We have every controversial group in America coming out of the closet, but many of you Christian men (and women) are still hiding in there with the light switch off and the door locked. Here you are receiving all of God’s truly remarkable blessings, and you still won’t swing open that closet door and tell the world who you are.
Tony Evans, Th.D
This post is dedicated to my friends and associates, the individuals that I have had the pleasure of participating with in cycling, swimming, running, cross country skiing, and rock climbing and mountaineering over the last couple of decades.
As we age as human beings, life has a way of humbling us. We are invariably, and often painfully reminded that we just cannot do the things we used to do with the same passion and intensity that we did when we were younger.
Youthful exuberance is a good thing, it’s what drives us to take on new challenges, strive to learn new things, and enables us to accept a constantly changing world with grace. At the same time, with age comes wisdom, and the ability to carefully select which challenges we will endeavour to participate in and which battles we will walk away from.
Sometimes, we take on challenges that are beyond our natural capacity to maintain, let alone succeed at. The mind remembers, and the heart is willing, but the body just will not cooperate. We face the setbacks of an aging body that needs far more time to recover from ordinary living, let alone from illness and/or injury.
It is at precisely times like this that I am reminded to go back to the basics. A time to reflect on what is truly important to me and a time to set realistic goals of how I am going to get to the place that I desire. I think that this is precisely where many of us fail in life. We set unrealistically high goals based on desire alone without considering the cost and/or making an honest evaluation of our own time, energy, and motivation to get there. Time, energy, and motivation are moving targets that constantly change. We either adapt to this perpetual day-to-day change in a reasonably healthy and positive way or we begin that downward slide towards mediocrity and, perhaps, disappointment with ourselves and even those around us.
For me, going back to the basics includes taking a good hard look at my own spirituality and my relationship with God as I understand Him. Is my spirit healthy? Is my conscience clear? When others look into my eyes, the very window to my soul, what do they see? Do they see hardship, pain, sorrow? Do they see anger, arrogance and contempt? Or do they see peace, contentedness, and joy?
For those that would mock spirituality and the concept of God being present in our world, I would implore you to take a long look into your own reflection in the mirror and tell me what you see. Is there light in your eyes or a deep impenetrable darkness? Only you can answer that question with any degree of certainty.
But, please keep in mind that God loves you… right where you are at, and is willing to receive you as His own.
It is my understanding and experience that it is the indwelling and empowerment of the Holy Spirit that brings healing and wholeness to the human soul which in turn brings renewed strength and health to our mortal bodies and minds.
…from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:38b NASB
But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; Isaiah 40:31a KJV
These three aspects of our existence – body, mind, and soul represent our humanity, our very personhood, and are inseparable. It is what distinguishes us as unique amongst all creation. It is also true that these three aspects of our humanity work interdependently in order for us to achieve our goals and carefully laid plans in this life. But, what if we fail?
I do not believe there is blame in failing to achieve our heart’s desire to succeed and thrive in the good things that we take on in life. As a wise young woman once said to me:
Human beings are frail creatures…
In spite of our best intentions, life does not always go according to plan. But does that mean we should just give up and throw in the proverbial towel? May it never be!
For those that may be struggling, and feel that you have failed to achieve your dreams and goals in life, perhaps floundering in the very purpose you sense God has for your life – I want to encourage you to keep trying. It is not how you start the race but how you finish.
Never give up…it is ALWAYS TOO SOON to QUIT!
Go back to the basics and re-evaluate what is most important to you. Formulate a new plan, based not merely on human knowledge and intelligence, but based on a new-found or renewed relationship with God, as you understand Him at this particular point in your life. There is no shame in starting small – certainly God does not despise the person of small beginnings.
Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin… Zechariah 4:10a NLT
Besides, the human feelings and emotions of shame, disappointment, and disillusionment are a heavy burden to bear – something that we were never intended to carry alone. Jesus Christ took all that upon Himself on the cross in order that we would be set free.
The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. John 10:10 NLT
So, does that mean we will no longer experience shame, disappointment, or even disillusionment in this life? Of course not! But it does mean that we are not alone in our human experience of suffering. Be greatly encouraged, compared to eternity, life on this great blue marble is only but a short while.
