Spiritual Training: “From Couch to 5K”

About four summers ago I was talking with a friend who told me he was training in order to run a half marathon that fall.    And we were talking about I said, you know, I’ve always thought it would be a pretty amazing challenge to run a half marathon, I’ve always wanted to be able to do something like that – you know kind of a bucket list kind of personal challenge.

So he said something along the lines of – well, what are you doing to prepare for it?   And I said…  thinking alot about it.  That’s the extent of my plan.  I am in the pondering stage – thinking long and hard about perhaps running a half marathon.  

It’s one thing to say I want to run a half marathon.  It’s quite another to actually prepare for it.   

The reason I bring it up is because today we are going to read a passage of scripture where the author, Paul, likens the Christian faith to running a marathon.  And his point is, that he is a guy who is in training.  He is intentionally readying himself and preparing himself to run in the race that is the Christian life.

Now I want to read this passage of scripture for us today from Philippians chapter 3.  And what we are going to read is Paul, the author of the letter, likening the Christian faith to a race.  And this is what he writes,

12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection.  And we will remember that he is referencing the verses that come just before these, where Paul says that knowing Jesus is the most important thing in his life, and that he wants to live the kind of life that is marked by the power of Jesus. 

But he has not yet arrived.  He is still a work in progress.  And that is a good picture of what it means to be a Christian – I am work in progress.  I might have come some way in my faith, but I still have things to be accomplished.

Which, by the way, makes faith so enjoyable.  It’s this mentality that caused us to name our church, Journey Church.  Faith is a Journey, and there is always new ground to be taken in my faith.  Which is why Paul says, that although he is not achieved all he wants to see in the renovation of his soul, he says…

But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 

Paul of course recognizes that it was Jesus who did all the work to make it possible for Paul to enter into the kingdom that Jesus rules – Jesus temporarily laid aside his divine privileges in order to become flesh.  Jesus lived the perfect life Paul could never have lived.  Jesus died for Paul’s sins, and it was God who raised Jesus up from the dead.

Paul did nothing to earn the opportunity Jesus made available to have a new and fresh start with God. 

All Paul did was receive it, like a child receives a Christmas gift, all Paul did was receive it by believing that Jesus really was who he said he was and did what he claimed to do.

For the theologically minded the word that describes this is justification.  Jesus made it possible for Paul to be justified before God. – It was just as if Paul had never sinned.

But Paul understands that after justification, comes sanctification.  And Sanctification is the theological word that describes the ongoing process of becoming a new kind of human being.  It is God the Holy Spirit working from the inside of us to help us become a little bit more like Jesus every day.  

And Paul understands that though Jesus did all the work for justification- sanctification is a partnership.  Paul, in conjunction with the Holy Spirit, is making efforts to join in with the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to become a different type of person.

Sadly though, many never enter into the process.  Many never effort in any way to grow in their faith.  Too many people say they believe in Jesus but there is no “efforting” going on in their own transformation.  Efforting is the new word of the day.  And when I say new I mean I made it up.  It’s not yet a real word.  But I wouldn’t mind if you receive that word today.

The transformation of your soul requires a little efforting.  Not earning – we don’t earn anything with God – God is never in our debt.  He never owes us anything.  But if we want to become more loving, more kind, more like Jesus – we need to be more than pondering it.  

Paul is efforting.  He is pressing forward.  Pressing onward.  He is working hard to partner with God to become more like Jesus. He writes…

13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Although we will not speak long about this, I think it’s important that we note Paul’s first encouragement to those who want to press onward in their faith.  The first encouragement for those who want to press forward is to forget the past and keep moving forward.

There seems to be a sense of a timeline.  What I do today will have a great impact on what I look like tomorrow.  How I train myself in my spiritual walk today will help me live and love like Jesus tomorrow.

But first I have to figure out what I’m going to do with my yesterdays.

Whatever your past, Paul encourages you to not to give your past a voice in your present.  Because, if we aren’t careful, yesterday wants to squeeze us so tight that it can smother us to death.  Yesterday has far too much influence on us today if we are not careful.

Paul says, let go of yesterday.  Release yourself from it’s grip.

Yesterday wants to convince us that what we did yesterday will forever stain us today.  Not true!  Don’t let yesterday have undue sway on who God is making you today.  

