A few hot summers ago, the first week of August found me in the early stages of marathon training. For accountability’s sake, I had already signed up for the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis, Tennessee, and paid my registration fee. My financial investment was the impetus for faithful training.
I’d spent the previous year working up my daily mileage, and I had (like many runners) become a bit obsessive about mile time and long runs. Running a marathon seemed to be the crowning achievement for any committed runner, and I was eager to have that 26.2 mile finisher’s medal hanging alongside my other 5K and 10K medals.
Every evening I scrutinized my training schedule for the next day’s mileage or cross-training activity. Before going to bed, I laid out my running clothes, filled my hand held water bottle and popped it in the freezer, packed my running belt with salted caramel flavored energy gel (the high point of every run), and charged my iPod and Garmin watch.
Running in the intense, humid summer heat began to take its toll on my long runs. Once I hit 7 and 8 mile runs, I routinely suffered blinding headaches for about 48 hours afterward. After doing some research, I discovered that low electrolytes and low sodium were the likely culprits. I began to change my approach to my long runs by preparing the day before. In addition to normal hydration, I added about three bottles of water spiked with electrolyte/sodium tablets on the days before a run longer than 6 miles. I began to notice a difference after my long runs immediately after making this change. Gone were the headaches! I also noticed overall improvement in endurance and mile time.
It always felt odd to be drinking so much salty electrolyte water on a rest day, but it helped tremendously with my long runs. Each time I did this, I was making an investment in a future event. I was doing something today for my physical benefit tomorrow.
Spiritual disciplines work much like this.
This hot, first week of August I’m not doing any marathon training, but I’m reminding myself that what I’m investing in my spiritual life now will aid me later when my reserves feel low. Immersing myself in the Bible now is not only for today’s benefit. It is for tomorrow and next week, next month and a year from now.
I’ve lived through seasons of trial where my spiritual tank was so low that the bucket I sent down for endurance kept coming back up empty. I had not prepared for trials–or even just normal life events–because I’d spent almost zero time nurturing my relationship with Christ the weeks, months, and even years prior. When sorrow struck, I scrambled for something solid to hold on to. I grasped for a promise from Scripture that would help me persevere, but the truth was I didn’t know the Scriptures well enough to be certain of any promise.
Now, this is not to say that the Holy Spirit can’t still encourage and prod you forward in perseverance when you’ve not spent time arming yourself with truth. God is greater than our hearts and is full of grace and kindness. He teaches us to trust Him while we waffle and scramble for surety. But if I had spent time loving the Lord by knowing Him in His Word I could have enjoyed His nearness in suffering rather than doing so much exhausting scrambling just for survival.
Paralyzed but Prepared
There are days when climbing out of bed before 6 am feels like war. It is war, in a manner of speaking. Our enemy would love to derail our efforts to commune with Christ, and he does it by whispering lies when the shrill ring of the alarm jolts us from restful sleep. You need your rest. You can skip today. You’re not really getting much from your study right now anyway. It doesn’t hurt to take a break now and then.
I’ve listened to some of those lies this summer. I’ve let the clock dictate my commitment to faithfulness, and I’ve felt it’s numbing effects. Trouble is, those “breaks” turn into seasons really fast. Feeding a dry spell with a break from spiritual disciplines may feel like the right answer, but it will never serve you well when pain and suffering show up on your doorstep unannounced. On a broken, fallen planet, suffering seems sure until Christ returns or takes us home. So, we can be paralyzed when the phone rings with devastating news, or we can paralyzed and prepared for the moment life seems to fall apart. I’ve found that the paralyzing feeling comes no matter what, but I’ve seen unbelievable differences in whether or not my heart has been primed with the truths of God’s good character and sovereign hand.
What helps me fight the allure of the snooze button is knowing that my bleary-eyed Scripture reading in the morning, even when it feels like work, is not just beneficial to me now. The prayerful conversation with the Lord, the outlines of Scripture passages, the asking of hard questions, the work of study is also beneficial for my future. It is a stockpiling of truth and strength for days of grief and loss that are as sure the rising sun on an earth that groans for reconciliation.
Perseverance now means perseverance later.
When you’re feeling like your time in the Word is dusty and dry and not worth the time you could have been getting some extra sleep, remember that now is when God is teaching you to trust Him with your future. Now is the time He’s given you to fill your well with belief that Jesus’ work on the cross was enough to save you, that God’s goodness doesn’t waver, that the one who follows Christ is secure in the palm of His hand. Eventually, dry seasons turn into flourishing spring times of the soul. But it might take a long view of perseverance to get there.
Stay the course, friends. Guard your time in the Word with protectiveness if you must. Every morning that you show up to meet with the Lord, you can know with confidence that He meets you there. He is faithful and ever-present.
Together, you are investing in your future discipleship.
For more on working through a spiritual dry spell, read this.
(*For those interested: I ended up falling on a run during my training, which resulted in an injury. Thinking it was a strained muscle, I unwisely continued to train and ran 200 painful miles before finding out I had been running on a stress fracture in my femur. [Insert facepalm emoji here.] I was ordered 3 months physical rest by my doctor and had to quit marathon training. I’m sure there is another spiritual analogy in there somewhere, but someday I hope to reclaim my training and add that finisher’s medal to my small collection!)
Photo Cred: Arek Adeoye for Unsplash