Strong Finish

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.

Henry David Thoreau

Ever taken a 30-day challenge? Did it feel like it was three months long? I am involved in two challenges for the month of July that involve different aspects of writing. My first challenge is to finish a revision of my current novel in progress, and the second is to finish setting up my website. I want to end the month strong. I want the satisfaction that comes with completing something, knowing I have done my best.

And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men

Colossians 3:23

The Christian life is made up of seasons with unique challenges and blessings. We move from season to season like a runner completing segments of a race. It is a marathon that requires endurance and perseverance. But, we don’t run this race alone. We have a great cloud of witnesses, past and present, who run alongside us toward the prize.

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, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2

As we run the race, we need to remember whose name is on our jersey. As Christians we carry Christ’s name, and we shouldn’t do anything that brings Him shame or disgrace. No one is perfect, and we all fall short. God knows our hearts and our weaknesses as human beings, and He is full of grace and mercy when we come to Him.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14

Like, Paul, I don’t count myself as having apprehended, but I keep trying to move forward by the grace of God. One day we will all cross the finish line, and everyone who finishes gets a crown because Jesus has already won it for us.

So, to finish strong we just need to focus on the next leg of the race and on the author and finisher of our faith. Let’s help each other run the race so that we can hear God say:

Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Matthew 25:23

Just Start

Part 1 of a Work in Progress (WIP)

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. “Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked. “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

My to-do list has lists at the moment. Sitting on my desk are ideas for four non-fiction pieces, an idea for a short work of fiction to use as a giveaway, and my blog post idea turned into a blog post series idea. Not to mention, today I began work on a website for my writing which has a to-do list of its ow,n along with sub-lists of lists. My head is spinning like the little blue circle on my computer that show up when I’ve asked it to compute more than it can compute. What’s a writer to do?

Just start!

That was the command Anne Lamott gave to her writing students in the book Bird by Bird. They wanted to know how to be published authors, and she said you have to start writing first. The thought of writing a novel, the thought of having my own website, the thought of spiritual growth and revival all sound great in theory. It is the working it out that slows us down. My first question is where do I start?

Just start!

The king in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had it right when he said start at the beginning. You have to start where you are. No matter what path lies in front of you, start from where you are and take a step forward. One of the things I learned about anxiety is that action is one of the greatest weapons against it. If you sit and think about something, you will begin to imagine all the worst case scenarios and begin a negative spiral downward until you are frozen in place. However, if you just take action, you are literally and figuratively one step ahead. It frees you to keep moving.

But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

If you are moving, then you are making progress, which fuels you to keep moving. Our spiritual walk is just that, a daily walk. We have to get out of bed every morning and decide to walk. We have to start from where we are: sinners saved by grace. Then, we move forward a step at a time through whatever the day holds, whatever life’s journey holds. But, we don’t walk alone.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.

Isaiah 43:2

We have a guide and a companion who goes alongside us. So, there is no need to fear what might lie ahead. Our job is to take it one step at a time. With Christ as our Shepherd and Leader, we can’t get lost, although we might go down a rabbit hole or two. Just like Alice we get to the same place at the journey’s end, home sweet home. In the meantime… what is it you need to do?

Just start! Take it one thing at a time and enjoy the moment. It’s all a work in progress, including me.

Coming next week: Part 2 of Work in Progress… Stuck in the Middle

A Little Less, A Little More

“A little more kindness, a little less speed, a little more giving, a little less greed, a little more smile, a little less frown, a little less kicking, a man while he’s down, a little more “we”, a little less “i”, a little more laugh, a little less cry, a little more flowers, on the pathway of life, and fewer on graves, at the end of the strife.”

Mark Twain

As I was driving into work, I noted that the misfiring/coughing sound my car had been making was a little less annoying. It wasn’t gone, but it was a little better. When I poured the golden elixir into my empty gas tank and filled up with fresh gas, I had hoped for an instant cure. No such luck. So, it was day five and over half a tank later, and it was still hesitating, but a little less every day.

