CLOSER THAN WE THINK & FURTHER THAN WE'RE WILLING TO GO

When I was in the Marine Corps we had to do PT (Physical Training) as a unit several times a week. We did all kinds of miserable things that were called “training” and other times we would just run.

In a single or double file lines our Senior Staff Noncommissioned Officer (SNCO) would take us out for what could be anywhere from a 3 to 11 mile run. By the time I reported to my permanent unit I was used to them, or as used to them as you can get.

Running, like hiking, in the Marine Corps is pretty much a given. Everyone runs, everyone hikes.

But there were some really interesting things I began to notice over time. We weren’t in charge of the run so we never knew where or how far we were going to run. We just followed him out at an average to slightly above average pace as we were conditioned to do.

Run after run I would see Marines struggle. Because we were one unit, the expectation was for some of us to ‘drop back’ and encourage said Marine to speed him up. He/she would most times speed up, to eventually fall back again. Speed up and fall back. Each time they fell back catching up got harder.

To motivate the struggling Marine or Marines, we would often be required to play a ‘game’ (I’m using this term loosely. In the Marine Corps if anyone ever says lets play a game’ just run, hide, and pray). A person at the end of the line had to run a circle around the unit as they ran. This meant if someone had fallen far back you had to run all the way to them in the rear, then back to the front, around the SNCO and take the place at the front of the line. As soon as you took your place the next person in the back would take off.

I say all that to say, we never ran further than we were already physically conditioned to run. We never ran faster than we were physically conditioned to run. But every time we ran, Marines fell out and the cycle started again.

It took me a while to put my finger on the issue, but somewhere in my 5 years it hit me one day while on a run. The problem wasn’t the distance or the speed. They fell out because they didn’t know where or how far we were going.

It was psychological. The mind has one job, one mission that takes precedence over everything else it does. One takes that is supreme above all others.

Stay alive!

That’s it. Self-preservation is everything.

So when we took off on these runs, for many guys their minds began to toy with them.

The mind would whisper things like…

“This is too fast!!”

“How far are we going? We can run this fast and not know where the end is.”

“This is crazy, this feels really fast, like Olympic fast. And this isn’t a track. There are hills!!”

“We’ll never make it and they don’t care of you die out here.”

“If you don’t take care of you no one will.”

“I think you sprained your ankle or tore your Achilles and blew out your knee at the same time. You should stop before your leg falls off.”

And for some, they could not silence the voice. They could not stay in reality. They would lose control of their breathing. Then they would feel their legs burning for oxygen. They would become oblivious to the reality, “we are running at a normal pace and will run a normal distance for us”. It all became lost in self-preservation.

It was interesting to get to the end of maybe a normal pace 6 mile run and see those guys finally finish. They would finish wheezing and breathing like they were about to die on the spot. And then in two minutes or less they were joking and laughing and feeling fine.

They used to tell us the mind starts quitting long before the body comes close to its limits. Why? Its job, self-preservation.

Talking to a brother recently this came up. The idea that God’s redemptive work is miraculous in form but not necessarily in time. That suffering is translated in our hearts and minds as a negative that God then turns into a positive. Instead of a positive that turns our hearts to God.

In love, not just merciful ‘save you from the fire’ love but ‘I want to see you know the fullness of who I am and who I created you to be’ love; God takes us on a ‘run’.

He is with us. He never leaves us. He goes before us.

And yet we want to know where we are going. We demand to know how far or how long. And when we don’t get the answer. When the enemy speaks to us. When the doubt presses in. When all of those things begin to happen we exit reality and enter carnality.

James 1:2-4 says this…

‘Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.’

‘Let steadfastness have its full effect’

In other words go, hurry, get to the end of your rope and when you get there hold on. Go stand in the face of hungry lions and cursing people and when you get there stay there.

Why would we do this?

‘That you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.’

What the run revealed wasn’t a lack of fitness, it wasn’t a lack of toughness, it was an lack of devotion or steadfastness.

Devotion to what? Our devotion is to be to the gospel that has come to bring eternal hope and full restoration. And this gospel is more valuable, more beautiful, more freeing than all else, or so we say. Now if we believe the gospel to be all that, then it is without a doubt something to be devoted to, steadfast in. If we believe the gospel to be so transformative then we would say with the Apostle John, “I must decrease, Christ must increase” or the Apostle Paul, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

For me, I confess, my struggles are not that God asks so much of me or prevents so little from happening to me. My struggles are that I lack devotion. I want that verse in James to use the word ‘toughness’ or ‘power’. I want the ability to not stay there, to leave and never return.

Which reminds me of another common conversation I have with brothers and sisters. In a general way it goes a lot like this.

‘Life is really hard and I’m praying like crazy but it is not letting up. I’m praying more than I ever have in volume and consistency. I’m even trying to listen, like really listen but nothing is happening.’

My response is something like this…

‘First I am so sorry for what you are going through. I can only imagine how hard this is. But you said something about praying and how it’s different. Can I ask you this? If tomorrow everything was made right and life went back to a time when you weren’t enduring all that you are now, would you still pray the same? Or maybe I should say when you think back to that time, how was your prayer life?’

The answer is always the same and you know what it is so I won’t repeat it. We feel weighed down by the answer that we know so well, probably even now.

But I also ask this question, ‘When you are listening, what are you listening for?’

The thing is, if we are listening for what we want to hear instead of what God is saying, then for Him to say anything is to be misunderstood. And so silence is the best answer, until the day comes when we are ready to hear His words in our hearts, not our words in His mouth.

We were made to run. The run is where we learn who we are in Him. The run is where we learn who He is. He knows our limitations and our weaknesses. And we know that the testing of our faith will end with us becoming perfect and complete lacking in nothing.

Yet we want to quit. We fall back and lose heart. We doubt and become overrun with more doubt. We pray, but not to run faster or stronger. We pray not to run. And it's a prayer He just cannot answer if He truly loves us.

It is what makes Romans 5 is so awesome!

“...knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” - Romans 5:3-5

Paul says, ‘Hope does not put us to shame’. He has never been the God of ‘only the people that get it right every time’ or ‘the people that only get it wrong one time’. God is near to the brokenhearted.

So tomorrow, if you're free, I’m going for a run. I fell out last time and the time before. Tomorrow I’ll start again.

I don’t know where God is taking me, how fast we are running, or how far He wants me to go, but I’m going again.

If you’re wondering how. If you’re asking yourself, ‘How can we just jump back in and go again?” See Romans 5:8 and repeat after me…, BUT GOD!!!

See ya on the trails, I’ll fight to keep up this time.

Jonathan Francois