Do you know what’s hard about a race? Not the race itself. It’s the training that is tough. By the time the race day comes, you’re ready, you’re prepared, and more than that you’ve got 30,000 people running with you and another 30,000 people cheering you on by the side of the road. You have water stations and first aid, gatorade and volunteers spurring you on. No, race days are not so hard. It’s the day-in-day-out training that’s hard. It’s the getting yourself out the door in the rain. It’s the mile 10 when your feet are pounding the pavement and you’re alone and there’s a to-do list a mile long waiting for you at home and you really wouldn’t have to do one more lap… It’s the asking your family to sacrifice another event, do one more chore without you because of the time commitment it takes to train. It’s waking up early or going to bed late. It’s sore muscles and miserable runs that’s hard.
Really, really hard.
We’re reading through the Psalms this month with our church community, and paused in Psalm 18 for a bit. I love how the Psalm starts – with God coming to the rescue, showing up in power and might and authority, and wiping out our enemies. Like I just have to stand there with a smirk because my Dad is freaking awesome. Take that, you big bully!
The Lord thundered from heaven;Psalm 18:13-17, NIV
the voice of the Most High resounded.[d]
He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, Lord,
at the blast of breath from your nostrils.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
That’s incredible! I LOVE it.
What confuses me is why, several verses later, he’s training ME for battle.
He trains my hands for battle;(Psalm 18:34)
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
Like, when you have such a great and mighty God shooting arrows from lightening bolts… why bother training me with a measly bow, even if it is bronze? If you expose the very seas, why should I dirty my little old hands in battle myself? God, you’ve got this! I’m happy to stand on the sidelines and cheer… right?
Training is hard work. You don’t bend “bows of bronze” without some serious strength training. You don’t go into hand-to-hand combat without a TON of theory, practice, discipline and exercise. Folks, this is going to hurt. I mean, the battle will kill you, but the training is no picnic either.
With God on my side, couldn’t we just, I don’t know, skip this step and run straight to the victory?
But seriously… why?
I’ve been wrestling with this concept because it feels personal and quite frankly, I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted from the “training grounds” of budgeting and sticking to a God-honouring way of spending money. I’m weary from disciplined eating, and trying to care for my body by what I put into it. I’m worn out from exercise and this 12-month baby habit of going running a few times a week. I miss comfort. I miss the easy way out. I miss TV. I’m tired of saying no, of being good and trying so hard.
Oh, somewhere in the back of my head I know the good it’s done: I remember what undisciplined spending does to our finances and our family, and I can see the huge dent we’ve made already in our debt load. I know it’s working, all this denial and discipline, but it’s so hard. I remember how bad my depression was, and how I couldn’t even get out of bed, and days like that are now a distant memory, in a large part due to my exercise and diet… but other people are getting these huge wins in weight loss and better sleep and good skin and, well, everything, and I’m just getting out of bed easier. I know that even though I don’t feel like it, I’ve lived the undisciplined life and it was horrible. I know I don’t want to go back there it’s just… does it ever get easier? Does discipline ever become habit? Do you ever really start believing sugar is “too sweet?” Does training ever become fun?
And if God’s bigger than all of this anyway… what’s the point in my fighting? Couldn’t He just look after it?
The whiner in me
I cringe even as I write this. Honestly, could I get any whinier? But the truth is, I could go on. And on. And on.
Training for battle is not for the faint of heart. And I don’t know why God calls us to a battle He says He’s already won.
I feel like it’s all sides, all at once – but I know I’ve been called to fight many of these battles years ago, and I just ignored the call. It’s not that I’m being attacked from all sides all at once, it’s just I never faced my enemies until I felt surrounded, and now there’s more than one to deal with.
Could God just dispatch them all? Yes. And actually, He has. More than once.
But debt will continue to chase me as long as I only battle with debt, not the budget. I need to have victory in my spending habits so debt doesn’t even get a chance to come near me.
Depression will dog my doorstep unless I care for my physical and mental health. God has dealt with my depression. He lifted me far enough out of it that I could see a way out, and He showed me how, in this season of life, I could better care for myself. But unless I put in the work and have victory in self-care, I will continue to battle depression.
Bullies and Battles
It’s almost like those monsters in the closet. Those fears that drag you down. You know Daddy can scare them away, and unlike our earthly fathers, our Heavenly Father is always with us, always available to scare the bad guys away. But I will continue to allow those monsters power in my life as long as I fear them. It’s not until I have the courage to face my demons, my battles, that I find freedom.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t self-empowerment. I have nothing in me that has victory in and of myself. I can only find courage to face my battles because God fights for me. But in Christ, I can stand strong against the foe, and when he finds I am still standing… well, the darkness flees.
I Peter 5:8-10 tells it better than I can:
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.(1 Peter 5:8-10, NIV)
Does God give us victory? Yes. Emphatically, yes.
Does He need us to do so? Not at all. There’s plenty of battles in Scriptures we just had to stand aside and watch Him work.
But when it’s a persistent battle, sin, fear or temptation, that indicates a lack of freedom, and Christ will do anything for our freedom – including sending us into battle.
God could have sent a lightening bolt to zap Goliath the minute he defied God. Why did He wait a good month for David to come by and do it for Him?
Because it was only the first of many battles Israel would have to fight. And He wasn’t looking for a lazy, indulgent people waiting for rescue. He was looking for fearless men and women who could courageously and confidently take new territory because of their confidence in God.
Did God give David the victory? Absolutely. Did David train for war? Absolutely.
I’m rambling here, and I know I’ll have to come through this article with a heavy red pen editing, but I write this way because I’m in the struggle.
I’m in the painful “training season,” where I’m not seeing victory in my battles, but I’m exhausted every day. I’m tired from sore muscles, from the repetition, from the self-denial and from discomfort. I don’t want to show up in the gym. I don’t want to sleep in the barracks. If I’m fighting for my home and family, let me sleep in a cushy bed and spend my evenings zoned out in front of TV. I’m tired of going without, of everything being a struggle.
And it’s so clear to me that I’m in the midst of this training ground – God has shown up in my life and granted me huge victories, but He isn’t content for me to stay there, thankful that “it’s not as bad as it used to be.” He’s fighting for my forever-freedom, not just for a moment of peace.
And my forever freedom will take facing some bullies. Standing up to some giants. Waging war against some armies. Gaining back territory. Maybe even gaining new territory. And if I try to just halfheartedly cheer God on while he does all the work from my armchair… well, that’s not really freedom, is it?
So I’ll go to bed. I’ll eat a good meal. I’ll remember the Sabbath day and enjoy the rest. And I’ll get up again one more day, for one more training session, one more day of budgeting, one more difficult conversation, one more run, trusting that being able to bend that bow of bronze is worth it, and that God’s strategy is a good one in the end.