This past week, Traci and I attended a 5-day personal growth seminar. I’m sure you will be hearing more about this in the weeks and months to come. At the conclusion of the week, we had an extra couple of days to debrief the event together, and to start thinking about what the future holds for us. The seminar we attended was a leadership development conference that focused on the whole leader. We spent time in 8-member process groups (Traci and I were in separate groups) reflecting on the patterns and habits we’ve developed in dealing with life. The range of emotions ran the gambit but through it all, a few key concepts emerged for both of us.
As we were preparing to leave sunny SoCal for snowy Traverse City, Traci and I started talking about what our lessons meant for each of us. A couple of key thoughts came out and I realized that 2014 is going to be a year of running. In 2013, our theme was “work hard.” We anticipated big changes and transitions in our family, beginning with our move from Oregon to Michigan, and continuing as we transitioned family life, work life and a new ministry into our regular routine.
Even though we are already a month in to 2014, a new theme hadn’t emerged for this year, but thanks to Ultimate Leadership, now it’s clear to both of us: We need to run the race that God has put before us. Figuratively…and literally.
First, figuratively. In Hebrews 12:1, the writer of Hebrews tells his audience to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” Obviously the writer isn’t talking to people running a physical marathon, but rather, the path of life God has put them on. He was challenging them to run with toughness (“perseverance”) and without restraint.
During our conference, I became painfully aware of some of my own restraints. First of all, the “sin that so easily entangles” is usually a little easier to spot. Lies, lust, slander, gossip, rage etc… You and I don’t have to look far to see what sins entangle us and keep us tethered to mediocrity; we might live in denial about those sins, but we almost always know what they are.
For me, I became especially aware of the second category of restraints -- those things that hinder my journey. Obviously the writer is distinguishing these from "sins that entangle," but pointing out that they are of equal damage when it comes to how effectively we are able to run. My awareness grew in two categories. First, I became aware of my inability to receive compliments and praise from others. I’ve always known I was a deflector (you say, “Nice sermon Joe!” and I say, “Oh, thanks, but really, you were just a great crowd and that’s what made it work…”) but I was really confronted with it this week.
One of my group members pointed out that by deflecting people’s kind words of thanks or appreciation, I’m robbing them of the joy of encouragement and downplaying God’s work in my own life. In other words, it wasn’t a good sermon, God didn’t help me with the thoughts and ideas, and really, only a good audience could have gotten anything out of that jumbled mess of a sermon! Deflection prevents encouragement and minimizes the work of God.
And that is the second issue I became aware of, the fact that I downplay what God has done in my own life. In doing that, I end up playing it safe, taking smaller risks for God and stepping out only as far as I’m comfortable. In my own mind, I think it’s a habit I’ve started as a safety mechanism to my pride, a sort of self-imposed humility rooted in fear that ultimately tames the exercise of faith. Starting Overboard Ministries was a HUGE step of faith in my life, but I believe God wants more and I’m worried about playing it safe. Traci and I have an awesome marriage, but I believe God wants more and right now, I’m not facing the risks on my race that will ensure we can achieve what God desires. My work at Lake Ann Camp has some fantastic challenges on the horizon, and there is no room for non-risk takers.
2014 isn’t going to be about playing it safe, it’s going to be about running my race, and embracing the risks that are part of the journey. To do that, I’m going to have to release the worries and fears that are hindering my growth. I have to embrace who God has made me to be, stepping up to do what He wants me to do. I’m going to have to release some habits, some ways I like to spend my free time, and start embracing the course that God has put me on -- not wishing for an easier course, or one with fewer obstacles. I’ve go to run my race.
There’s also a very literal application to this principle: I’ve committed to joining Traci, on October 5th, in running with her on her (and my!) first 1/2 marathon. She asked me about this over a month ago, and I gave her my standard running answer: “No. I hate running.” During this week long event I realized that her 1/2 marathon is the perfect metaphor for what 2014 will represent. This will be a long, hard run, filled with obstacles and challenges and plenty of opportunities to give up and quit before the race is over; the work that will be required so that I can run and encourage Traci will be no less difficult than the work that will be required so I can run my Overboard race, too. I believe October 5, 2014 will be a day of triumph, celebrating how God has created something bigger through our commitment to trust Him with every part of our lives.
I don’t know the details of 2014, but I do know what this year will require of me if I am going to run my race. Some old habits are going to be shown the door out of my schedule. Some old patterns of thinking are going to be given eviction notices and new tenants will be offered the space. I know the run will be hard, but my shoes will be laced, my running partners will be nearby and hope will be firmly resting in the One who honored me with this course. As the author of Hebrews continues, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”
What does your 2014 race look like?