The Middle of the Marathon

This morning I got up a little earlier and after my morning devotions spent some time reading through every one of my journal entries between March and September 2010. That was a difficult season of my life, a season of waiting and uncertainty. It took me about an hour to read it all (I journal a lot), and I was so encouraged by doing so. It reminded me of the great spiritual value of those difficult seasons of life. They are like spiritual vitamins. As you faithfully plod through them, day by day, minute by minute, step by step, God is at work in a powerful way. Its sort of like running a marathon, where the vast majority of it is not completed by the burst of adrenaline and excitement at the beginning or end, but by faithful plodding throughout the middle – minute by minute, step by step.

In my life and ministry these days I feel like I am in the middle of a marathon. On the one hand, things are going well and progress is being made and we are experiencing relatively “smooth sailing” forward. On the other hand, I don’t have any major vacations or milestones to look ahead to. I am out of the honeymoon phase, but far from the late stages where you see the mature fruit of your labors. It feels like being in the middle of a marathon: there are many miles behind, many miles ahead, and perseverance and faithfulness are the great and constant needs. I am finding I need to continually check my heart these days, and refocus on a gospel motivation. Other forms of motivation tend to burn away with time, whatever short spurts of energy they may give. Only gospel motivation is truly resilient. It helps me, day by day, minute by minute, step by step, to simply persevere and keep moving forward, which is the great need.

During this season, I am seeking to maintain godly patterns of spiritual disciplines, exercise, sabbath rest, friendship, laughter, and above all, gospel motivation. In this effort, two passages of Scripture are especially meaningful to me these days. The first is I Corinthians 15:48: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” I have to remind myself of this promise all the time. What I am doing is not in vain. God is at work through my efforts. He is doing something that matters for all eternity. For all I know, it may be, from the standpoint of eternity, a very small contribution – but its not nothing. This daily plodding – step by step, minute by minute – is making a difference that will last for all eternity. If I didn’t believe that, I would probably give up. And I certainly know it is a gift of 100% grace. I don’t even deserve to be in the race at all. But I need this gift of grace – I need to know its not in vain, that what I am doing counts. Without that, it simply would not be worth it. With that, I can keep plodding along, minute by minute, step by step.

Secondly, I am so helped by II Corinthians 4:16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. 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, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Amidst so much about this passage that is uplifting, that last little bit stands out to me the most. “Fix your eyes on what is unseen.” That’s like saying, “attune your ears to what is inaudible;” or, “fasten your grasp on what is immaterial.” But the sight in view here is the sight of faith, and faith can see things that ordinary vision and human insight cannot. This passage complements the I Corinthians 15 text and encourages me to pray, “Lord, help me to see the work you are doing through my ministry. Help me to see the fruit you are bearing. Allow the reward of heaven to be more than a vague, murky, abstract hope, but a living and daily focus in my mind. Your perspective, seen through the eyes of faith, is what breathes purpose into this daily plodding, moment by moment, step by step. Help me not merely to walk, but to walk by faith.”

I believe this gospel motivation is not only enough to sustain us in the daily plodding, but can also give us a sense of joy and anticipation about how awesome it will be to complete the task that God has called us to and cross the finish line – not only in heaven, but also at those key milestones of joy and remembrance in this life.

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