Ready……Set. Go.


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.

The Line We All Need to Cross (or, The Cross that Drew the Line)

And now, we return you to your regularly scheduled reading…

I am back from my trip to El Salvador and thankful to once again feel the keys of my computer under my fingertips.  I have missed the therapeutic lull that arises when I put my thoughts on virtual paper and erase my numerous errors with the simple tap of a delete key.  Ah, the blessings of living in a technological age!

Since the mission of this trip was to share the gospel, I had many opportunities to sit down and share my faith with the wonderful people of San Salvador.  One thing I noticed while doing this was the lack of security many people had in knowing that, in Jesus, all things are complete because He finished it all.  That is the root from which this writing grew.  I hope it makes clear to all who read it that Jesus is the author, perfecter, and completer of our faith.  We have no starting line apart from His finish line.

The Line We All Need to Cross


The Cross that Drew the Line

                                               Jesus…said, “It is finished!”  John 19:30                                            “…the end of your faith-the salvation of your souls.”  I Peter 1:9

                Begin with the end in mind.  That is habit number two for ‘highly successful people’ and practice number one for ‘harmoniously saved people’.  The idea is that, whatever you put your hand to, you look forward to the end result before you even begin.  In other words, when you step up to the starting line, you look ahead to the finish line.  It sounds wise.  It sounds elementary enough.  It contains only two positional words:  the beginning and the end.  No big deal.  We’ve got this, right?  And yet…

And yet this practice has made the list of the top seven habits we, by default, do not have.  How can something so simplistic be so difficult to achieve?  After all, do I not wake up each morning and plan to return to bed that night?  Do I not open a Diet Coke and know that my goal is to drink it all?  And, whenever I unwrap a Reese’s, do I not determine to eat both peanut butter cups?  Yet, even in such mundane areas, I fail to cross the finish line.  I stay up too late, I pour out half-empty cans, and I…well, I do finish off the Reese’s, but you get the point.  Beginning with the end in mind is a practice that needs to be practiced; it needs to be repeated so often that it becomes habitual, and not just as it applies to our physical lives, but more importantly…most eternally, as it applies to our spiritual lives.

As believers, we all need to begin with the end in mind.  In fact, for us, the finish line is actually our starting line.  Without the line Jesus drew while on the cross, we’d have nowhere to place our feet; no demarcation of where we are to line up.  But there is a line.  A boldly drawn, perfectly poured, mercifully etched, crimson line.  And upon this line, we find our starting point. Because Jesus finished the race, we are free to start the run.

I don’t know about you, but I know (all too well) about me.  I’m a list maker.  I write things down so I can cross them off.  I, like others with encryptophobia (the fear of not writing things down), even add things to my list that I’ve already done just so I can cross them off!  It’s a strange phenomenon and one I attribute to an innate need to accomplish something.  I think (not to excuse or vindicate my habit) this drive is present because God wired us to seek the end of things; He wants us to look toward the finish line.  I think this is true because we see this attribute in Jesus.  He too had a list of things to accomplish while on earth and, when He had completed them, He crossed each one off with a drop of His blood.

As I look over Jesus’ earthly life, it is clear that He began with the end in mind.  When He cried out, “It is finished!” from the cross, He had, quite literally, crossed off salvation, struggles, and security from His list.  Jesus crossed these off of His list so we wouldn’t have them upon ours.  We cannot obtain salvation, or overcome struggles, or find security apart from Jesus. So He finished these for us, that through faith we would be complete in Him.  The first item Jesus crossed of His list was our salvation.  Through His death, God received a sinless sacrifice to cover our sins.  Our acceptance of this payment means we no longer have a sin debt.  We no longer have to bring a blood sacrifice with us when we come to worship because Jesus put an end to that practice; His death was the final, and complete, sacrifice for all sin.  What lies in the past is past; what lies in the present is past; and, what lies in the future is past.  Behind us, beside us, before us; when it comes to our salvation, “It is finished.”

Along with our salvation, Jesus also crossed off purposeless struggles.  He didn’t eradicate trials completely, but He ensured “that all things [would] work together for our good” (Romans 8:28) when we place our trust in Him.  As believers, we learn to look at struggles in a new light and with a redeemed vision.  Rather than seeing difficulties as obstacles meant to trip us up, we see them as obstacle courses meant to strengthen us and increase our agility.  James writes that we should “consider it pure joy when [we] encounter trials because the testing of [our] faith develops perseverance” and that we should “allow perseverance to finish its work, that [we] may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-3).  So, meaningless struggles?  They too were crossed off of Jesus’ list when He said, “It is finished.”    struggles-it-is-finished

Thirdly, there is the completion of our security.  Having drawn a finish line for our salvation and for our struggles, Jesus fully intended for us to live, well…fully.  Hopefully, gracefully, worshipfully, truthfully, prayerfully, bountifully, fruitfully, and purposefully.  When we step into the fullness of His redemption, we also step fully into the assurance of His love and we have the security of knowing that “no one shall snatch us from His hand.”  (John 10:27).  Just as there was nothing we could do to earn our salvation, so too is there nothing we can do to lose our salvation.  The security comes in knowing that it’s not the strength of our grasp that secures us to God, but the unfailing grip of His hand that keeps us nestled in the palm of His hand.

Beginning with the end in mind.  Jesus did it.  His thoughts were on us before He left Heaven; His finish line was drawn before we even knew there was a race to be run.  But upon that line, we place our feet; upon that line we begin to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).  While it is true that upon coming to Christ, God begins a new work in us, it is we who are placed at the starting line, not Jesus.  His line was drawn at the cross and that line was a line of completion; His finish line becomes our starting line and, because of what Jesus crossed off His list, we are able to not only begin with the end in mind, but to begin with our mind already anchored to the end; anchored to the One who is the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8), the beginning and the end.  For when it comes to our salvation, our struggles, and our security…most assuredly, “It is finished!”