“I have to get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning to get my 20 miles in before my kid’s soccer game.”
“I need to get 12 miles in before work tomorrow so I’ll have to get to bed early so I can wake up early.”
“I can’t eat that. I have a race coming up.”
“I can’t play with you guys. I have a race next weekend.”
Do those sentences sound like someone who is free? Doesn’t that person sound restricted? Tied down? Hemmed in? Controlled? Maybe obsessed?
These are sentences I’ve uttered at some point recently. Notice the verbiage, “have to”, “need to” and “can’t”. Sounds kind of bad, doesn’t it? It sounds negative. I want to submit to you that those seemingly negative words were uttered in order to produce something positive. Those words and the actions that followed were acts of discipline. These were strategic choices made in order to achieve a specific goal. I have to do “A GOAL”, so I need to perform A, B, and C in order to do that. An in order to do those, I have to say no to some other things.
“‘Obsessed’ is a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”
When I sign up for a race, I am not committing to just show up on race day and run X amount of miles. I am committing to weeks and months of miles and workouts to get my body into the shape to run that race to the best of my ability. That one decision affects the way I will organize my time and efforts until that race is done. There will be temptation to deviate from that plan and take the easy way out, but if I am disciplined, I will stay the course and train properly. Putting in the training not only prepares my body for the task, it also gives me mental tools I’ll need in the middle of the race.
There are many motivating factors I draw upon when running a race. Some of them deal with considering the amount of effort I’ve put in to get to this point. Oh the thoughts that go through your head when it’s dark-thirty and I’ve still got 20, 30, or even 150 miles left to run (Tahoe)! The doubts and the temptation to give in can be powerful. However, thinking about all of the training that I’ve put in gives me both determination to get it done and the confidence to do it.
I think of the spreadsheet full of numbers that represent the miles I ran each week as part of my build up for this race. I consider every early morning I woke up and hit the streets to get those miles in before work. I think about the junk (good) food I said “no” to in order to give my body the fuel it needs to recover and be ready for the next morning’s workout. I consider the sweat soaked clothes. I visualize the muddy, bloody knees from falling during a trail run. I think about the days of soreness that permeated my body after my weekend long runs. All of the miles, time, blood, and sweat serve as mental fuel for me to finish what I started and I am determined to not let that go to waste! “I can’t quit! Look at the sacrifices I’ve made to be here!”
In the same way the work I put in makes me determined to finish what I started, it also gives me a confidence that I’ve done the work that should result in completing the task. Here’s where the idea of “discipline = freedom” comes in. Because I’ve run over 1,000 miles in training for this race and many hours at the gym, I can dare to think I can finish this race. That time, those miles, the blood and sweat, all serve as a reminder that I’ve prepared my body for this task and give me a confidence I can draw upon when the adrenaline wears off and the race gets tough.
When you see a solo guitarist masterfully playing a solo on the guitar, you see freedom. That freedom came from many years of disciplined practice. Going over scales and chords over and over again. That freedom came from discipline. In the same way, the freedom to run 100 miles comes from the discipline to prepare for it. In the same way, I can know I’m prepared for the miles ahead.
So here’s where I connect this with life and where my thoughts go when I’m on the trail….
Spiritually, it’s the same.
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” -2 Timothy 1:7
So many Christians live lives feeling defeated emotionally and spiritually. They hit a bump in the road and fall apart. They fail the test. They started the race and puttered out before the finish line. I think many of them didn’t discipline themselves to be prepared for the test. Paul encouraged Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7 to “discipline yourself for godliness.” We don’t just magically become spiritual at the point of salvation in the same way we don’t become an ultramarathon runner because we decide to go for a run.
How in the world do we discipline ourselves for Godliness? Well, there’s a list of “Spiritual Disciplines” that we can work on to grow ourselves. However, I thought I’d focus on the two that I find most important. In fact, Donald Whitney, whose book I commend to you (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life), agrees that the most important disciplines of the list are Bible reading and prayer (https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-spiritual-disciplines-are-most-important).
In God’s Word, we see God for who He really is and we see ourselves for who we really are. We discover God’s love for us and how we are to live out our love for Him. We learn of wrath and punishment, but also of grace and mercy. The more we feed off of the Word of God, the more we see the World as it truly is. Read the Word. Learn the Word. Hide the Word in your heart. That way when doubts and fears come, you have the reminders of the very Word of God of how things actually are and will be. The other is prayer. Read the Word of God and talk to God. Simple. We were created to commune with Him. So, we should do it.
When a race gets tough, I look at the work I did to prepare for that race and I am determined to finish because of the work I put in and I am confident that I can because of that work. Well, when life gets rough and I can’t see the future clearly, I don’t look at what I’ve done in life. I look at what God has done. I see His work! I see the work that God did on the cross. I see my Savior’s blood, sweat, and tears and I am determined to move forward because of it! I see the price He paid so that I can have LIFE and have it ABUNDANTLY! I want to strive to live a life worthy of that price! Then, when I am reminded that He defeated death, hell and the grave in that work, I am confident that He will see me through whatever I’m going through! HE IS ABLE! There is such a freedom in that!
We should remind ourselves daily. We discipline ourselves for Godliness so that we can live in the freedom and confidence of who God is.