The Hindrance of Distraction

One spring, I signed up for a 10K race with a particular goal in mind. I wanted to achieve a PR of finishing in fifty-six minutes or less, or roughly nine minutes per mile. It was a very attainable thing if I would faithfully put in the work for the remaining few weeks until that date came. Over the month leading to the race, I put in the effort to increase my speed. The results were pleasing, and I watched my total time drop steadily.

The morning of this particular race, everything went well. The weather was perfect—a cool morning with a cloudy sky. I was up early enough to fully prepare and felt strong as I got to the starting line.  Sometimes when waiting to start a race, I feel full of nerves, but this morning I felt confident.

Yet by the end of the run, I had not accomplished what I had hoped. Instead, I missed it by almost a minute per mile. Not because of some glaring error or poor running conditions; looking back on that day, I remember all of the distractions that came during the race. So many things happened around me that I allowed to pull focus from my aim. Some of the distractions were insignificant: a falling branch that caused me to slow down, a rustling in the brush nearby and a visit to the mile 3 water station. Some of the distractions seemed legitimate: an untied shoelace, a fellow runner who I stopped to help and dealing with a faulty running app on my phone. Physically I was prepared, yet I allowed so many disruptions in my mind that in the end, I fell short of the goal.

Distractions can result in failure if we don’t push them out. It takes a fixed mind to see the race to completion. A sanctified heart desires to keep an unwavering vision of God, to follow Him without fail. There is a rest and calm to the consecrated soul.

We easily spot the negative distractions. We can point them out and say, “I must distance myself from these things or they will pull my focus from God.” But they also may be good things, blessings in our lives, which pull attention from the spiritual race. They may deter you from being all that God would have you to be; that pliable, usable vessel He desires. Distractions can sway us to spend ourselves for earthly things when God’s kingdom is calling for workers. It is not that we don’t enjoy the good things of life, but that we keep them in their proper place. They must not take our priority in time, love or effort.

You can be confident that you are going to run well and still disappoint if your eyes are not centered on Christ. Matthew 6:22-23 “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” Consider trying to run, or even walk, if your eyes are pulled in every direction and you have no focus. You would be bumbling into everything in your path, causing detriment and hurt to yourself and others. So is the person who does not have a sole focus on God. There is a consistent pattern of falling short, of no clear victory in that life. There is agitation and distress around them instead of a steady walk with Him. Are you full of God’s truth and His ways or filled with the diversions of the world and your own ways? As the apostle Paul put it, “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air.” Running this spiritual path with an unfocused mind will hinder your stride and slow your pace.

Distractions interfere with the true heart of a matter. Too easily, some are distracted with their own thoughts. When you place your own lens over the preaching, or over the preacher, you lose the message God was sending you. If you see your pastor as just a man instead of God’s chosen watchman, you will refuse the very counsels of God. If you look at the saints not as the body of Christ, but just as people you see every week, you lose the love and respect we need to show to one another. So often, we can be distracted by physical things: what we observe, what we feel, what we desire. Where are your spiritual eyes? Spiritual eyes help us understand the incredible truths of God, and to also recognize our true reflection in the Word. It takes an honest and submissive heart to see when we are not keeping step with the preaching.

Distraction can be a gradual process. The saved are slowly pulled off-track by the cares of life that demand attention. When    Martha and Mary had Jesus in their home one of them became distracted. Mary chose to lay aside her work and cares to concentrate on the real issues of her soul. When Martha complained, Christ made it clear that Mary had chosen well and that Martha should reconsider her own focus. Distractions may come in the form of loved ones who are unsaved. While we care for them and pray for them, we cannot allow our minds to center on them and their decisions. We must leave them in God’s hands, even when it is painful. Distractions might be an affliction that we carry, that physically takes our strength. Yet our minds must be single-minded toward God to bring us through.  Distractions could even include physical labor. Remember that our greatest reward is not for everything to go smoothly, but to reach lost souls and shine the truth of the gospel to them. Being busy for God is very needful, so we should work together with His blessing and leading, prayed up and filled with grace.

