And the day God breathed upon your still life, stirring into being the green leaf and the flower, bud upon the branch and light
upon your soul. Here you felt the earth’s air on your petals and your leaves, and squinted into sunlight, gazing high for heaven
until you felt the gardener’s hand gently turning soil and soul, and nurturing you, bud in radiant sun.
Cascading rain absorbed in warm earth turning, heaven of fragrance. What is that sound in the wind and dazzling light?
Oh, the sweet sound of your delight in God. Sometimes it is like the sound of running laughter.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Beautiful Holy Tension

When I got up at 5am yesterday, I was not so much thinking about how great my run was going to be, as I was just trying to remain focused on getting out the door. Eat some muesli, drink some water, fill the hydration pack, grab the watch and id wristband, check hat, gloves, position headlamp, drink some more water, and on and on. At 5:39am I was ready to go. Quietly winding out through the neighborhood, I headed west on Highway 62 for a mile or so and then swung north towards Purgatory Park, passing through the park on the western path. It was 35F with a south breeze at 3mph. I continued north until I hit the Regional Loop Trail, and went east. Once on the Regional Trail I stuffed my headlamp and ran by the light growing in the eastern sky. At 7 ½ miles, my halfway point, I passed through Minnetonka Mills and ran by the local Dunn Bros coffee shop. I always want to pull in there for a little kick-in-the-head. Maybe another morning I’ll surprise myself by doing just that! But not today; today my plan is set. I’m focused. After a little while I came into Hopkins with steadily growing eastern light as the trail began to turn south. Dawn was teasing the horizon; just playing with us that were watching for it. Midway through Hopkins I was greeted by a sun blazing over the horizon, radiating a magnificent glow into my morning. It was so big and so magnificent that the whole world must have seen it! It was just too wonderful; what a thing to see. Beyond Hopkins, I headed southwest along the Regional Trail. This straight-as-an-arrow section passes by several picturesque lakes. I was focused on keeping my pace respectable even though I was fading a little. I came to Highway 62 and headed west until I came to my neighborhood, and I turned in for the final uphill leg of my run. After 15 miles I was all in and was quick to refuel on a fruit and yogurt smoothie and some peanut butter toast. Over the run I had ascended 1403 feet and descended 1395. Coming in just under 3 hours, my pace was a “blistering” 11:26 minutes per mile. Someday I hope to pace at about 10 to 10½. But not today.

Whether “blistering” or not - like every time I run - I am most keenly aware that each step, each breath, each finished effort however difficult, is just His grace to me, His sovereign hand in my life lifting me and supporting me, carrying me to the end of a trail. My life is the smallest breath, a blink, a discarded sigh. The Lord could have taken me a few years ago with cancer, but chose to leave me here. Why am I here? Why did He do that? He could take me tonight. Do you remember the parable that Jesus told:

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. [Matthew 21:28-32 ESV]

Well, I am like the son who said “I will not”, and then did come. And I can see that even my obedience to Him, my turning to Him, was not in me. I am not capable of it. I would have forever chosen wrongly unless God had changed me. And God did – and does it in me every day. I live each day on His strength much aware of my weakness. And this is true in my running, as well. I use my running to teach me discipline and training and preparation. And then, I throw myself on His mercies in order to run the race event. He is the steadfast one.

But there is a beautiful holy tension in all of this. How so? On the one hand, I am casting myself wholly on Him and His strength. And yet on the other hand, I am setting out to condition myself – to learn discipline and training and preparation and how to run. So which is it? Is God supporting me, or am I helping myself a bit in all of this? This is what I say. God is doing it all, but He calls me to invest my life in a life with Him. But this is not new.

Just before his death, as Moses was summarizing God’s teachings to the children of Israel, he says,

And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. [Deuteronomy 30:6 ESV]

The Lord your God will circumcise your heart. This is God’s doing! Oh, the calm and peace, the rest we have in our sovereign Lord. He causes us to draw near to Him - just like me as the late-to-obedience son. He rules over all. And yet just a few verses later Moses says,

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” [Deuteronomy 30:19-20 ESV]

So, though He is our sovereign King and is stirring our hearts to follow Him, He also lays out before us a blessing and a curse. There is something we must do in all of this – we choose the blessing or we choose the curse. This is the beautiful holy tension I find in my life as I seek to serve the King of Kings. Although He has captured my heart and holds me true, He also calls me to actively pursue of Him; to pour out my life; to actively reach and struggle and hope and dream. He calls me to a life of faith. He calls me to choose the blessing.

My running life so much reminds me of pursuing God. I cannot do this on my own. Indeed, I can’t do it at all. But somewhere along the way, I find myself working to condition myself to run better and longer. Not that there is any inherent worth these things that I’m doing, but only that I simply want to get nearer to Him; I want to be close to Him, as close as I can be. And so I want to run. For Him, for His pleasure, I want to run hard and run true.

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