In the Wilderness

Photo 150126889 / Pikes Peak © Sherri Brown | Dreamstime.com

The wilderness. 

Scripturally speaking, the wilderness is a place we often seek to get through, rather than camp there. 

Moses and the children of Israel wandered forty years there because they lacked the faith to enter the Promised Land (Numbers 14:31).

Hagar ended up there twice, once when escaping Sarai’s abuse and once when she and Ishmael were cast out to preserve Isaac’s place as the child of promise (Genesis 16, Genesis 21:8-21).

Jesus, led by the Holy Spirt, went there for testing before He got on with His ministry (Matthew 4:1).

I was challenged to rethink my perspective of the wilderness when I took my mom to church last Sunday. Her pastor mentioned that when we think of wilderness, we usually think of desert. Yet, when she Googled wilderness, she ended up with pictures of the Rockies. 

Then it dawned on me. 

When I go on vacation, my husband and I often travel to the wilderness. Hitting every national park is on my bucket list. I love the physical challenge of a good hike, the breath-taking views, and, fingers crossed, wildlife sightings. 

Could God have another purpose in the wilderness than the testing I’ve been taught? 

Well, like a good Bible scholar, I did my homework. 

My trusty NIV does indeed refer to the wilderness as desert. Barren and rocky. 

But—I’ve lived in the desert too. Honestly, it was tough coming back to Texas after living there.

Amazing sunsets. Flowering cacti. Lots of sunshine. We loved it.  

So, here are my questions:

Did Israel wander in the wilderness forty years so that the children of those who lacked faith could get to know their God enough to trust and obey Him and enter the Promised Land?

Both of Hagar’s wilderness experiences included divine encounters. Was that the point? One-on-one time with the Lord away from the distractions of civilization?

Jesus Himself depended on God for provision in the face of direct attacks from the enemy. I need those lessons too. 

Next time you head out into the great outdoors, here are a few things to consider:

1. What can you learn about God from the things you see?

2. What perspective does this piece of wilderness offer? (Ocean, mountain, prairie, etc.)

3. What word does God have for you here?

I recently hiked Pikes Peak (no snow). Above the tree line, there was rock. Lots of it. 

But there were also wildflowers. 

And cute cuddly animals, marmots and pikas, even at the highest elevations.

What treasures are hidden in your wilderness? God awaits you there.

Activities:

What’s your favorite outdoorsy place? Why?

If you aren’t outdoorsy, what’s holding you back?

Plan an outing. The beach counts. If you live in Texas, hang on. Fall is coming.

How to Train Your Sluggard (Or Cultivating a Strong Work Ethic)

ID 76107399 © Voyagerix | Dreamstime.com

If you want to teach spiritual principles to your children, look no further than the book of Proverbs. King Solomon graciously supplies us with word pictures and object lessons. Check out Proverbs 10:26 (NIV), “As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so are sluggards to those who send them.”

Let’s examine Solomon’s word pictures: vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes. Both assault the senses almost to the point of pain. Just reading the verse makes me wince. 

This verse speaks to work ethic. Discipline and diligence demand development. Solomon pictures what happens when they don’t develop.

Merriam-Webster defines a sluggard as a habitually lazy person. Lazy people not only erect obstacles that hinder personal success, but also handicap those who work over, with, and under them. 

Remember group projects in school? Who was the person you dreaded having in your group because you knew you would be doing your work—and theirs too? 

Here are some tips to cultivating a strong work ethic:

1. Identify weaknesses. What tends to trip them up?

2. Remove distractions.

3. Set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based.

4. Know your why. Why is this goal important? What will be gained from it?

5. Execute the plan. Start with small steps. 

6. Push through the hard part. Feelings don’t matter.

7. If they are disciplined in one area (like athletics or music), extend that discipline to a problem spot. 

8. Celebrate success with small rewards along the way and a big reward at the end.

Help them transform their habitual laziness into a disciplined work ethic. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Resources: zenhabits.net; forbes.com/tips-for-gaining-self-discipline/amp/.

Maintenance Doesn’t Maintain

ID 21415699 © Andrey Burmakin | Dreamstime.com

Maintenance leads to decline. 

I’ve been a runner since my senior year of high school when the new tennis coach took conditioning to another level. Since then, I’ve run five marathons, numerous 5Ks, and a few half marathons. 

Years have passed since my last marathon. I’ve been in maintenance mode. My times have slowed. My distances have shortened. I’m winded more quickly.

Maintenance has not maintained my fitness. 

Training brings urgency. Intentionality. The long run on Saturday didn’t depend on how I felt, the weather conditions, or the day’s activities. When I had a marathon on the schedule, training runs became mandatory. In addition to the long run, if I had a specific time I wanted to hit for that race, speedwork also became mandatory. 

Training demands a different mindset. Running changes from recreation to work. That’s why you can borrow my 5K Turkey Trot shirt but not my Dallas marathon one.

Training costs: time, effort, energy, muscle soreness . . . 

Training also rewards you with endurance, speed, mental toughness, perseverance, and a higher pain threshold. You gain confidence from fighting your flesh, overcoming obstacles, and mastering the mental voice that tells you to quit.