In all that we do, let’s move forward with a focused view of the goal. As Paul admonished in Hebrews 12:1,  “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

by R Smith

Lessons of the Run: Set and Fueled

Early one Saturday before sunrise, I awoke to the blaring beep of my alarm clock and remembered why I was getting up at such an hour. It was my long run today as I geared up for another half marathon. Every reason why I should go back to sleep went through my mind. I did not want to go. My finger hovered above the snooze button.  Then my mind sharpened into focus. This was the last long run before race day. In order to have endurance on that day, I would have to prepare now. So I put on my gear and gathered provisions for the road. I took time to eat and stretched for a long while. By the time I walked outside, my mind was set to do the task and I was fueled to endure.

As I ran that morning, the words “continue on” kept coming to my mind. We all have moments we wish to relax or rest when there is more work required. Sometimes life even offers good reasons why we should take a pass and get around to our responsibilities at a later time. These feelings can affect our spiritual life as well. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy came to my mind, as he too was facing that decision to press on in the work of God.

II Timothy 3:14-16, 4:3-4, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them… All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

This warning in Paul’s last letter to Timothy is a pertinent message to us because of the end times in which we live.  It strikes the heart with its urgency because we can look at our society and see how people have created their own narrative for how to live righteously. The effects of unchurched families and lazy Christianity have led souls from truth to false ways. Over time, men and women have compromised the    message of the gospel,    softening the teachings of Jesus and turning the cross into a mere symbol of morality. They have done away with sacrifice, fear of God and consequences for wrong-doing. Sadly, there are so few ministers today who preach the power to live free from sin. False teachings have lulled many into unbelief or self-deception.

But Paul’s warning also tells us that even the Church, us who sit under true preaching of God’s word, could end in the same sad way if we do not keep disciplined in our race. Weak people often start their race with great intentions, but along the way they make excuses not to continue. A true runner goes out and runs, in heat or cold, rain or sun. A  half-hearted runner finds a reason to stop.

So setting your mind is half the battle, but what good is determination if you do not fuel yourself properly? As Paul said, the time will come when many will not endure sound doctrine. They don’t endure it because they don’t know how to digest it. Their diet consists of quick, sweet fixes of select scriptures. They consume the parts of the Bible they enjoy, verses that soothe and inspire them. We often refer to those things as the “milk” of the Word. While these scriptures are important and full of     nutrients, they only support growth and stamina to a certain point. The “meat” of the Word consists of the passages and preaching that deepens our understanding, challenges us,     corrects us, settles us and changes us. Eat all of it in order to grow. Our strength comes from what we feed on, so turn more to His Word and spiritual thought.

Mature saints learn to eat and digest all of the Word. Digesting is the process of breaking something down to pull all of the benefits from it. This takes time. Give yourself plenty of time to meditate on the scriptures and preaching to receive their full benefits. After years of studying the Bible and sitting under the gospel, we can still find it rich and full, nourishing to our souls! Once you are fueling yourself with truth, you will take judgment in stride without stumbling. Your legs will be steady and sure under you because of the strength you gain through Him. What an excellent race we can run when we are eating well!

Those who pick apart God’s Word or reason to themselves a more convenient way are walking toward unbelief. They are weakened spiritually. In Romans 3:3, Paul asked “What if some did not believe? Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid.” The scoffer cannot change God’s eternal Word or the power of it. We who do believe and gain our strength from it must not lose sight of that truth. Let the Word settle and strengthen you. Setting your mind and  fueling your body works hand in hand. We cannot declare     ourselves determined and then go on empty, neither should we waste the nutrition of the Word by failing to apply it to strengthen our minds. In either instance, the runner will not finish the course.

