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Archive for February, 2009

max-176341I haven’t thought about three-legged races for ages. In fact, it’s been so long that I couldn’t even remember what they were called. I was talking to a friend about the different gifts we have in the Body of Christ, and how they fit together according to God’s plans and purposes. As we spoke, I suddenly saw this image in my head of two people running side by side, rather clumsily, with the left leg of one tied to the right leg of the other, adjacent arms draped over each other’s shoulders for support. If any picture is worth a thousand words, surely this one is. 

There are a few interesting things about the three-legged race. For starters, calling it a “race” is probably a bit misleading. The objective is ostensibly to cross the finish line first, but doing so doesn’t require speed as much as it requires cooperation.

Another thing that becomes clear after a few failed attempts is that being paired with someone of roughly the same height makes your job a lot easier. A large discrepancy in this area pretty much guarantees that you’ll crash to the ground before the finish line. As a result, watching a mismatched pair can be pretty comical, as long as no one gets hurt.

The Bible often uses “the race” as a metaphor for life, and more specifically, for the Christian life. For example, in Hebrews 12 we are admonished to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. In 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul tells us to “run in such a way as to get the prize”. To the Galatians, who had been led away from the simple message of salvation by grace through faith, he says, “you were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” Even the Old Testament mentions the subject. In Ecclesiastes 9:11 it says, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong”. Doesn’t this contradict our culture’s notion of independence, competition, and hard work – the “you can be anything you want if you work hard enough” belief system we have in North America?

“So what’s wrong with that?” you may ask. Actually, there’s a lot right with it. The foundation of our country was poured by people who believed in hard work and sacrifice, and they believed that God would reward them in due time. It’s worth remembering that many of them came from countries where their “lot in life” was pretty much determined by their parents’ class background. No amount of hard work could lift someone in 19th century England from being a scullery maid at Buckingham Palace to being the Queen.

What comes to mind when you think of a race? Do you have visions of super-fast, uber-muscular athletes running at the Olympics? I guess that’s what I think of. I was one of those sporty girls growing up, and my family was (and is) pretty competitive. The expression, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”, might exaggerate somewhat the degree to which winning mattered, but only marginally. Being first, winning, and being the best were all highly prized in my family.

So when God talks about our life being a race, what picture do you think He has in mind? When He tells us to “run in such a way as to get the prize”, is He telling us to trample over anyone who gets in our way, to do whatever it takes to cross that line in first place? Of course not, you say. You’re right, He can’t possibly have that in mind, because God’s ways and His priorities are upside-down compared to ours. He says things like “the first will be last and the last will be first” and “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave”.

The three-legged race can add much to our understanding of what God means when He tells us to “run in such a way as to get the prize”. Here are a few characteristics worth pondering. The three-legged race:

  • cannot be run alone, unless you have three legs;
  • is less about speed than it is about timing and coordination;
  • is easier if you are “equally yoked”;
  • can result in pain and/or embarrassment if you aren’t;
  • requires cooperation and a unity of purpose – you must be heading in the same direction;
  • takes humility – when pride rears its ugly head, you’re bound to end up on the ground;
  • isn’t well suited to rugged individualists;
  • has as its main objective not falling over. Crossing the finish line is secondary;
  • is a learning process. Early attempts at moving forward together will likely be clumsy and uncoordinated. You will improve with practice if you don’t give up.

Once we become children of God, there’s a way in which we are joined together just as if we were running a three-legged race. Romans 12:4, 5 says, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Our purpose in life shifts radically once we become part of God’s family. It’s no longer about me, my goals and desires, or even my happiness. It’s about being part of a coordinated, unified effort to share God’s love and His message of salvation with the world. 

Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the LORD
(Zechariah 4:6)

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istock_000008220916medium1Although my family didn’t attend church while I was growing up, we did have one tradition that echoed our protestant heritage. Every Sunday dinner, we said grace. It was a prayer that many of you will recognize: “For what we’re about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful”. In my young mind, I thought that somehow, reciting these words – hands folded, eyes closed – was a necessary accompaniment to roast beef and yorkshire pudding. It was a special meal, true enough, and we ate it at the dining room table instead of in the kitchen, using the good china and silverware. It never crossed my mind to consider why we didn’t ask God to make us truly thankful for dinner the rest of the week.

Now that I’ve grown up and have had the life-altering experience of falling in love with Jesus, these early memories are especially precious to me. I love to imagine that although I had no real idea what I was praying or to whom, God was smiling down on the scene in our dining room each Sunday. He knew that one day I would know Him well. He knew that as I surrendered my life to Him, I would be thankful in ways that would’ve been incomprehensible to me not long ago.

If you think about the words of that prayer, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. It’s easy to say, “for what we’re about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful” when you’re anticipating something good, delicious or desirable. But can we pray the same words when what we’re about to receive is unclear or frightening? We think we know what will happen tomorrow – we make plans, expect certain things to happen in a certain way. When things don’t go as we had hoped, it can be pretty unsettling. We may even feel annoyed with God. “Lord, don’t You love me? Then why don’t You (fill in the blank)?” Can we trust Him enough to surrender our plans, fears and doubts, and let Him use the hard, barren seasons of life to change us? Can we accept the words of Romans 8:28, “and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”, when the things He is working in and through are deeply painful?

Maybe the issue here is really about control. Who is in control in my life? Am I ‘god’, or is God in charge? Do I trust Him to order my steps, not just in words, but in how I react when I don’t get my own way, when I don’t understand what’s happening and I wonder where He is? Our life on earth is a tiny blip on the radar screen of eternity. This is where we learn to trust God, to love and give and serve with gratitude for the life He has given us. It’s the training ground for our real life, which begins after we die.

Lord, make us truly thankful in every circumstance. Help us to understand the inexpressible magnitude of Your love for us, a love that always has our best interests at heart. That doesn’t mean our lives will be free of pain and suffering. What it does mean is that You will be with us in every trial, every dark hour, and that You really do work all things for the good of those who love You and are called according to Your purpose – Your purpose, not ours. As much as we might like to think that His purpose revolves around our comfort and well being, God’s perspective is quite different. He sees the big picture in a way we can’t possibly comprehend. He is much more concerned with our growth and transformation than He is with giving us everything we want in this life.

Have you recently received something in your life that is unwelcome – bad news, sickness, the loss of a job, a broken relationship? One of the keys to getting through life’s hard times is to keep your focus on God. A favourite scripture of mine is Hebrews 12:2 – “Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus was in very nature God, but He humbled himself, coming to earth as a human being. He understands our weakness; the Bible describes Him as “a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering”. As He approached Calvary, the scriptures say, “and being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly…Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42,44)

Jesus knew that His submission to God’s will was necessary to fulfill a larger plan. If you find yourself in a dark valley, facing a cup you don’t want to drink, pray for deliverance, but even more, pray for endurance. God will carry us through life’s valleys if we continue to trust in His goodness. When we view challenging circumstances this way, we can find real comfort in the words Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

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