Running with My Father

Confession: ten years ago I was a couch potato. I enjoyed occasional activity, but for the most part after a long day at the office, I preferred to lay around and veg. I remember prior to getting married, Candace was concerned that it was like pulling teeth to get me to take a walk with her!

Then I got one of the greatest gifts I have ever received: my father called me and asked me to run a race with him. There was going to be a 10K race (6.4 miles) in my home town, and my dad wanted to run it with his kids. He got two bites: my wife Candace and me. Training was hard, but as I pressed in, endurance began to grow. More and more, I was actually enjoying running.

On race day, we were up early preparing, stretching, not sure what to expect. The race was challenging for a beginner, running a section of the course uphill against a North Dakota wind, but I pushed through. Even though both my dad and Candace beat me to the finish line, finishing the race was one of the most life-changing moments of my life. I was now a runner—a slower runner, but a runner nonetheless. Training for the next year began almost immediately.

It was then that running became not just physical but profoundly spiritual for me. My father asked me to run a race in the natural; my Heavenly Father has asked me to run the race of faith. Both require training, endurance and pushing through when the going gets tough.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. —Hebrews 12:1-2a

Since my first race, I have mined some precious spiritual realities from running:

I encounter God when I run. He speaks to me. Often times I will see Jesus running along side of me, encouraging me on. I have found that Jesus is the ultimate trainer. For me, it is a great illustration: at those moments when running feels hard or I want to quit, I draw strength from seeing Jesus running with me.

What’s true for the body is often true for the soul. When my spiritual life becomes difficult, I must do as the writer of Hebrews counsels us and “look unto Jesus.” He is not passive in His dealings with us. He is with us, always working toward His goal of finishing the good work He began in us.

I remember one year on race day as I looked at the sky, there were rain clouds on the horizon heading our way. I was concerned that we were going to get rained out. Then the strangest thing happened. The clouds seemed to remain in place except for one lone thunderhead extending from the bank of the clouds. The race began. As I came around the corner, I was running straight for this lone thunderhead extending towards me. I looked up at the thunderhead, and as I did, two loud peals of thunder burst from the clouds. Then the clouds retreated and the sky was as clear as a bell. Revelation 4:5 says, From His throne proceed lightnings, thunderings, and voices (NKJV). I knew the Father was with me cheering me on!

I break through when I run. I have found running to be my biggest asset in the natural in spiritual warfare.

When under attack from the enemy, our fleshly inclination is passivity. The enemy wants us to feel intimidated and weak in his presence. Many times, we let oppression hang around instead of standing in our authority and fighting.

Running is my way of breaking out of said passivity. I need to get into my body and get aggressive. There is something about doing this in the natural that helps me connect with the deeper spiritual reality. In the body, I am running and praying warfare prayers; in the spirit I am warring against powers and principalities. I echo King David’s words in Psalm 18:29, For by You I can run against a troop, by my God I can leap over a wall.

I long for the finish line when I run. I have continued to run the race with my dad every year since. In fact, it has become a family event every July. My favorite part of the race is just before I get to the finish line. As I come around the corner, my children and all of my nieces and nephews are waiting to run with me the last several hundred feet. Everyone is cheering! It is a moment of great joy.

I like to imagine a similar scene before I cross the ultimate finish line. The great cloud of witnesses is there cheering me on, some ready to run with me the last bit of distance. Those who have gone before me are waiting with great joy. At the finish line my Prize is waiting—the most joyful of them all—JESUS, my eternal reward. Therefore, I heed the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it (1 Corinthians 9:24).

I have an earthly father; I have a Heavenly Father. Both have invited me to run a race. To both I have said, “Yes!” with all my heart. I am eternally grateful to both for the invitation—to my dad for giving me the gift of health and the greatest asset to my spiritual walk, and to my God for giving me the gift of faith and the opportunity to practice my faith on this race toward the eternal finish line. Now that I am a father myself, I will be inviting my children in the same manner as I have been invited. Just like my earthly father and my Heavenly Father, I want to run this race with my kids.

In running in the natural and in the spiritual, I find great joy. Yeah, it’s not always easy. But I have much to be thankful for—starting with two legs that can run!