In this last time when evil is called good and good evil, continue in the way. Seek after God’s principles and His       wisdom. Live the standard as it is preached. Lean on sound counsel and not your own thoughts. Receive warning and be quick to respond to admonition. Let your love for God burn so brightly that it leaves no shadow of doubt where your allegiance lies. Set your mind and heart in defense of His gospel and fuel yourself by it.

By R Smith

Lessons of the Run: A Change in Perspective

One of the greatest pleasures I have found in running is how different the landscape looks on foot versus driving in a vehicle. Some of the roads that I have traveled all of my years look completely fresh when I am running their berms. It is thrilling to find new things in the middle of the familiar.

One day I had gone out for a run on my usual route. My earbuds were in and the stopwatch on my running app was clicking. My eyes were fixed straight ahead. I was out for a maintenance run; I was not seeking to explore something new.

But a small rock abruptly rolled my ankle and I had to rest on the guardrail for a moment. As I stretched it out and made sure there was no injury, I glanced down the bank and across the field as I always did when I ran this stretch of road. Then I did a double-take. Directly below me was a tidy little house, with a white fence and gate. A well-tended garden sat next to the house. Behind that was a wooden playset and a clothesline that stretched across the backyard, waving a string of colorful shirts. I wondered how I had never seen this homestead before, as it was obviously an older home and not a new construction.

I stepped back from the guardrail and had my answer. From the driving lanes, you would miss this entire scene that sat at the bottom of the steep embankment. It wasn’t a major find, yet I was amazed to see something I had never noticed on this road which I traveled almost daily my entire life. When I looked closer, I learned something new.

Our walk with God is similar. We can all look back and remember the fresh eyes with which we saw life after repenting and being saved. 2 Corinthians 5:17 describes it as “…old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” This is a wonderful time in a young Christian’s experience, when everything is new. How easy it is then to see the great power of the blood and the change it brings to one’s life. There are many discoveries and changes in those first months of living for God.

What happens in a Christian’s experience in the following years depends upon their desire and choices. We can let spiritual things become dull if we fail to see and hear what God is showing us. We can maintain, but never grow. We can decide the direction of our path without considering God’s plan for us, His vessels. We can determine in our mind who the preached message is for and miss our own portion. We can think ahead, fretting about what is coming our way, yet never praying for God’s intervention. All the while, we claim to be walking with the Lord. We miss so much when we have nothing more than a “drive-by” experience.

We do not serve a one-dimensional God. His every facet ties together wonderfully, line upon line. Each part of His word serves an important purpose. No matter the changes of our lives, it remains constant and necessary. Yet there are undiscovered blessings laying in its pages. How thrilling for the child of God to find even the worn pages of their Bible fresh and relevant. Many times I have read a familiar scripture as though I was reading it for the first time. Some days, I read a scripture that I am sure I have never read before or rediscover a passage that saw me through past difficulties. What treasures they are to me. God promised to reveal truth to the redeemed who seek it.

The next few years will have its challenges, both old and new. Seek to get deeper in God’s Word, to both root yourself further in His truth and to find excitement in it. Don’t ask for the paths to change, ask God to help you see what you have been missing, through spiritual eyes!  “…ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.”  Jeremiah 6:16

We are privileged to sit under true gospel preaching each week; messages that are deeper than just words on the page. Our pastor is skilled in tying together those scriptures that lay out the foundations of faith, and those that add vivid color to the Word. The messages are alive, not a dead letter!

Don’t be satisfied with a drive-by experience. Get out on foot. Exert some spiritual sweat to find undiscovered gems. When you find them, tuck them away in your heart when you need them. Share their beauty with others around you. Go explore the paths of truth and enjoy all the hidden riches God has for you.

~ R. Smith

Resources For Your Run

There are so many parallels between physical running and life. Let’s consider in this article our course maker and what He provides to ensure our success as a runner.

God is our course creator, the master of directing a path and measuring our steps. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.” (Psalm 37:23)

Can you picture God at His drawing board, taking such great care in the way He plans for you and being delighted by the perfection of that plan? Every direction He takes us intersects perfectly in His master drawing. Any hard climb, rocky terrain or sudden turn is included in His purpose.

