Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thoughts from the treadmill

It’s January.  And as I have done for more times than I care to discuss here, I have resolved to exercise.  Along those lines, I let slip to my kids (who are white belts) that I should take an adult karate class. So at the strong encouragement of my children, who delight in the idea of their mom kicking and “ki-ah-ing” right along with them, I spoke with the Sensi of their dojo. He was very enthusiastic, but did caution me that I shouldn’t eat dinner before coming to class. “Why,” was my naïve response. With what I consider a truly wicked grin, he responded, “So you don’t puke on the mats. Most first-timers do.”

Excuse me? Did you say, “puke?!”

As you can imagine, I am oh-so excited to start karate. In fact, I’m wondering exactly how long I can put off joining this class. I do have to see Sensi four times a week for my children’s classes, so I can’t completely avoid him. However, to make my yes be yes, I have resolved to get in shape (at least develop some muscle and endurance) before I start karate classes. Because, frankly I can imagine few things more humiliating than vomiting in front of other adults due solely to the fact that I can’t hack the workout. Yeah, it’s a pride thing. But I don’t think I could summon the strength to show my face at the dojo again, which would be a tragic way to end my kids’ budding karate careers.

As I was sweating profusely on the evil elliptical (right beside Barbie, who had been on her machine 30 minutes longer than I, and was only glistening the way aerobic-video instructors do, not the way people drenched in their own perspiration shine), I was commending myself for my resolve to get into shape so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed when I took a class to get into shape. “Ha,” I thought to myself, “I won’t throw up, I will even be able to keep up.” (Yes, if you must know, that was most likely the delightful cocktail of endorphins and peppy, workout music on the mp3 player talking.) And then, I had a sobering, more realistic thought flit into my brain: “what if, after all this personal preparation, I still puke?” I stole a glance at Barbie, to make sure she couldn’t read the mortification in my thoughts. Thankfully, she was grinning as happily as ever, flaunting her feat of sweat-free elliptical endurance.

It was then that I realized a number of the body of Christ approach our God this way. “Thanks for the invitation, God; but I’ve got some messy stuff I have to take care of first. After I deal with all of that, then we’ll talk.” Oh, I’m not just talking about people on the verge of conversion; I am primarily referring to those among us (myself chief amongst us) who consider themselves unworthy of serving, evangelizing, disciplining.

When we experience the invitation to serve, we reason that first we must get our act together. We need to whip ourselves in to spiritual shape before we can be useful to God. In our current state, we are too depraved, too messy, too fleshly. We need to be the model mother/wife/friend/daughter/neighbor/domestic diva/culinary whiz (one does need to entertain, does one not, when becoming a servant?), etc. We need to be better versed in Scripture, increasingly well-read, a stronger apologist, a more motivating leader, a more humble person, a little more mature, more organized, more articulate, more empathetic...Until our personal lists extend beyond our ability.

Granted, there are biblical qualifications for leadership, laid out in Titus 1-2 and 1st Timothy 3, to which we should adhere. However, God does not expect us to fix ourselves before serving Him. Quite frankly, He is all too aware that we can’t fix ourselves. Only an intimate relationship with Him can enable us to deal with our mess. Scripture, in fact, tells us that [God’s] grace is sufficient for you, for [His] power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9). When we enter into service, not under our own power or abilities, but with the full knowledge and admission that we can NOT do anything apart from God, to whom are we assigning glory? Certainly not ourselves, in our weak and flawed flesh. We accept that, without God, we are insufficient. And through our weakness, our junk, our messes, He is evident, He is perfect, He is glorified.

The more humbly we submit ourselves and our mess to Him, through service, the more we have to rely on His power to get us through. The more evident it becomes to those we are serving, that we are not the ones responsible for our seemingly endless grace or love or wisdom. It can only be God.

And isn’t that how it should be? All the glory, honor, and praise going to God, instead of to ourselves in our own abilities?

So, instead of hitting the spiritual elliptical (whatever that looks like for you: becoming the model Christian, strengthening your apologetics, or waiting for maturity to smack you upside the head), hit your knees. Admit that you can’t do whatever it is you’re being called to do. Tell God that this task is so far outside of your abilities that you’ll puke on the mats (figuratively, of course). Beg His help, His guidance, His presence.

And then get up and do it. Because His grace is sufficient for you; God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Cor 1:27). God chose you. He is with you in your obedience. Joshua 1:9 assures us of this promise: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

So get off the spiritual treadmill and get on your spiritual mission.

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