The Joy Set Before Us

This week, I want to share something that’s been on my heart about spiritual training. Paul used athletic analogies throughout his letters to the churches in the New Testament because of the value that Greek society placed on physical fitness. For example, 1 Corinthians 1:24-26 says,

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 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.”

Serious athletes discipline themselves in order to excel in their sport. They eat purposefully. They train with intention. How much more should we as believers discipline ourselves to be spiritually strong to run in what God has called us to do? There is a race set before each of us (Hebrews 12:1)!

What we eat is one of the most important factors to having a strong body. In our society, it’s common to eat a few meals a day, like clockwork, and never actually know what it is to be hungry. We don’t eat to be strong; we eat to eat. Those of us in the Western world actually often consume too much food, but too little nutrition. It’s possible to be full without giving your body what it needs to function well!

As believers, we need the Word and presence of God to live and grow, even more than we need food for our natural bodies to survive! When we’re first born again, we need the milk of God’s word to grow, but that’s not where we should stay. Babies can’t run and we’re not meant to remain spiritual children. The word of God addresses this in Hebrews 5:11-14 saying,

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Babies don’t strive to grow; they just eat and sleep, and growth comes naturally. It’s the same for believers! We shouldn’t read the word of God, struggling to grow. When we delight in the Word of God and in His presence, we’ll naturally grow into mature, strong believers that need solid food. We have to understand though, that we can’t neglect spending time in His word and maintain the growth we have. In the natural, if we don’t eat, the inevitable result is starvation and eventually death. Our bodies don’t freeze in time until we start to feed them again. If we don’t eat, we die, and it’s the same with our spirits. There is no “in-between”; you’re either dying or you’re growing!

Along with the Word, we must spend time in His presence to grow. Jesus modeled a lifestyle of prayer that demonstrated His dependence on the Father’s presence. You may have heard people talk about the loneliness of Jesus, but you have to understand that Jesus wasn’t lonely in the way that we understand loneliness. He was alone, often intentionally, but He was never lonely. Luke 5:16 says, “[Jesus] would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

John 6:15 says,

“Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”

Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus retreating from the crowds, his disciples, and his friends, to be with His Father. He understood that the Word and presence of God were His sustenance. We see this in John 4:31-35 which says,

“Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

Jesus lived His life for the audience of One, without concern for the religious opinions or the response of the crowds. He loved people, but He didn’t live for their love. The same voices that cried out “crucify Him” shouted “Hosanna” the week before. He loved them when they shouted “Hosanna” and He forgave them when they nailed Him to the tree. Jesus ran His race for the sole purpose of accomplishing the will of the Father.

It’s the secret place that trains us for the race set before us. We can be lonely in a crowd of people, but we’ll never be lonely if we spend time alone with the One we’re created for. Jesus said,

“Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32:33)

Hebrews 12:1-2 says,

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus ran His race for the joy set before Him, which was you and me. Now, we get to run our race for the joy set before us, which is Him.

What are you running toward? Are you in an aimless race, or is your heart captivated by the joy set before you? The purpose of God always carries joy with it! Aligning ourselves with the purpose of heaven will always keep joy set before us. That joy is seeing the Kingdom of Heaven come on earth like Jesus saw it. That joy is seeing souls come into the kingdom. It’s seeing the broken healed, the lame walking, and the captives set free. Consuming His Word and abiding in His presence will strengthen us for our race and it’s easy when we are rightly focused on the joy set before us!

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