Life is a Race

As I was listening to a friend’s story to help him find the vein of gold that runs through his life, I remembered a poem that a mentor gave me years ago.  I thought that God had brought this to my memory for my friend’s sake, but I later discovered it was also for me.  Maybe, primarily for me.

Because it has been so meaningful to me over the years, I want to share it with you.  I’m unfamiliar with the author, but the story he tells is a beautiful picture of our struggle in this world, a race as Paul describes it, and our loving Father.

As you read this poem, keep these scriptures in mind:

  • Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  (NLT)
  • Hebrews 12:1,2  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
  • Zephaniah 3:17 The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. (ESV)
  • Philippians 1:6  Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (NIV)

The Race by D. H. Groberg

Whenever I start to hang my head in front of failure’s face,

my downward fall is broken by the memory of a race.

A children’s race, young boys, young men; how I remember well,

excitement sure, but also fear, it wasn’t hard to tell.

They all lined up so full of hope, each thought to win that race

or tie for first, or if not that, at least take second place.

Their parents watched from off the side, each cheering for their son,

and each boy hoped to show his folks that he would be the one.

The whistle blew and off they flew, like chariots of fire,

to win, to be the hero there, was each young boy’s desire.

One boy in particular, whose dad was in the crowd,

was running in the lead and thought “My dad will be so proud.”

But as he speeded down the field and crossed a shallow dip,

the little boy who thought he’d win, lost his step and slipped.

Trying hard to catch himself, his arms flew everyplace,

and midst the laughter of the crowd he fell flat on his face.

As he fell, his hope fell too; he couldn’t win it now.

Humiliated, he just wished to disappear somehow.

But as he fell his dad stood up and showed his anxious face,

which to the boy so clearly said, “Get up and win that race!”

He quickly rose, no damage done, behind a bit that’s all,

and ran with all his mind and might to make up for his fall.

So anxious to restore himself, to catch up and to win,

his mind went faster than his legs. He slipped and fell again.

He wished that he had quit before with only one disgrace.

“I’m hopeless as a runner now, I shouldn’t try to race.”

But through the laughing crowd he searched and found his father’s face

with a steady look that said again, “Get up and win that race!”

So he jumped up to try again, ten yards behind the last.

“If I’m to gain those yards,” he thought, “I’ve got to run real fast!”

Exceeding everything he had, he regained eight, then ten…

but trying hard to catch the lead, he slipped and fell again.

Defeat! He lay there silently. A tear dropped from his eye.

“There’s no sense running anymore! Three strikes I’m out! Why try?

I’ve lost, so what’s the use?” he thought. “I’ll live with my disgrace.”

But then he thought about his dad, who soon he’d have to face.

“Get up,” an echo sounded low, “you haven’t lost at all,

for all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall.

Get up!” the echo urged him on, “Get up and take your place!

You were not meant for failure here! Get up and win that race!”

So, up he rose to run once more, refusing to forfeit,

and he resolved that win or lose, at least he wouldn’t quit.

So far behind the others now, the most he’d ever been,

still he gave it all he had and ran like he could win.

Three times he’d fallen stumbling, three times he rose again.

Too far behind to hope to win, he still ran to the end.

They cheered another boy who crossed the line and won first place,

head high and proud and happy — no falling, no disgrace.

But, when the fallen youngster crossed the line, in last place,

the crowd gave him a greater cheer for finishing the race.

And even though he came in last with head bowed low, unproud,

you would have thought he’d won the race, to listen to the crowd.

And to his dad he sadly said, “I didn’t do so well.”

“To me, you won,” his father said. “You rose each time you fell.”

And now when things seem dark and bleak and difficult to face,

the memory of that little boy helps me in my own race.

For all of life is like that race, with ups and downs and all.

And all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall.

And when depression and despair shout loudly in my face,

another voice within me says, “Get up and win that race!”

When I was ten years old, bell-bottoms flooded the fashion world like a tsunami. They were everywhere, but my mother wouldn’t let me wear them. (Her lame excuse was something like, “You shouldn’t be a slave to fads.” I think she just disliked them.)

Children always tell their parents that they are the only kid at school without an “X”: a cell phone, an iPad, or a personal condo in the Cayman Islands. Well, I checked. I was literally the only kid in my class without bell-bottoms, except for the one girl who wore a dress.

One day an older boy at school stopped me and asked why I wasn’t wearing bells. To a ten-year old boy, the only thing worse than being wretchedly uncool was to miserably admit, “My mom said I can’t.” So I just stood there, head down, conflicted and dejected.

As the older boy stared at me, wonder washed over his face, and he exclaimed, I know what you’re doing, you’re sticking it to the man, aren’t you? You’re sticking it to the man!

I had no idea what “sticking it to the man” meant, but I sensed a ray of sunshine pierce my storm. Not wanting to lie, I simply smiled. Sort of knowingly.

Three or four years later, bell-bottoms had the fashion-appeal of last week’s lukewarm latte.

Fashions rise and fall like the tides

We easily recognize fashion’s influence on the clothes we choose, but do we recognize how our beliefs about reality also rise and fall with the tides of trendy? For example:

  • A hundred years ago, it was fashionable to believe that eugenics would save humanity from a rapidly deteriorating gene pool. It was embraced by world leaders such as Roosevelt, Oliver Wendell Holmes, H. G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw. After WW II, the world recognized eugenics as a pseudoscience that simply promoted racism.
  • From the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, reason ruled spirituality, as if knowledge of God was limited to people with high IQ’s. Today, spiritual feelingsrule our reality. We can’t know God’s love unless we feel it. But both bases of reality—reason or feelings—are just faddish foundations for beliefs, beliefs with the staying-power of morning mist.