Paul says, let the past be past, even if it was this morning.  Move forward.  And remember that Jesus’ disciples were filled with people with sketchy pasts – and Paul himself, as we noted last week, was an accomplice to murder.  

Let it go.  Ask for forgiveness and give God the credit for being the kind of God who would never bring it back up between you and Him again – he keeps no record of wrongs because He loves you.  And died to be able to release you from yesterday’s chokehold.  

Now – and this needs to be mentioned – sometimes our yesterday is filled with such pain that it deeply scars our soul- it affects the way we think and feel and interact with people today.  May I encourage you to invest time and some money into good counseling to help you heal from the wounds of yesterday.  

Which is why we have such great partnerships with our counseling partners at Spence counseling and Cunningham Counselors – where Journey will subsidize counseling for you – it will not cost you more than $25 a session.  Because we understand that sometimes you need to work out yesterday’s issues in order to be healthy enough to move forward today.

And if that’s the case, then go for it.  Right now – make it a point to contact us first at the church office – write it on a communication card – we will contact our counselors to let them know to expect your phone call.  

Let’s do it.  It’s time to be free from the chokehold of yesterday- and be able to press on. 

Some of your yesterdays were so bad you don’t think you could be recreated for the good today.  Yes you can.

But some have the opposite problem.  Their yesterday’s were so good they can’t imagine tomorrows being even better.  And so they live in this fantasy world where everything was awesome then…  And they live their life facing the wrong direction.  

And it causes all kinds of problems.  

Yesterday I was a sports star.  Big Man on Campus!  Blew out a knee – could have gone pro.  Could have made it.  But now I’m selling cars.  Good for you!  Your best days aren’t behind you.  They might be in the athletic field – but your best days in real life are yet to come.  You have the opportunity to be the first honest car salesman!  Let’s make it happen!

There are some people who actually search facebook for their middle school boyfriend.  Oh, look at those pictures.  He seems so happily married.  EHEHEHHE!  Warning Will Rogers – I’ve got news – Facebook is fake.  It’s unreality.  I’ve never posted a photo of me yelling at my kids.   

Oh if only I hadn’t broken up with him in 7th grade.  No!  It’s good you did.  You were smarter then than you are now!  Chop Chop – wake up.  Real life is happening in THAT direction.  

Oh I used to be part of the greatest church in the world.  Now I’m stuck here sweating in a cafeteria and watching – I’m not sure what this is…  but here I am.  Oh how far I’ve fallen.    

I’m glad you were part of a church you loved.  But, are you still pressing on?  Or have you begun a descent, feeling like you’ve done it all and seen it all and learned it all?

Forget what’s behind.  Press onward.  Lean in.  Keep efforting.  Keep training to become more and more like Jesus.

We’ve got to give a nod to yesterday – because yesterday shaped us in many ways.  But we musn’t allow it but a chokehold on us today.  We will never become who God wants us to become tomorrow if we are constantly facing the wrong direction. 

Paul says, I forget the past and I press on.  

A couple of things to note.  First, Paul is not presenting to us some kind of Christian perfectionism.  He admits that he is not a perfect Christian.  You are not going to be a perfect Christian.

It is not God’s expectation that we live flawless lives.  It’s not going to happen.  

But there is a huge gap between where I am today and perfect.  And that gap is where change occurs in us.  Where God transforms us from the inside out a little bit at a time so that we begin to think like Jesus, Feel like Jesus, and act like Jesus and Love like Jesus.

This is the summary of the Christian life.  We are invited to be changed.  Metamorphosed.  Not conformed, but transformed by Jesus.

And this is Paul’s message – it’s an easy message to understand.  There arent any difficult Greek words that need explaining.  Paul is simply exhorting his friends.  Press on, keep running, lean into your walk with God.  

Twice he says, press on.  Keep going.  Strain ahead.  I press on.  I strain ahead.  

So I’m now going to jump to the application part of the message.  I want to ask you this simple question.  In what sense are you striving in your spiritual walk with Jesus?  What evidence is there that you are pressing forward in your faith?  What are you doing right now to lean into your faith with God and grow?

So when I’m talking to my friend and he asks, what am I doing to train for a marathon – it’s really not enough for me to say that I am pondering how it feels to finish.  Without effort, and without training, I will never run a half marathon.  Never.

But the idea seems so difficult to accomplish that it can be overwhelming.  Where do I even start?