I feel the same way about the yoga exercises I have been doing. It’s a 30-day back strengthening set of videos that are 6-16 minutes long, depending on the day. I am on day 26 today. All week my legs have been complaining because there were a lot of squats in the last few videos. The same day I noticed the car was a little better, I noticed my legs were a little less tight and sore.

But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.

1 Peter 5:10

There is a song we used to sing in church, especially the children, titled God’s Still Working on Me. However, it is not just for children. God is still working on all of us, and as much as we would like it to be an instant cure, it is not. Our salvation is instant the moment that we accept Christ as Lord, but our salvation is also being worked out in us as we go day to day.

12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. 13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-14

It’s a process that gets a little better every day. Like the apostle Paul and Mark Twain, I hope to do a little better every day as I aim toward a higher goal. Many days I want to roll over in bed and go back to sleep, but as Proverbs warns us:

10 Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: 11 So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.

Proverbs 6:10-11

Not to mention those muscles won’t get any better if I don’t work out the soreness. So, on my day off, I am up and writing this post before my coffee has finished brewing. It’s a testament to God’s grace that He made this one flow quickly this morning when He knows I have to work on my day off. Maybe I will be a little less sore today and my car a little less cranky, and maybe we will all be a little more Christ like today.

Not Alone

Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn look to the east.

Gandalf – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers J.R.R. Tolkien

In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the battle of Helms Deep looked grim as the enemy surrounded the only entrance and there seemed no hope for victory. It was a long night, but at dawn, Gandalf arrives with reinforcements just as he promised. The Bible is full of God’s promises to His children, but sometimes we have to wait for it to be fulfilled. The waiting time can see like an eternity, but if we keep our eyes focused on God, we will always have hope.

When we are waiting, it is easy to get distracted by the world around us. For example, in 1 Kings we find the story of Elijah who has just prayed down fire from Heaven and wiped out the prophets of Baal. When he hears of Jezebel’s threats, Elijah feels like he is alone in a battle he cannot win and he hides in despair.

14 And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away…18 Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.

1 Kings 19:14, 18

After some rest and nourishment, God tells Elijah that he has seven thousand who are still loyal to Him and that he is not alone in the fight. From our vantage point, we might wonder how Elijah could go from boldly confronting the prophets of Baal to hiding and whining, but it is often after great victories that the enemy will attack us with doubts. Winning a tough victory takes a lot of energy: physical, spiritual and mental. We need to remember that like Elijah we are not alone.

The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.

Psalm 68:11

Being a writer is often solitary work, but I am not the only one writing the word God has given. He has many other writers, each with their own message to share. Writing groups allow writers to share and encourage one another so that we know that there other people who have been through some of the same issues and some who have had success. By sharing our stories, we build each other up. The trick is to find the right community for you.

Besides finding a like-minded community to offer support and accountability, we also need to ensure that we also take care of ourselves. First, we need to rest because we are more vulnerable if we are tired. Also, we need to make sure we have proper nourishment because hunger is another point of attack. Finally, or maybe firstly, we need to pray so that we are connected to our true source of energy.

Once you have strengthened yourself, then it is time to get back to work. If we sit idle too long, we are subject to remaining idle, which can lend itself to wallowing. This weekend I battled another round with those pesky fleas, which included wrangling two angry cats into carriers and to the vet followed by a thorough cleaning of the house. I took Friday and Saturday off from writing this blog as a result, but I rested, I ate, and I went to church. Now, I am finishing my assignment. So eat, rest, and pray, but don’t wallow. If you lay down with dogs, or cats, and wallow you just wake up with fleas. So, get up and get back to work. It’ll make you feel better.

Marathon Mentality

Hanging Out

It usually happens at least a few times a week if not a few times a day. Meep will suddenly jump off the couch and burst into a run, tearing through the house at breakneck speeds. She often takes laps through the house, or sometimes it is suicide run in a straight line. Sometimes the other cats join in. It lasts for several minutes and then stops as suddenly as it started, followed by a thorough bath and a series of naps in various locations throughout the house.