These things will teach us how to be a better runner. As you run, pray for those things you need and know that God takes note of those requests. He will send you by a shady path when you’re overheated and tired.

He will give you a challenging climb when your mind starts to drift. He will guide you to water when you are depleted. Know that your prayers move God! Trust the course creator. He doesn’t make mistakes. Remember that He already sent His Son through the hardest course ever known to man.

What a reigning champion to look to! Jesus Christ, the same today as yesterday and forevermore. Jesus had His weak moments throughout His race as well. Two we know of: once after fasting alone in the desert for 40 days (Matthew 4:1-11) and again in the Garden of Gethsemane until His arrest and eventual crucifixion. Christ felt the lowest that any man could ever feel; He suffered the mental and physical pain of torture and the spiritual pain of all the sins of the world. Yet He prevailed over sin. His testimony is proof to us that we can be an overcomer through God in any difficulty. He gave so much help for us in His Word. The Bible is the best runner’s instructional to ever be written.

We also enjoy the benefits of God’s precious and faithful Spirit- His voice that comes to comfort us when we are weary and directs our steps. That gentle prodding to keep good form when we begin to lag behind, the correction when we veer from the trail or balk at what lies ahead. “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21) How can we fail if we use the tools God has provided?

Another priceless commodity is our running coach, our God-called pastor. The mouthpiece for the course creator, he spurs us on in our run toward eternity. How many times do we hear our coach calling out times from his stop watch, noting where we need to speed up and keep pace and where we need to conserve our strength for the run ahead. The ministry are the ones faithfully working with the runners, keeping us on schedule. They make the race practical for us. They get out there and do the hard runs with us, telling us how to keep better form, reminding us of the things we know but may have let slip in the heat of the run. Sometimes they are there with a cold drink of water to refresh us and at times they provide a stern talk if we feel like stopping. How faithful he is to each runner!

A good runner sees his coach as a blessing, not a bother. He knows no success without a great coach. “For he is the minister of God to thee for good.” (Romans 13:4)

When he led the children of Israel, Moses worked to coach a bunch of weak runners. They whined and spoke against their leader time and time again. How narrow-minded and small their vision was. They complained of their diet, the distance they had to go and at times stomped away from the race with the petulance of children. Because of their unfaithfulness many of them never reached their destination.

Use your coach for your help, trust the course creator and finish your race in victory!

By R. Smith

The Eleventh Mile Climb

During my second half-marathon, located in the steep hills of the Laurel Highlands, I learned a secret of running: You have more strength than you think and it doesn’t come from training or preparation, but from your own determination.

There are times in life we feel inadequate or overwhelmed. Often, our capabilities are limited by our own minds. Self-preservation causes us to look at life and say, “I can bear this, but never that. I can cope with this, but never that. I can endure this pain, but surely not that.”  We pose boundaries on our test, sometimes before it even begins.

Yet, when a greater trial or burden comes our way, we find a way to endure. How? Only by God’s strength and grace, step by step. The problem with our human minds is that we look at situations as a whole and not one step at a time. We take one long gaze at the mountain and feel faint at the thought of conquering it. We act as though we are running a whole race in an instant.

Of course, anyone who attempts to run this way will fail. That foolish person will collapse under the strain of an impossible feat. But one step at a time? That is doable. You can endure much more than you think if you put energy into your next footfall, rather than thinking of the many miles ahead. Will it be uncomfortable, even painful? Of course. But you do have the strength within you. It comes from a determined mind and purposed heart to follow God to the end.

On this particular half-marathon, the first two miles included a steep climb to the top of a ridge. Never had I trained on inclines so steep or long. I managed to keep a running pace, but by the top, my legs were already feeling like jelly, and I still had eleven miles left.

