And he [Rehoboam] did evil because he did not prepare his heart to seek the LORD.
2 Chronicles 12:14
There are a lot of books worth reading once and there are some books worth reading twice…or thrice…or even twice times thrice! Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby & Claude King is one of them. I have been revisiting this text over the past several weeks and while each chapter is loaded with truths I can jog through, one sentence tripped me up…and temporarily sidelined me. It was a sprinter’s sentence with just five words; it was a marathon phrase with just two words. As I mentally ran through the chapter entitled “Joining God Requires Obedience”, I ran smack dab into this hurdle: Make me ready to obey.
I wasn’t sure why this little sentence tripped me, but I kept going back to it. Make me ready to obey; make me ready to obey; make me…obey. As I examined this stumbling block more closely, I realized it wasn’t the whole sentence that caused me to stop, but really just two little words: ready to. I realized that I, a lover of verbosity, found this sentence a trifle too long. I would rather have read: Make me obey. Yes, that sounds better. God, please just make me obey. Let’s forego the whole getting ready process and let’s jump right into the race. After all, we’re all called to join in the Great Race, right? So, shouldn’t we be getting set…so we can go?
Yep. That’s where I tripped. Right over “ready to”. It stuck out just enough to snag me; just enough to interfere with my reader’s pace. So, while I iced my torn insight, I thought about those two snaggy words. Just what is involved in getting ready to run? Well, there’s the stretching that’s needed to prepare and protect one’s muscles during the run. Then, there are the daily jogs that prepare one’s heart and lungs so greater distances may be run. Shoes…they’re always important…but especially when running a race. And the outfit? Well, try showing up for a race in a suit or a ball gown and you’ll never question the value of the right clothing again!
As I saw not only the importance but the unquestionable necessity of getting “ready to” run, I moved from one lane of thought into another. If the physical preparation for a race determines a runner’s success on the track, then the spiritual preparation for obedience must likewise determine a believer’s success in The Race. But how does one prepare to obey? Isn’t obedience something that’s pinned on us along with our race number? Shouldn’t I be able to look down at my tag and see my number, my lane assignment, the distance I’m to go, the hurdles I’ll have to jump, the water stations I’ll pass by, and there…in the perforated section at the bottom (so it may be easily removed when I cross the finish line) my detachable obedience tag?
I know, I know. I saw it too. Right after I wrote it. Detachable obedience. I had thought…hoped…that obedience was something God would just “give” me, that He would “make me obey” rather than “make me ready to obey”. I hadn’t thought about the preparation that went into becoming obedient. I didn’t think about the stretching needed to lengthen my faith muscles, the shorter daily runs…complete with hurdles…necessary to prepare me for the long distance runs, or the outward apparel designed to identify me as one who is in the race rather than one who is merely watching the race.
As I meditated on the readiness component of obedience, I began to notice that I wasn’t the only runner who struggled with these warm-up exercises. While reading in the twelfth chapter of second Chronicles, I came across Rehoboam’s pulled muscle: “And he did evil because he did not prepare his heart to seek the LORD.” There it was. A lack of preparation had led to a sidelined runner. Rehoboam had failed to do his obedience stretches and, as a result, he limped to the sidelines. The rich young ruler is another example of poor, or no, preparation. In Mark 10:17-22, Jesus gave the man a short lap to run and recommended a change of apparel, but the would be runner bolted…in the wrong direction! Both men thought they could bypass ready and move ahead to set and then to go, but when the time came to run, neither runner was on his mark.
But God did not intend for us to run in such a manner. He alone knows the course that has been placed before us and He alone knows the stamina we will need to complete the race. If we can’t physically run without preparation, then how can we spiritually run without doing the same? If what Henry Blackaby wrote is true, that we must be made ready to obey, then what does this entail? What exercises stretch our obedience muscles? Well, for warm-ups, we need to allow God to loosen our heart muscles as we spend more time with Him. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments. He who does not love Me does not keep My words” (John 14:15, 24). God wove obedience and love together so that our ability to obey Him would increase…would be stretched…as our love for Him grew. We will never move from ready to set without strengthening our heart muscles.
Next, we need to take daily runs through God’s word to strengthen our core muscles of belief, trust, and faith. We’ll need to practice setting the right pace and stride to sail over the hurdles of disappointment, discouragement, and disillusionment. And, we’ll need to remember that, in a spiritual race, it is prayer that hydrates the soul and dehydration that hinders the soul; failure to stop at prayer stations will result in a spiritual dryness that could cramp us up and shut us down. We’ll also have to become comfortable with not seeing around the curve or over the hill. We’ll need to become comfortable with seeing only the course right below our feet…just enough of the track to take our next step…our next stride. Other than that, our focus should already be on the finish line and not on what lies between our current location and our final destination.
As for our apparel, well, we must “stand having girded [our] waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, having shod [our] feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; taking [also] the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:14-17). While it doesn’t sound like anything Adidas would endorse, it is exactly what Adonai designed. With this apparel, we’ll not only enter the race set before us, but we’ll endure the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1).
Ready, set, go; three words that mark the beginning of a physical race. Ready to obey; three words that mark the beginning of a spiritual race. I have been waiting for the Set and the Go, giving little to no thought to the Ready. Now, not only do I see the reality of getting ready to obey, but I see its relevance as well. It must come first, or the runner will not be set; it must take time, or the endurance will not develop; it must increase agility, or the hurdles will not be cleared, and it must propel one to the finish line, or the race will have been run in vain.