Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lousy, Sluggish, and Yet, Encouraging...

I've had a sluggish week.  I mean, really sluggish.  The weather may have been mostly sunny and dry, but it's been cold and oftentimes windy.  By cold, I mean it's been in the single digits 30s and 40s.  I've had time and opportunities to get outdoors for a run on most days, but have procrastinated, mis-timed my activities, or, honestly, straight-up wimped out.   And then there's been the food.  A women's retreat over the weekend, a day on my own to "eat whatever I want", and the leftover goodies from the retreat have afforded too many opportunities for too many treats.

Are you hearing the whining, the justification, and the excuses?

And only a couple of weeks ago I accomplished a comfortable increase in the mileage on my long run, running a sweet eight-miles one chilly Saturday morning.  I was strong and self-disciplined, and the effort was paying off.  (Or was that three weeks ago,... or four?)

And yet today's run was, to understate it, uncomfortable.  If running tights can be "too tight", mine were today.  Every step I took was an effort.  From the beginning to the end of the run I had to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.  At no point did I realize that I was simply pacing along; I didn't find "The Zone".  I have had runs in the past where I came to myself after about mile two or three and realized that everything was working well and my effort level was comfortably easy as I moved to the rhythm of my own two feet.

Not so today.

So I tried to take my mind off of my labored effort and think instead about how I was the only one to blame that it was so dang difficult.  I had made every single choice regarding staying indoors rather than running, and I had swallowed every bite of "extra" food that was now holding me back like a tow-rope attached to a sleigh carrying a small hippopotamus.

And once I was good and mad at myself, I started thinking about self-discipline.  Oi.  Yes, self-discipline.  That factor which had been lacking for a mere week.  And here I was regretting every slip and every weak moment... no, every choice that I had made which had gotten me to where I was now.  How can a week make such a difference?

Well, maybe it wasn't only a week, it may have gradually slid to this point with a slacking-off further back.  Shortly after that fabulous eight-miles, as a matter of fact.

Isn't that the way it always works?  One great success, a pinnacle reached, a goal achieved, and the disciplines that helped me to reach that goal go out the window.  "Thanks for getting me this far guys, now, outta my way!"

Diet and exercise aren't the only areas of my life where I slack off in personal disciplines.  How about prayer and time in God's Word?  Yes, there too I find myself tending to slide into excuses and justifications when my discipline runs slack.

In our Sunday school class on Sanctification our Pastor has consistently emphasized that our spiritual growth, that process called "sanctification" by which we grow in holiness, is 100% God's effort on our behalf and 100% our effort as well.  Scripture is filled with reminders that God is the changer of our hearts and the influencer of our minds.  Yet the Scriptures are also filled with admonishments to God's people to live holy lives, putting off our sinful ways and doing good works.  "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."  (Philippians 2:12-13)

Now, clearly, our Salvation is won for us entirely by Christ- there is no participation from us when it comes to that.  As some wise person somewhere, at some time, once said, "The only thing which we contribute to our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary".  Yet once we have been saved we are told to live in a certain way, to seek to attain to the holiness of our high calling in Christ.  This requires discipline on our part, which is made possible by the work of the Holy Spirit on God's part.  Untangling this great mystery of our faith is beyond the scope of any simple blog post by me— and it wasn't that long of a run anyway.

My point here is this.  I hope I've learned at last that the physical disciplines of diet and exercise are ultimately worth it, and I should not think that slacking off will do me any favors.  But far greater than this, what began as a lousy run ended up being an encouragement to pursue the high calling of Christ more closely, making hard decisions as needed, waking earlier if that's what it takes, and reaching for a higher goal than I can achieve on my own, knowing that the Lord of my salvation is working with me to accomplish his purposes in me.

"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, 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."  (Hebrews 12:1-2)

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