Similarly, I don’t want to find myself in spiritual maintenance mode – doing the same spiritual workouts, running the same spiritual routes, and expecting growth and improvement. It’s not gonna happen. So, how should we train spiritually?

Consult the Coach: God knows whether you’re facing a 5K, 10K, a half, a full marathon, or an ultra. He knows the course He has mapped for you (flat, hilly, sharp inclines) and the conditions you’ll face on the course (wind, humidity, heat, or rain). Ask Him to direct your Bible reading and other supplemental material. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, . . . the Spirit will receive from me [Jesus] what he will make known to you.” John 16:13, 15

Put The Time In: Do the work. Get up. Read your Bible. Pray. Journal. Worship. Get an accountability partner. 

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Track Your Training: Journal. Journal. Journal. What has God revealed? How has He answered prayer? Note your God-moments. 

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

Don’t fall victim to maintenance mode decline. Train with intentionality, direction, and purpose.

Workout for the Week: Maintenance Doesn’t Maintain

Memory Verse: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Corinthians 9:24-25

Meditation Passage: Hebrews 12:1-13

Do It: Train. 

How to Run Your Best Race

How to Run Your Best Race

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 NIV

Thanksgiving will be here soon and our family will toe the line at the neighborhood Turkey Trot 5K. I love the race analogy in Hebrews 12. The author of Hebrews must have been a runner, because he nailed several key items for peak performance. Let’s train with him today.

Extras: Sweats prepare cold muscles to run, but you don’t want to wear them for the race. Like training wheels on a bike, they help at first, but to really go, you have to take them off. What has prepared you that needs to go now?

  • Perhaps you’re a devotional fan, but reading Scripture alone seems too intimidating. Choose a short book and dive in. Allow the Holy Spirit to teach you.
  • How about personal worship? Great at church but have you ever tried it at home? Just you and God? Shed your self-consciousness.
  • And what about prayer? Are you an arrow pray-er, shooting prayers heavenward when needed? How about a prayer journal or an app like iPray? Like trading cotton socks for CoolMax, a larger investment gives greater returns.

Loose Ends: When I run, an untied shoestring claims my instant attention. Even double-tied, sometimes they come loose. Likewise, details of our character, left unchecked, can trip us. No one wants to face plant during a race because of an flapping shoestring. What area of your character needs some attention to detail? Worldliness? Flesh issues? Warfare? Identify the problem and eliminate any loose ends.

Run Your Course: Your race. My race. They share similarities, but we’ll run two different courses. Even my husband’s daily course differs from mine. He spends his day surrounded by people, engaged in conversation, and moving from one place to the next. I spend mine in solitude. Butt in chair. Me, the computer, and the dog. And it works—by God’s design. I have more time for intercession. He has the opportunity to speak into lives on a personal level. Two very different courses. Two very different levels of impact. One goal: to be like Jesus.

Aim for peak performance. Shed the warm-up gear. Tie up loose ends. Stick to your course.

Now, run.

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: How to Run Your Best Race

Memory Verse: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 NIV

Meditation Passage: Hebrews 12

Just Do It: Shed, tie up, and stick to your course.

For those interested in preparing for your own Turkey Trot, check out the Couch to 5K program.

The Toes Follow the Nose

The Toes Follow the Nose

Where the head goes, the whole body tends to follow.

I’m leash training my puppy. A neighbor suggested a Gentle Leader, a collar that rests high behind the ears with another strap fitting over the nose. The leash attaches underneath so that when you pull, you pull the head and not the neck, similar to the bit and bridle for horses. It takes those strong shoulder muscles out of the picture. End result? You lead him instead of being dragged behind him.

The Gentle Leader allows me to direct Valor’s attention, because his tummy, toes, and tail follow his eyes, mouth, and nose. Scripture likewise cautions us as to what we set before our eyes, because God knows all too well, our emotions, will, and reason will follow. Let’s train with Valor this week. Here are a few of his favorite—or not so favorite—commands:

Leave it! This covers everything from road kill to the ant-covered lollipop stuck to the sidewalk. Psalm 101:3 reads, “I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.” What has snuck into your life that has no place there? Ask the Holy Spirit what you need to leave alone.

Give! Valor’s reach is growing as he does. Most of what he can reach he has no business with: my sandwich, my homework, my favorite socks. Psalm 119:37 says, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things.” These things aren’t bad, but they aren’t best. Often they are time-stealers as well. What eats your time, energy, and brainpower, but is giving little to no return? Ask God what needs to give.

Come! Coming is good. It can mean a walk, dinnertime, or playing fetch. Yes, sometimes, it means a trip to the vet, but that’s a good thing too—Parvo is no picnic. Scripture shows us where to put our focus.

Check out these two passages: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

. . . fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Are you making relationship time for the Master? Are you choosing things that will please Him?

Valor has a choice between his chew toys, my running shoe, or the dead bird in the yard. I often feel like I’m not choosing at all, just deflecting what comes at me through the day. Yet, I choose what I give my time to. I choose what I listen, read, and watch.

What will you choose?

Nail your spiritual workouts this week and change your corner of the gym.

Workout of the Week: The Toes Follow the Nose

Memory Verse: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21)

Meditation Passage: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Just Do It: Allow the Holy Spirit to be your Gentle Leader.