Challenges can and most often times are uncomfortable ordeals.
The definition of challenge according to Merriam-Webster is to dispute the truth or validity of something or enter into a competition or contest. נָסָה is the Hebrew word for challenge or test. The most common transliteration of this word in the Bible is “to prove” something or “to test” and find out about the truth of something. Challenges were designed to test our limits as human beings and to discover the forthright truth about ourselves and the things we hold dear. That is why challenges are a very necessary, at times painful, and beautiful process. A process that makes manifest the areas we lack and leaves us with room to let God come and build us up.
In many ways, I am finding this to be the case in my life.
I am currently training for my first full marathon. Tomorrow, April 27th, I will be racing in The North Face Endurance Challenge. Hah, there’s that "challenge" word again. It is a full-length trail marathon that runs along the Potomac River. A beautiful out-and-back course on trails that I know pretty well.
The past few months of training, however, have not gone as planned.
In January I caught pneumonia and the flu at the same time which took me away from running for several weeks. After I recovered from that, I jumped back into training too quickly and suffered a nerve injury which made me lose feeling in my right leg and lower back. I was really struggling to get consistent miles in during the week.
With the clock still ticking away towards the race, fear began to creep in. I felt like I was failing. I wrote a poem on how frustrated I was about my training thus far and it ended with “Breathe, slow it down, bring it back. I’m painfully aware of what I lack.” Jesus then began revealing to me that in my own strength I wouldn’t get far. Whenever I thought of running the marathon or the long days of training I was picturing myself alone. Powering through in my own strength, getting to the finish line all on my own. I wasn’t actively inviting God into my running. I wanted to do it without him and frankly, it wasn’t working out for me. I’m not trying to say that the moment we let God in things will go smoothly without any hiccups.
Even after I invited God in on my journey I was still struggling with injury. However the process was so full of Him and his peace. Even when things seemed to be hopeless I was full of His hope and strength to carry on. Jesus makes known to us the areas we need to improve on not to point out how much we are failing but to show us a better way and make us better men. Often times he will do this by allowing us to experience “road-blocks” along the way. Don’t get discouraged when you hit barriers in your journey. It was the great Wendell Berry that said, “The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings”.
We must make a choice in the midst of all of this, will we let this drive us away from the father in bitterness, or bring us closer to him in vulnerability? I more often times than not let bitterness harden my heart towards God and his plans for me. I have fought God on almost every blind turn and mountain in my journey thus far. Through doubting and struggling with God, the truthful nature of his love was challenged. The vows of God were tested and found to be constant and pure. So in the midst of me fighting with God I began to realize how much he loved me and my heart was humbled tremendously.
Challenge can bring us into closer intimacy with the father. The moment we choose his strength over ours is the moment we allow God to make us stronger. However, it requires surrender, a humbling of heart and mind.
A confession of the lips that says, “I simply cannot do this on my own.”
I am beginning to make that confession and God is beginning to strengthen me.
Will you make that confession too?