And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering. Romans 8:17 NLT
In a day and age where extremes seem to be the norm, rarely do I find someone that I know personally that exercises moderately for their mental, physical, and spiritual well being. Just about everyone I have met in the climbing and mountaineering, road cycling, running, swimming, and XC ski communities tend to exercise or “train” at the extreme or sharp end of their chosen sport or recreational activity.
Keep in mind that the majority of the aforementioned are at least in their forties now and would be considered master-aged athletes. Some are incredibly gifted physically and appear to excel at their chosen sporting endeavor. The majority are just ordinary middle-of-the-road “pack filler”, yet they train and race in their age-group or skill level categories like they are world class athletes. They are addicted to exercise and the dopamine highs that come with it. Their stated reasons for participating in extreme endurance sport are varied, but if work and/or family responsibilities, injury, or illness prevent them from exercising daily, they are often miserable, anxious, and a bear to be around socially or otherwise. That dopamine high – the heightened sense of well-being and feeling alive rapidly diminishes. For many, depression is not far behind.
How did I come to recognize this in others? Because I am just as guilty as they are for chasing the proverbial dopamine-on-a-stick so prevalent in endurance sports today. Our sporting clubs are almost like destructive religious cults where we literally celebrate the extreme and those individuals that accomplish the extraordinary. Every ride, every run has to be of “epic” proportions to be worthy of our praise. The bar is set higher and higher and we move from marathon challenges into the realm of ultra marathon distances. If one has not gone on a four to five hour 100+ kilometre ride over the weekend, one’s efforts are not deemed worthy of attention, let alone celebration. This is borderline insanity and we have social media sites like Strava to prove it.
Over a period of many years, I have repeatedly asked medical doctors and other specialists how much exercise is necessary to maintain optimal physical and mental health. Invariably, their response is typically “about thirty minutes of moderate activity per day“. Keep in mind that several of these physicians are endurance athletes themselves and are just as addicted to the dopamine highs as the rest of us. Perhaps we need to heed the warnings of the medical community, and the studies of psychologists and psychiatrists about exercise addiction and the long-term consequences of abusing our bodies in our pursuit of exercise nirvana.
A number of months ago a friend suggested to me that I should consider participating in sport in a “manner that is suitable for my age“. At first I felt insulted and wondered if this was just another criticism from someone that may be living a rather sedentary lifestyle. It is that group that I am most concerned about, as the medical clinics and hospitals of our nation are filled with people who suffer from diseases that predominantly originate from inactive lifestyles and poor food choices and eating habits – the opposite extreme of exercise addiction.
The answer, of course, to the aforementioned dilemma is moderation in all things. If we want to be truly healthy in mind, body, and spirit, we need to make positive choices that will benefit us in the long term. It was the off-the-cuff remark of a friend that has caused me to re-evalute what it truly means to be healthy and to take positive steps to wean myself off of the pursuit of dopamine highs through extreme exercise. Addiction is addiction, no matter which way the ball curves. There is no such thing as a healthy addiction in the true sense of the word.
The extremes that we see in just about every aspect of life today reminds me of how broken humanity really is and how far removed we are from our Creator and His loving intentions for our lives. We really are living in an upside-down world.
As the reader can see, personal integrity, by definition, is one tall order that few, if any of us can claim to possess with any degree of consistency. It goes without saying that the very basis of personal integrity is predicated upon ethics and morality and is demonstrated through our own willingness to be honest, sincere, and truthful, not only with others, but with the person we look at every morning in the mirror.
I do not think it is possible for any one individual to demonstrate true integrity apart from God in our lives. We may hold to some external form of religious piety or offer lip service to integrity based on secular humanistic principles, but inwardly we are a wayward people.
The words that we speak reveal what is in our heart, and ultimately reveal our character.
In a previous post, I presented numerous examples of how people use certain words, but often mean something completely different. To recognize deceit and a lack of integrity in another individual or group is not as difficult as it may seem. One needs to simply start listening, not just with the mind, and the various auditory and visual clues of understanding communication, but with our hearts. The scripture tells us that what comes out of a person’s mouth is that which fills his or her heart.