Having already reviewed the course online, I knew there was a much steeper eleventh-mile climb that lasted almost to mile thirteen. My mind raced to the hill that I hadn’t reached yet and I immediately felt defeated. In that moment, I contemplated stopping. I didn’t feel prepared; my legs were not strong enough for this race.

But I kept on, saying to myself, “I know I can at least run this mile here in front of me.” On I continued, repeating this to myself across flat stretches and slight dips, tripping through the rocky trails that wound through the dense forest. By the time I reached the eleventh mile, I was sore and my ankles were throbbing.

Suddenly, I was staring up at the dreaded hill. It was an awesome and overwhelming sight. Up the muddy trail stretched, curving out of view. The runners ahead were bent at the waist, bear-crawling when the path grew too steep to run. I heaved for air and wondered if this would be where I failed.

Yet I didn’t want to fail, so I endured. Charging at the hill, I determined to finish. That climb was the toughest physical and mental challenge I have ever encountered as a runner. About 500 feet into the incline, running was no longer an option. The ground was slick with mud. Every step took monumental energy. After fighting to gain a few feet of progress and slipping every step, I became mad at that mountain. This would not be the end.

I passed by a young man who had shot out ahead in the starting mile. He was clearly a seasoned runner, but now he crouched, looking up defeatedly while holding a cramp in his side. It occurred to me that even the young, strong and fit will be challenged by the race. At some point, everyone looks failure in the face. “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall. But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:30-31)

I became fixated on the finish line. Each step, I thought of the satisfaction I would feel in receiving my medal. This would not merely be a race I had run; this was a race I had fought for! At long last, I reached the summit and looked back down at the beautiful view of the autumn foliage. I wasn’t done running, but that medal was as good as mine. You see, once I determined to finish, there was nothing great enough to discourage me. Even though I felt weak in those miles, I was proving the strength of my resolve.

We all have those eleventh-mile climbs. There are days of pain and frustration in life. Sometimes we look ahead and see only a steep trail ahead. We must keep climbing. We must do what we can today, in this mile. We will reach the summit and enjoy the view. We will taste victory. It will be by the strength of God within our hearts. If we resolve not to fail, and rely on Him to bring us through, we can endure anything. You can endure anything. “And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

– By R Smith

Starting To Run

Over the past five years, I have renewed my love of running. On my outings, thoughts about our spiritual race come to me and I write them down when I return home. These lessons from being on the trail come to my mind whenever I face a new challenge in life. What we encounter along the way gives us so many opportunities to learn.

In his writings to the Church, the apostle Paul often compared the Christian life to running a race. “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Why was running  so often chosen over, say, jousting or chariot racing? For one thing, a long race requires patience. This life is not a sprint, nor is it a boxing match that lasts a few minutes before a new round begins. It is one continuous path that we run until we reach the finish line.

Along the way are many different challenges, but there is no winning in running unless you run the full course. Each runner is victorious the moment they step through the finish gate, no matter who crossed before or who is coming behind. You must run your own race. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” (Galatians 6:4)

Another element to running a race is the full submission a runner must have to the maker of the course. There are no short-cuts. You can complain about your path ‘s difficulties, but it only slows down your progress and steals your enjoyment of the race. Some might decide to stop and turn aside when facing the grueling parts of a race, but they lose out in the process.

A runner never wants to have a DNF (did not finish) on their results. The only way to win is to endure through whatever the race holds. A runner must reach the point of compliance. Their will is no longer a factor in the run, and they are content to follow the path set before them. “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)

Perhaps you have not yet started in this Christian race and you are instead consumed in the rat race of life, seeking for prosperity and happiness in temporary ways.

Through God’s Word, we learn how to run the only race that truly matters, that which gains us eternal life. All the success you may find in this world will not give you lasting joy. There is only one way to get that prize. Come hear the true gospel preached, repent and receive God’s forgiveness. Begin your new race. If you ‘re already in this contest, do not be distracted by the affluence of this world or grow discouraged by the obstacles. There is only one way to be victorious: run! “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” (1 Corinthians 9:24)

– R Smith