Saturday, August 16, 2008

RMC Editorial: To Compete With Horses (abridged)

Jeremiah was a congregation of one. He didn’t have elders or a youth group. He did not share his meals with anyone who shared his beliefs. For the most part, no one stood by him. No one invited him to anything. No one visited him. No one sent him a card. Jeremiah was reduced to solitude because God entrusted him with something that has always proven to be very unpopular: the Truth. Being devoted to God ultimately cost Jeremiah his home, his hopes, everything.

On top of all that, the people surrounding Jeremiah, who had rejected God, were living it up. Based on the observable evidence, it seemed that following God was conducive to misery, while abandoning any devotion to the Lord was the recipe for a life of ease and endless pleasure. Jeremiah climbed up on top of the truth, took a look around, and this came to mind: “Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1). This man of God examined his own condition, comparing it to the godless lives of those around him and he was deeply frustrated.

Job comes to mind. He felt this same frustration. So did Habakkuk. Yet, in all these cases, God did not nurture any complaints. God did not provide a pedestal for a critique of His work. On the contrary, any objections against His will were adjusted. God drastically transformed their perspective with a strong dose of reality. In Jeremiah’s case, God used an analogy. “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5). In essence, when Job complained about having to run so fast, God told him he better get ready to run faster.

God’s goal was not to crush Jeremiah’s spirit or to push him into despair. The circumstances were undeniably dire. But the circumstances are never the problem. The problem is always the perspective of the circumstances. God’s timing is perfect and the consequences of rejecting God would soon be crystal clear. Although the “way of the wicked” seemed to be prospering, the final tally would be nothing less than death.

In the midst of all this, there is a simple truth for each one of us. Being a Christian is hard. Living, growing, struggling to do better is far more difficult than letting go, dying, slipping back into a lesser version of yourself. Christianity is not a race for the passive. When you begin to appreciate that everything—literally everything—is on the line, those who truly follow Jesus begin to realize that our spirituality cannot be made of fragile material.

Jeremiah’s situation helps to measure the durability of our own devotion. The modern Christian might feel justified in complaining about the various difficulties that he faces, but it’s difficult to look hard-pressed and pitiful standing next to a man whose devotion to God ultimately put him up to his neck in mud (figuratively and literally). There are many of us who limp along with a fragile Christianity that shudders and even collapses under the smallest attack. An unkind murmuring, a pointed lesson, a miscommunication, and a brittle form of spirituality falls apart.

For the most part, we face nothing more than minor offenses. We are living in “a land of peace.” It is not unreasonable to expect a relatively steady pace under these present conditions. We haven’t got a clue what real persecution is. While we pout on the drive home after the assembly, we must look pretty silly to a God who has required so much more from those who have gone before us.

God also used a similar analogy in the New Testament. “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air” (I Corinthians 9:24-26) Just because someone is running doesn’t mean they are racing. So a Christian doesn’t just run. He runs in such a way to win. He runs with a specific aim. It isn’t just about speed. It’s about direction and the solid determination required by long distances.

Jeremiah was not just reprimanded as a faltering runner. He might very well have considered God’s statement as purely negative. You mean it’s going to get worse? But there was a message of encouragement in this. Jeremiah might very well have found himself able to smile. You mean, God believes in me that much?

Jeremiah was going to run a race that could never be won by anybody less than a man of God. He would be leaving horses in the dust, but not by his own strength. It was God who would give Jeremiah the strength needed to finish this long, exhausting, often grim marathon that is fondly known as “life.”

So we soon begin to realize that God expects a great deal from us. He has paid for your soul, and so you are required to be a powerful tool in His hand for any assignment He sees fit to accomplish. Some of it will be easy. Some of it will be hard. From our own limited perspective, some of it will seem to serve no apparent purpose. Whether or not the purpose is visible or not, doesn’t matter.

The Bible is filled with men and women who faced far worse than most of us. We are just jogging along at the speed of man. But there will be times when it will be necessary to go faster, to try harder. The horses are coming and we only waste time questioning the twists and turns.

God will enlarge your steps. He has promised to never let the race become unbearable. (I Corinthians 10:13). No person should be surprised that the race is hard. Of course it is. That’s why we need God every step of the way. He will give us whatever we need to reach the finish line. And so no Christian is every truly justified in giving up. There is no point when we stop running. There is no point when we stop following Jesus.

The point is this: there is no point.

1 comment:

Abbie said...

I really enjoyed reading this post! Really makes me wish I'd been able to go to kamp. I liked the analogy of Jeremiah climbing up on truth to have a look around. I also enjoyed your last paragraph about the forever nature of the race. It's actually comforting to think there is no justification for a giving up point, no reason to stop running. If there were even one "good excuse" then I'm sure we'd be claiming it. It's nice to know we have the peace of the familiar race we love in all its difficulties, knowing God will provide exactly what we need! Thanks for sharing your article! (sorry it took me so long to comment!)