I’ve thought for about a week now that I haven’t written this long overdue blog because of laziness. Now I realize, it’s because of God.
I’ve been contemplating the content for this post since last Saturday afternoon as I was running 3.39 miles through mud and gunk, trying not to cough up my very irritated lungs. But today, when I sat down to my Skyble study content, it became apparent that there were several more morsels I needed to marinate in before this post was ready to be served up.
While I was wading through sloughs last Saturday, I thought about my competitive spirit. I thought about how the only reason why I, sick, was willingly running through miles of dirt and obstacles was because of my pride. My pride would not let me swallow $40 and the sense of shame that came with admitting defeat. No, instead my pride forced me to swallow mouthfuls of muck.
I thought about how as a child, I cared didly squat for running, athleticism, or any form of physical fitness. I was a book-lover and a straight A student, and that was all the accomplishment I needed, or cared about at least. Then, I thought how now I’ll go to the gym with a head cold and be annoyed that the boys in boxing class can out -perform me.
“How stupid I am,” I thought. When did I let my competitive streak turn into foolishness? Pride? Envy? And a whole slew of other dangerous vices…?
I guess the answer is when I started strengthening the flesh, and letting the Spirit die. That’s what God taught me this afternoon. I knew last Saturday that it was lame that I would go out and dash through a mud run while sick, but I probably wouldn’t volunteer to serve at church while sick, or help a friend while sick, or even grade papers while sick. There is a seemingly unhealthy balance in my life where the scales are tipped towards outward maintenance (albeit healthy and good) but leaving the inward parts of the heart to waste away and grow frail (admittedly very shallow and short-sighted).
My study this afternoon focused on the symbolism behind the Israelite’s defeat of the Amalekites in Exodus 17 as really being a picture of destroying the flesh. For as long as Moses raised the staff of God in his hands, Israel remained victorious. When it started to fall as Moses grew weak, Joshua’s troops likewise tasted defeat. God was their banner, their shining sign on a hill, providing them with the strength they needed to succeed. And when the frailty of their human leader began to manifest itself, God provided him (and thus the people he led) with a core group of others who lifted his arms up and enabled Moses to hold fast to the “staff of God.” Thus, His people could accomplish the task for which they were commissioned: defeat Amalekite (the flesh).
I’ve let my flesh grow strong,(literally) but simultaneously I’ve dismissed the staff of God. Consequently, the Spirit in my life has grown weak. Paradoxically, while the Apostle Paul says the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, my spirit has been weak because my flesh has been too willing, too strong, too indulged. I’ve made too many allowances for my humanity. Too many days off from church, ironically in the name of “rest,” too many opportunities for poor choices, because I felt like I’d been “good” long enough that I was entitled to some free pass for rebellion. I’ve allowed small, relatively innocent slip ups here and there to feel good, normal, and acceptable. And now, I’ve starved the very part of me that I need to really be strong, to be purposeful, to be the young woman God calls me to be.
That’s why God called Israel to defeat and destroy all of Amalek, including the seemingly innocent women and children. When provision is given for a little bit of harm, it doesn’t stay innocuous, it eventually grows into a harmful threat. And then, it take a lot more battles, and a full scale war to fight the enemy off. Which, I suppose, is why so much of the New Testament is littered with battle imagery and war time symbolism. I just didn’t realize before, the connections between the literal battles in the Old Testament and the personification of the flesh as the enemy in the New Testament. It’s why Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God, to defeat, not the Amalekites, but the flesh.
Ironically for me, the other very strong metaphor in the New Testament for defeating the flesh is the picture of athletic training. In 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, Paul writes, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Ouch. Talk about “muscle soreness.” Ouch. I have been physically running, but spiritually aimless. I have been literally boxing, but spiritually beating mere air. I have been disciplining my body for fitness and health, but keeping the Spirit in a toxic condition of moral obesity and heart sickness. As a Christian, I’ve been losing the race, and not even cared.
Friends, I don’t know where to begin to train harder for this sport called life. I don’t think there’s a regimen of crunches or burpees that can be prescribed, like in the gym, to meet a goal. I don’t even think there is a goal apart from obedience and the hope of heaven.
I just know that I need to train harder. A lot harder. I need to get to a place where I can at least say with the Apostle Paul that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Crawl, walk, run, sprint with me, if you will.