A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. Luke 6:45 NLT
As a child, I was a very trusting person. Somehow, I had a natural tendency to trust others and to give them the benefit of the doubt. By the time I was a young teenager, I had learned the hard way that what people say and what they mean, and do, are often very different things. At first, I was confused, and did not trust that “gut instinct” that the words of someone else, sometimes an authority figure in my life, were actually lies. That particular person(s) lacked personal integrity, and their hollow words were revealing what was really in their heart.
In my early adulthood, when I became a committed follower of Christ, I finally came to recognize that the ability to discern what was in the heart of another was much more than just differentiating between words and visual clues. By the Spirit of God, I was “looking” into the heart of another human being, created in the moral image of God. What I saw there sometimes was deeply disturbing, and yet, at the same time, caused me to feel compassion for that particular individual(s). Perhaps, the compassion I felt was the result of recognizing my own fallenness and tendency to wander from the very God I love. Perhaps it was a gift or a tool that God intended me to use to discern between good and evil, to truly understand the struggles of the human soul in that ongoing war between darkness and light.
So, why am I telling you all this? After all, for some, this seems just too incredible to believe or even understand. I would like to suggest that the ability to discern in the spiritual realm is a lot more common amongst followers of Christ than the world could possibly understand. Yet, even for those who profess to be Christians, I often come across individuals who still depend on their natural mind to understand or grasp something that can only be comprehended spiritually. I have even witnessed that in the prayer lineups of Charismatic and Pentecostal churches. People praying for others with lofty prayers using majestic words, but completely missing the point, and not rightly discerning what is happening in that particular person’s life who has come for prayer. Often, the person in need walks away with an even greater burden upon their shoulders, their spirit broken and slowly drying up. The sick remain sick, the downhearted remain hopeless, the disappointed become disillusioned…
I was troubled to learn that people are being taught in the Church to pray for others with their eyes open looking for visual clues to assist them to know how to pray. So much for discernment, even the proponents of modern psychology know how to use auditory and visual clues to guide them in counselling others. That is not spiritual discernment, that is observation based on the principles of basic science utilizing two of our five senses to understand and verify our environment.
Have we forgotten that the Spirit of God dwells within each and every follower of Christ? Do we understand that only spirit can understand spirit? Deep understands deep?
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. Psalm 42:7 NIV
For those who have understood and comprehended all of the aforementioned, I want to encourage you to pursue the Giver and not just the gifts. At the same time, allow the Spirit of God to work in and through you for the benefit of others. He will indeed lead you and guide you through this life. Deep calls out to deep.
The narrow path is a difficult path to walk upon. The way is strewn with rocks and roots and all things arduous. Yet, we do not journey alone, for God is with us. Few will walk this path towards God. The rebellious of heart will choose the broad path of least resistance, a life without God for eternity. Please turn your heart towards God, and let us walk this narrow path in life together.
You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. Matthew 7:13 NLT
Whenever I find myself in a disagreement with another human being, particularly a fellow believer or follower of Christ, I am reminded to wait, step back, and catch my metaphorical breath before I proceed with my point of view or perspective on a given situation.
Much of what people fight over are merely temporal situations in the grand scheme of time and history. Unfortunately, for some, their frame of reference is often nurtured and cultivated by popular culture rather than biblical principle. The media from the Left and the Right owe their very existence to their readership who, as a group, tend to polarize towards a given side, perspective, or point of view. In the final analysis, it boils down to a WE versus THEM battle, often over the hot potatoes that the media loves to throw into the centre of the battle cage. Like starving coyotes, we leap into the centre of the ring in a life or death battle over a silly hot potatoe too hot to touch.
Granted, certain issues of morality and ethics are not up for discussion for any true follower of Christ. Just about everything else that falls outside of that is open to meaningful discussion, respectful debate, compromise and concession.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, reminds us:
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT)
Yet, here we find ourselves in a battle of the wills against our brother or sister in Christ over things that are simply foolish. The real battle is not with our neighbour, our friend, our family member – it is against evil in the unseen realm. We cannot battle in the supernatural realm on our own strength with human wit and knowledge – natural tools that will surely fail.
So, the next time you get a little hot under the collar and feel justified in your righteousanger, simply slow down a little, and take the time to spiritually discern what is really going on in a conflict situation. You might be surprised at what you learn. I know I have.