Consistency in the Race of Faith

June 30, 2017

“Train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7b).

The Apostle Paul uses an athletic term to picture the way we grow in the Christian life. We must discipline ourselves in training so that we run the race of faith well. One aspect of that discipline is consistency.

I was a 16-year-old high school track athlete in 1972, the year of the Munich Olympic Games. When Frank Shorter won the marathon in dominating fashion, the vague idea that someday I might run a marathon become the certainty that I would. My friends and I wanted to be like Frank. So we began reading all we could about who he was and how he trained.

We discovered lots of interesting tidbits, but what struck me most was his consistency. If I recall correctly, in the seven years leading up to the Munich marathon, he ran every day. He never missed even one day.

Consistency in running is central. One coach puts it this way:

[A runner may say,] “Surely to miss training just this once will not matter? After all, there is a long season of it lying ahead.” But to miss training once is to open a breach in the wall of routine. And a single breach will almost certainly be followed by others, to the point where there is no routine left. And then, bang! — there goes your ambition to be a runner.

The runner’s statement actually is true; to miss one day in and of itself is not going to destroy your training. But missing days develops a bad habit; it changes one’s perception of what one is about. Running becomes not something you do because of who you are – running becomes something you do when it is convenient.

Alternately, if you stick to your plan every day, rain or shine, cold or hot, windy or calm, tired or fresh – you see yourself differently. With every step of consistency, you define more clearly who you are.

I went through something similar with cycling this spring, preparing to bike almost 500 miles in four days from Charlotte to DC. Once I registered for the ride, I had to prepare myself to complete it. I couldn’t just ride however I felt. So there was a fundamental change in my attitude towards riding: I had to be consistent to meet the goal. I had to become a cyclist.

Just so in the Christian life. I can dabble in Bible reading and church attendance and prayer; I can do occasional acts that look loving and now and then speak the Gospel. But if this is who I am, then these are central to my life. I no longer just dabble. I train myself for godliness.

For if I realize that I am a sinner at my very core, that without daily apprehending the cross my mind will wander, making me ineffective and unproductive, then I will be sure to get up in the morning, get into the Word, seek God’s face, seek His grace; I will be sure to sit under good preaching and to seek out helpful mentors; I will speak the Gospel even if it makes me uncomfortable and will act in love even when it hurts.

And when you do this – when you consistently train yourself for godliness, as you overcome daily the common hindrances – just as with the runner or cyclist, you define much more clearly who you are.

Furthermore, every day of consistency makes the next day’s obedience that much easier. One coach writes, “Run until the question of not running just never arises.” A day without running is not even an option. Just so for us: A day without seeking God’s face becomes not even an option. Instead of a vicious circle, a downward spiral, we become part of a virtuous circle, an upward spiral: Seeking God’s face this week gives me joy and peace, which spurs me one to seek His face and live out the Christian life that much more next week. And the circle continues.

My wise wife wrote of this several years ago:

Will my children remember their mother reading the Bible consistently? Will they picture in their minds a straw basket with Bible, Valley of Vision prayer book, journal, and prayer notebook? Will they picture their mother swinging gently on the porch swing, Bible in hand or curled up in the wing chair in the music room, head bowed. Will it be a consistent memory?

It is certainly not just for the memory in my children’s minds that this consistency is important. Oh no. It is vitally important for now, for every day, for wisdom and discernment, for knowledge and understanding, for contentment and spurring on. It is as vital to my life as an Olympic athlete’s consistent training is. No, it is more vital. Because, unlike the Olympic athlete who may only take his gold medal as far as the grave, the benefits of consistency in walking with God are eternal. . . . “Consistency makes a statement to yourself, ‘I am a child of God.’” That’s who I am. Spending time in the word is simply what a child of God does, like running is what a runner does. I can’t live without it.

So train yourself for godliness – consistently. Become who you are: A child of God.

 

 

Your True Home

June 2, 2017

I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (Ephesians 3:14b-15)

Two weeks ago while reflecting on Joel’s graduation and the bike ride to DC, I noted the frequent repetition of the word “home” during the ceremony in Chapel Hill: “Chapel Hill is home. You can always come home. This place is your home forever.”

What is the nature of a good home? In a good family we are loved and accepted. We indeed can always return home. Our family welcomes us and takes us in.  Nothing we do will get us kicked out of a good family.

But a family includes something more which the Apostle Paul brings out in Ephesians – something missed in the picture of “home” painted at the graduation:

In a good family, there is a father, and he has authority.

  • Yes, in a good family there is acceptance. And in a good family there is also loving authority.
  • Yes, we are never kicked out of a good family. But there is also discipline in that good family, for our good and the good of the family.

There cannot be a family, there cannot be a home without authority.

Indeed, the Apostle says that every family in heaven and on earth is “named” after that heavenly family with the heavenly Father. Every family – and especially every father – ideally should picture the love, watchcare, guidance, provision, and discipline of our heavenly family.

Our culture is reluctant to recognize such authority, in part because it has been distorted so often. Too many fathers check out, and just want peace and quiet in the house so they can relax. Others discipline harshly, or verbally and physically abuse their wives and children.

But do you see the Apostle Paul’s point? Such behavior on the part of fathers is evil not only because of the sin against family members; it is also wrong because God created fatherhood to display His character. Checked-out and abusive fathers sin against God by providing others a terrible picture, a distorted picture, of what God the Father is like.

Yet see how God provides for us the perfect picture of acceptance and authority in Jesus Christ. He accepts us: “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). His sacrifice enables us to be part of His family – indeed, part of His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-32). He accepts us as we are – but praise God He loves us too much to leave us as we are. He sanctifies us. He cleanses us. He Himself presents us to Himself, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:27).

David concludes Psalm 23 with these words: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In Christ, we will be part of God’s loving family forever: Under His authority, loved beyond our imagining, enabled to see Him face to face and to enjoy Him forever. That indeed is our true home.