It’s fine to say that black is the new “in” color (or that purple is the new black), but fads are absolutely ridiculous when it comes to beliefs. Imagine being scorned because you believe the world is round; the cool, in-crowd croons, “That idea is ‘Oh so yesterday.’”

Just like their bell-bottoms.

The true nature of reality

The true nature of spiritual reality is always a mystery. That’s why Paul says spiritual wisdom is nonsense to the gentiles and a scandal to the Jews: it doesn’t make sense to our natural selves! It just doesn’t fit in with our morning café-lattes or our half-sleeve tattoos.

In the modern mystery (movie or book), we assemble clues in order to piece together reality; but spiritual mysteries cannot be solved, only revealed: Paul claims that the “mystery of grace was made known to him by revelation” (Eph. 3:3). Spiritual reality is acquired when God exposes it; not by us collecting clues but only by God’s disclosure.Revelation!

Spiritual wisdom is born in humility—we only get it when God reveals it—but it grows when we choose to believe it; even when (probably especially when) it seems scandalous or nonsensical to our natural, suave selves.

There are beliefs that endure

Scripture claims that people of substance are the people who meditate on his words; they are like trees fed by streams, enduring the droughts, never withering, and always bearing fruit at the right time. They know spiritual reality unveiled to them through God’s revelation (Ps. 1:3).

But people who scorn Scriptural meditation, clinging to the beliefs of fashion, are like the husks of seeds, hollow and insubstantial, unfruitful, and driven about by every trendy wave (Ps. 1:4).

We don’t always feel spiritual truth, and it often doesn’t make sense to us every moment of our lives, but revealed spiritual reality is the only reality that lasts. Let’s reject the transient, fashionable beliefs of the world around us.

Instead, “Let’s stick it to the man,” or, “Stick it to the fleeting fads of passing beliefs.”

Sam

Last week, a delay by God disappointed me. It also shocked me awake like smelling salts.

For ten years, I’ve wanted (and waited) to write a book on hearing God. Last month, I finally finished it. And I’ve paid a professional to edit it, commissioned an artist to design it, and found a proofreader to fine-tune it and a marketing expert to promote it.

I originally planned to publish Hearing God in Conversation last May, but I was hindered by a month-long bout with pneumonia, friends with unexpected needs, and my first ever (hopefully my last ever) IRS audit.

After months (and years) of postponements, my book was finally ready for release September 1st.

Then a friend slipped a copy of my manuscript to a publisher. The publisher invited me to meet their management team. And the team offered me a contract last week. But a contract with a hitch (because we missed an important publishing industry window). If I sign their agreement, my book’s release date will be deferred by yet another year. Argh!

I was disappointed, dismayed by another delay (though thrilled that they liked the book). I asked myself: Should I publish it myself in three weeks or wait another twelve, long months?

And then one of my smart-aleck kids (never mind which one) commented, “Gee Dad, you’re writing a book about hearing God; have you asked him what you should do?”

The thing is, God has been speaking to me

When I talk about God, my temperament is to tell people of his wonderful, soul-restoring love. That’s why I wrote my first book, Is Sunday School Destroying our Kids?, to reveal how legalism—trying to gain God’s favor by good deeds—destroys our sense of his love. I want people to hear, know, and experience the life-changing love of God.

But recently God is speaking to me about something else, and it isn’t the sweetness and delight that I prefer. He is teaching me about the hard edge of the good news.

I’m re-learning what it means to give my life to God. It means this: I give my life to God! Sure, it begins when I receive his undeserved love, but I receive it only when I call him, “Lord.”

Who’s in charge anyway?

I rarely think of God in terms of “Lord” and “Master.” (Who even uses those labels anymore?) I tend to picture him more as a benevolent Santa Claus who chuckles Ho Ho Ho as he parcels out neatly wrapped presents. But: Lord? He is completely in charge? Obedience?

I agree that obedience is important. No more theft, adultery, or snobbery; and let’s smile at the bus driver and tip the cabbie. But the operative phrase is, “I agree.” Many of God’s commands make sense; the world will be a better place if everyone loved their neighbor.

But if I base my decisions on agreeing with God, then I’m not obeying. I’m just concurring. If I only do what makes sense to me, the person in charge is still me. But what if he really is my Lord? Then:

  • He can allow events in my life that I don’t understand;
  • He can issue commands that makes no sense to me, commands I may loathe;
  • I have to move beyond just agreement and learn to obey, even when I disagree;
  • And I have to learn to wait.

Because waiting often makes no sense

As a kid, I never once peeked at my Christmas presents. I loved the anticipation, holding off until Christmas morning. The beautiful wait made wonderful sense.

But I hate delays that I don’t understand, when things don’t happen according to my (brilliant) schedule: I think I’ve blown it, or someone else has. Maybe God has. So I struggle to bring “it” about according to my sense of timing. And I’m not alone:

  • Adam and Eve ate the apple because it didn’t make sense to them not to.
  • Abraham had Ishmael because he thought God needed help with timing.
  • All the disciples abandoned Jesus because the cross was sheer nonsense.

When I ask God about publishing my book, I hear him ask me a question in return: Who is Lord? Elisabeth Elliott once wrote,

God is God, and since He is God, He is worthy of my worship and my service. I will find rest nowhere else but in His will, and that will is necessarily infinitely, immeasurably, unspeakably beyond my largest notions of what He is up to.

Sam