Strategies for Practicing Joy

Every human being on the planet wants joy; after all, it’s what we were originally created for. As believers, we are commanded to practice it. But more often than not, joy is elusive and seems out of reach. Joyfulness can be especially hard to hold on to in the midst of trials and tribulation. For the past two months, we’ve discussed the necessity of embracing joy in the healing journey and why it is the key to our success. This month, I want to continue on this subject by sharing with you five practical strategies for defeating negativity and living out the God-intended joy for your life.

We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. –2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV)

1) In the flesh, we are prone to evaluate our lives as going from failure to failure. This is a huge hindrance to joy! The Bible teaches us that the Lord evaluates our lives differently. From the Lord’s perspective, we as believers go from glory to glory.

Get a journal and begin to reframe the past 24 hours with the help of the Lord. Write out His evaluation of it. Ask the Holy Spirit to highlight moments of victory and glory. Trust me, when He looks at your life, the Lord sees more glory than you could ever imagine. Getting glimpses of God’s perspective of your life will make you joyful!

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving . . . –Colossians 4:2

2) Always include thanksgiving in your prayer life. This is the opposite of doubt and double-mindedness. It is the fullness of belief, and it gives you access to more joy.

The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. –Song of Solomon 2:8

3) SEE GOD. So often in the midst of a difficult circumstance, we lose sight of God’s presence with us in the situation. Our focus is stuck on the blocked goal, resulting in frustration and disappointment. If we would only redirect our focus and look up, we would see that blocked goals are nothing to the Lord—He leaps upon the mountains. We would also see the power of our relationship with the Lord. Our faith moves mountains. This new perspective fosters excitement and joy because life becomes an adventure with God on your side.

 And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; Therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord. –Psalm 27:6

4) At the moment you feel pulled toward negativity, offer a sacrifice of praise. Joy can be difficult; it can be a sacrifice. These are the “hallelujahs” that mean the most. It’s easy to praise God in seasons of blessing when joy is abundant. It’s much harder when we are suffering and joy seems scarce. Nevertheless, Jesus is worthy of our praise regardless of the circumstance. Sacrifices of joy interject strength into the situation—not just for you, but for all involved.

You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions. –Psalm 45:7

5) Learn to laugh with God. Jesus is the most joyful man! God has a happy heart, and He has a sense of humor. We learn to cry with God, but rarely do we learn to laugh with Him. Ask God to reveal His sense of humor to you. Ask Him to make you laugh. The Lord’s humor is certain to brighten your day and bring you joy.

Joy is a powerful weapon in the hands of the believer. It is our strength in the battle. (No wonder the enemy works so hard to steal it!) I pray that as you implement new strategies in your life, you will have more joy, peace and victory.

The Key to Our Success

Salvation is a moment of awakening. We are made alive, having been dead in sin. Life is breathed into us for the first time. We receive the knowledge of God that opens the door to us experiencing eternal life—beginning now. All of this satisfies a longing in us that nothing else in all of creation has been able to gratify. Our eyes are opened to the reality that this world is not our home. And in this moment of awakening, something wells up within us that will be the key to our success as a Christ-follower: gratitude.

The Psalms teach us that gratitude is the doorway into the presence of the Lord. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name (Ps. 100:4, NKJV). In the presence of the Lord, there is the fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11). Gratitude is the key to finding joy, and joy is the key to living victoriously as a Christian. Remember, the joy of the Lord is [our] strength (Neh. 8:10b).

Unfortunately, gratitude does not come naturally to us. In our flesh, it is far easier to focus on the negative. We complain. We grumble. We whine. We may not even voice it aloud, but consider for a moment your inner dialogue—the conversations you have with yourself. Is it a struggle to think and feel the best regarding situations you find yourself in? Trials and tribulations come, and in those moments it is hard to “consider it all joy” as we have been exhorted by the Apostle James. Insults and persecution happen, and our natural inclination is not rejoicing and gladness as Jesus has counseled us. Gratitude is a discipline.

