After spending three Sundays in God's cathedral, our favorite term for the great outdoors, my family attended church in a building. It was a good service. The sermon was particularly good as Pastor Andy Albright touched on things that block spiritual growth.
I didn't take notes, but the ones I remember are sin and troubles with people. However, his example of likening our spiritual walk to athletic training is what I'd like to expound on today.
Pastor Andy said that he wanted to ride his bike to work one day. The ride to the church from his house was great, he said. But ... it's all downhill. On the way back, however, he had to ride up a hill that can seem almost perpendicular. As he tried this his legs burned and about halfway up the hill he got off the bike and walked. Getting on the bike and walking the bike happened a couple of more times before he got home. Then, about a week later he tried again. This time, his mind was set, he was going to get up that hill, and he did. He rode the rest of the way home without stopping
Achieving anything, whether it's athletic prowess, or the Christian life, depends largely on our mindset.
Paul says the same thing in 1 Corinthians 9:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
This was a passage of scripture that took on great meaning for me during my junior year of college at Point Loma Nazarene University. You see, we all had to take a course called Fitness and Movement. I called it Running 101 because that's what we did when there wasn't classroom instruction. This was where I began learning that a large part of success is in the mind.
I'm not a runner and at that time of my life I hated to exercise. But, in order to get out of the class alive - that is, with an "A" -we had to improve on our running time for the mile.
It wasn't like we didn't have a nice place to run:
The track is to the left of the baseball field if my memory serves me correctly, with the Pacific Ocean in full view.
With all this beauty, I still considered it a drag to be out there first thing in the morning and it didn't take me long to realize that if I wanted to improve my time, I had to run. The teachers allowed us to walk but that wasn't going to work. I wanted that "A" because I had gotten a "C" in tennis, of all things - another required elective - and I couldn't stand the fact that my GPA was lowered by a racquet sport that I thought was going to be easy.
I'm not sure when the idea popped in my head, but I figured out that if I concentrated on something completely different from running that I could run longer. I also figured out that if I kept breathing in rhythm running was a lot easier. When my breathing fell out of rhythm I got a pain in my side, something that I wanted to avoid. So I concentrated on the above verse and it really helped. When I couldn't think, I focused on the sound of my breathing and that also helped. I ended the course improving my time and getting an A in the class.
That was a little more that 20 years ago and I have been learning that my mindset is really important when I want to be successful.
However, my mindset is not all that matters. Psalm 147 says: "His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior (my version, the NRSV, has a foot note that says "the legs of a runner"); the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love." Fear in this case means a reverent attitude, being in awe of God.
We must put our hope in God, otherwise what we accomplish won't mean much.
I think I should define what I mean by "positive thinking." I'm not talking about positive thinking in the sense that those who preach that God wants to bless people with material riches because of their faith. What I'm talking about stems from Proverbs 3: 5 and 6, which says to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not upon our own understanding. Sometimes when I want to get something done, I can think as positively as I want, but if the Lord doesn't want it done, it isn't going to happen. This happens when I use my own understanding and get ahead of God. For example, I have a tendency to volunteer for positions and then find out that I can't stand doing that task or that the Lord didn't want me to do it at all. When I step back and think about something before saying "yes," I usually find that God doesn't want me to do that thing. He has to remind me of the big picture before I realize that volunteering for that thing will take up too much time - time that I need for the task God wants me to accomplish.
Also, when I back up and pray about the activity for which I think I should volunteer, if the Lord says "yes" I feel much better about doing it. I don't have to second guess myself.
It's all in the mind. Our mindset should be to follow Christ
As we learn from athletic pursuits, following the way to fitness is not easy. There is pain and nasty sweat involved, maybe sometimes blood. It's like that in the Christian life. Sometimes there is pain and hard work involved. We cannot follow Christ without sacrifice and that is painful. Like Paul says, we have to discipline ourselves to receive the prize. When our mind is set to do this, God will do the rest.