to sermons… it’s really brought about a lot of breakthrough in my life. I love the changes that take place in my heart when I am constantly in prayer, listening to sermons, or reading the Word.

I must have put the sermon on my ipod with purpose, but I had forgotten about it until it jumped out at me as the one to listen to right then. Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be content (as I’m sure can be seen from previous posts).  God keeps directing me to Philippians 4, and other epistles that Paul wrote… I’m learning so much about true contentment and what it means to find complete satisfaction in God alone. All of it has been amazing – I’m always constantly overwhelmed by how God speaks to me… how He uses His Word, His Church, and His world to imprint new things into my heart – things that I hope are engraved there forever. But Tuesday was really special. It was one of those defining moments that I think I’ll never forget. It was a moment when an important truth that completely changes the way I view life was illuminated…

Josh Patterson read Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT) “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”] As I heard it again, and he mentioned that Paul didn’t show a preference for either plenty or lack, I realized that BOTH are hard places to be content in. Contentment is a learned response, regardless of whether you have little or whether you have much.

I’m realizing that it’s probably far harder to be content when I have all that I want, because then, in my plenty, I lack the desperation and knowledge that He’s all I have and could ever need. I’m now praying that since God has taught me to trust and to be content in the desert or hard seasons, that He’ll give me the opportunity to learn to be content (and to practice contentment) when I have enough, or even plenty. I think I’ve always read Paul’s words in Philippians 4 to mean that we have to learn to be content when we are in lack, but I think I’ve realized that what we truly have to learn is how to be satisfied in Him when we don’t lack any good thing. That’s the hard part. I’ve spent more time in prayer in the last month than I have in years… Now I just need to make it a lifestyle and stay there.

I think I understand now, more than ever, why the rich young man in Luke 18 didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to tell him – he thought he had all that he needed. Even when presented with the prospect of eternal life, he didn’t understand the necessity of discontentment WITHOUT Christ. And he couldn’t imagine that Christ could fulfill him and be the place he found contentment if he didn’t have physical security, his possessions, and his stature in the community.

Even WITH/IN Christ, it takes His strength for us to rely on Him and crave Him, even when we’re in a season of blessing. The proper context for Philippians 4:13 is that it is Christ who empowers us to face any situation and be content in both the experience and the outcome, whether it be pain or pleasure. I think it might be possible that the truest test of faith isn’t where you run when you’re hurting, but where you abide when everything seems to be going your way, the path seems clear, and the future is bright.