On other occasions, the three cats will combine forces, especially when uninvited guests enter the picture. Whether it is a mouse or just a bug, the three cats will take turns stalking their prey with patience and diligence. One night in particular I found all three surrounding my piano, each one covering an avenue of escape. I later found them in the same position around the refrigerator. The next morning their attack plan was proven effective when I found their prey, an unfortunate mouse, belly up in the middle of the floor. The cats were inordinately pleased with themselves. It had taken all night, but they had achieved their goal.

There are times in life that call for a sprint, a quick surge of adrenaline in an emergency situation, but for the most part, life is a marathon. It takes patience and pacing, like the cats hunting for their prey. Those two traits are rare in today’s society, where people are always in a hurry to reach their goals and get to the top any way they can.

Tortoise and HareMost people are familiar with the story of The Tortoise and the Hare. The hare was a sprinter who was always bounding off and then getting distracted. The tortoise moved at a steady pace, keeping the goal in mind as he moved forward. He wasn’t distracted by what was going on in the world around him, especially not the hare. In the end, the tortoise won the race because his focus was on crossing the finish line to the best of his ability, not on what the hare was doing.

As Christians, life is mostly a marathon which is more in keeping with the attitude of the tortoise than the hare. Hebrews 12:1 says, “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.” The world is weighed down by doubts and fears, but Christians know the end of the story. We are victorious through the sacrifice of Christ, and we strive each day to follow in his footsteps as we run our race.

Life is a marathon; therefore, we need to train like a marathon runner. So, as the hares of the world go bouncing off in a million directions announcing the end of the world, keep moving forward toward the goal of becoming more like Christ, one step at a time. Because we know: “that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:3b-5). We have hope because we know that Christ has gained the victory for us. If we keep our eyes on him who is our goal, the worries of the world will fade from view. Like the tortoise and the cats, we too will reach the goal if we run with patience the race before us.

Persistence of a Cat

2011-09-26 21.31.06

Meep is persistent when she wants something. That’s a polite way of saying she’s pushy. For example, she has a thing about having to share my food whenever I’m eating. I’ve read that some breeds of cats have this tendency, so it may be genetic. However, it is also quite aggravating at times and often ends with her getting her way so that she will leave me alone. She can be quite ingenious in her methods.

One day I was eating my lunch, and as usual she was sitting on the arm of the chair next to me. Every few seconds her paw would come out and tap my arm, or reach for my plate. I would wave her away or try to ignore her. This had been going on for several minutes without results, so she changed tactics. I had a glass of water sitting on the end table in a plastic tumbler. With the precision and audacity only a cat can pull off, she swatted the glass and knocked it over. As the water went pouring out, I jumped up and put my plate on a nearby footstool. I ran into the kitchen to grab a towel. When I returned, I found Meep making off with part of my lunch.

I would have thought it was just an opportunistic grab if she hadn’t tried the same thing a few days later. She had planned the whole thing. From then on, I had to keep an eye on my water glass or use heavier glassware that was harder to turn over. Cats are persistent. When they want something, they will keep trying until they get it, whether it is a bite of your food or just some attention. They rarely take no for an answer. If we applied that level of persistence to our prayer lives, imagine what God could accomplish through us. In Matthew 15:21-28, a woman came to Jesus with a need and refused to leave until the need was met. She had faith that Jesus held the solution to her problem:

 21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.

22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.

24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.

26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.”

Praying HandsHer request was granted because of her faith in Jesus’ ability to solve her problem and her persistence in asking. We have not because we ask not or we ask for the wrong things (James 4:2). When we pray in God’s will, we can be sure that He will answer our prayers, but we have to be willing to accept His way and His timing. If we are as persistent as the Canaanite woman, or Meep, we will see Him move in our lives because the purpose of prayer is not to change God’s mind; it is to change us so that we are more like Jesus. Keep praying and see what He will do.