In order for us to practice this said discipline, we must have a vision of what gratitude affords us: joy in the presence of the Lord. Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint (Prvb. 29:18a). Our hearts need to know the why behind the what. As a parent, I know this full well. How often have I told my two sons to do something and have been met with the response, “Why?” We are commanded in the scriptures to be thankful in all circumstances, but in the day to day of life, our hearts need to be reminded of the why. God as the perfect parent understands this reality of the human heart.

The Father desires to continually envision our hearts to joy. So does Jesus. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full (Jn. 15:11). Yes! One of Jesus’ objectives in conversation with you is the fullness of your joy. He wants a joyful Bride because a joyful Bride is a strong Bride!

A lack of gratitude to the Lord leads to slavery. Consider the words of Moses to the Israelites: Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart . . . therefore you shall serve your enemies (Deut. 28:47-48). Making this more specific to the work of Outpost, the only time the scriptures give a root cause for homosexual behavior is in Romans 1. Guess what it is—a lack of gratitude! Because although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened (Rom. 1:21). I am going to make a bold statement: for the man or woman walking in the fullness of joy, homosexual behavior is impossible. Thankfulness to God increasingly leads to holiness. In contrast, a lack of gratitude leads to envy and all sorts of foolish ways of being and doing—homosexuality included.

If you are wanting the joy of your salvation restored, begin by thanking God for saving you, and not just once, but throughout your day. Stick with it UNTIL you break through to joy. Put off negativity and put on gratitude. Thanksgiving, praise, delighting and rejoicing are all hallmarks of the new man.

I have set a goal for the Outpost staff: at the beginning of 2015, I want us to be the most joyful ministry in the Twin Cities. I invite you to join us! Jesus is worthy of a joyful Bride. Therefore, let us continue to passionately walk humbly with God with gratitude in our hearts.

Embracing the Journey with Joy

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. —Romans 1: 20-21, NKJV (emphasis added)

This past January, I charged the Outpost Ministries staff with a mission: by January 1, 2015, I want us to be the most joyful ministry in the Twin Cities. In our line of work of dealing with sexual and relational brokenness, joy can be difficult at times. We deal with people’s sin and pain on a daily basis. We see firsthand the negative impact a changing society is having on the next generation. We face persecution and constant spiritual warfare. But in all of this, scripture’s exhortation remains, My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials . . . (James 1:2).

Trials are certain, regardless of your line of work. Joy in the midst of these said trials takes some effort. It doesn’t come naturally. Joy must be intentionally embraced. We must cast off the negative thought patterns that so easily entangle us and choose to set our minds on things above. We must choose to walk in gratitude.

I am finding that gratitude is the doorway to joy. When people do not walk in thankfulness to God, their thoughts become foolish and their hearts become darkened, which is not very helpful in the midst of the trials of life! But those who choose gratitude are given clarity and light in the midst of the storm. When our hearts are overwhelmed, there is a Rock that is higher than us.

And with right perspective, we have joy. God is still on the throne, still in control and very close to the brokenhearted. God is a promise keeper. We can rest in His love. We can trust His ways. He does not leave; He does not forsake the ones He loves.

Negativity is exhausting. Joy is energizing. Negativity can make us sick. Joy heals our souls. Negativity is viewing the present circumstance with God out of the picture. Joy is seeing God with you in the midst of life’s ups and downs—an ever-present help in times of trouble.

For more joy in your life, try this exercise: for the next week, set aside three times each day to thank God for five minutes.  You could do it breakfast, lunch and dinner. Write down what you are thankful for and declare it back to God. Or, to make it even more fun, sing it to God. Make up little songs of thanksgiving that you can carry with you throughout your day. You don’t have to be a singer; God loves a joyful noise! You could even shout your thankfulness to God. The point is to put on an attitude of gratitude.

This is spiritual warfare, as the enemy loves to keep us bound up in negative thought patterns. He loves to disempower us by stealing our joy. He loves to interpret our pain. Fight back by letting your thankfulness to God abound.

Beloved, will you join us in our pursuit of joy this year? Jesus is returning for a JOYFUL Bride. She won’t be offended or grumbling or crabby. She will be glorious and prepared and abounding in thankfulness to the Father. Therefore, let us fight for joy in ourselves and in others. Jesus is worthy of a joyful Bride.