So here’s what I did – I looked online for a plan – a running plan.  And I found this thing here called the couch to 5k running plan.  And so – the idea of me running a half marathon was really difficult for me to imagine seeing as I had never even run 5k, which was 3.1 miles.  This was a program to train a person who had been sitting on a couch pondering things –  to be able to run a 5k in 10 weeks.

So what do I do?  Well, I don’t just say, “It’s impossible” and walk away.  I found this training program and the first day says – walk 5 minutes, then run 2 minutes, then walk five more.  Period.   Well I can do that!  Right?  Look at day 2 – relax! 

Well when it comes to living out our faith, when it comes to the work that is required to see growth in my walk with Jesus – it can sometimes appears overwhelming.  I mean, do I need to wake up tomorrow and spend an hour in prayer and bible reading?  Do I need to go to Bible school or something?  Where do I start? 

So I got to thinking, what would a couch to 5k spiritual training program look like?  What are some bite sized things I can do tomorrow, or by the end of the day, that will help me in this process of transformation.  What does it look like to press ahead, like Paul?  And what I did was ask a few friends of mine this week to send me ideas of bite sized spiritual training exercises for those of us at Journey Church.

And they wrote me back with some very good ideas that I compiled and what I am going to do now is spend the rest of the time together this morning walking through a couch to 5k spiritual training ideas.  

I have about 13 ideas here – and I want to encourage you to settle on one that you can do this week.  One and only one.  And then next week try a different one.  And what you will find is that some will resonate with you.  Others not so much.

No one I asked for help wrote to tell me they do all 13 of these.  Most wrote back and said I do these three things on a consistent basis that help me lean into my walk with God.  So don’t try to be superhuman.  Pick one this week and see what it does for you.  And at the end of the time I will hand out a paper with all of these ideas printed out for you.  

Super Practical “Couch to 5k” Spiritual Exercises

1.  Bible before Breakfast – read one chapter from the New Testament in “The Message.” (Free online at Biblegateway.com.  or free for your phone on the YouVersion Bible App.)   Suggestion: Start with Luke, then go to Acts.

Every person who wrote me back with ideas had some suggestion for reading the bible.  It was fundamental to transformation because the Bible is the one book that you read that reads you back.  So read it with an idea that – God help me understand and apply what I’m reading.

2.  Pray together around the dinner table before anyone eats a bite.  

Get the food out and before anyone passes a dish, or grabs a slice, or whatever – someone pray a very short prayer.  Like this:  Thank you Lord for this food.  Thanks for this family.  Thanks for air conditioning on a hot day.  Bless our family please, amen.   Couch to 5k action right there.

3.  If you listen to music in your car and you don’t already do this – listen to a radio station that plays Christian Music for one week.  Here’s a challenge – listen to only that station for a week.  Just don’t do it during the week they are raising money.

4.  Stop doing something.  Give something up for  week.  Maybe it’s a habit you want to break.  Maybe it’s a sin you have nurtured.  Maybe it’s a convenience – can you give up facebook?  The Television?  Golf?  Shopping?  

The reason why giving up something for a week is spiritual is because it reminds our soul of who is really in charge.  And it frees us from becoming dependent on things other than God.  If I cannot give it up for seven days, then I am forced to ask myself – why does by soul think it needs this?

5.  Give some money away this week.  Get you kids involved in the decision making process.  If you think I’m being self serving then don’t give it to Journey.  But giving our money away is a 101 kind of thing to do for people who are followers of Jesus.  It’s not something reserved for the spiritual elite.  If your faith never affects your checkbook or your calendar then you truly have an under developed faith.  And this is a good start.  

6.  Take a pastor out to coffee.  Make him pay.  And ask him that question that has kind of been bugging you, or ask him about that thing you once heard about God once that you aren’t sure is true.  Take us out and ask us – give us a chance to answer those unanswered questions that might be hindering your faith.

There truly aren’t any stupid questions.  And every question you have deserves a thoughtful reply.

7.  If you have never done it before – then sign up to serve at Heartland Hope.  Especially because it is a bit of an unnerving experience serving in a ministry where you don’t really know what to expect.  Great.  Let God minister to you in the uncomfortableness of it all and see what God brings to life in you.  Bring your family and afterward talk about what you experienced.

Since Jesus called himself a servant, then it’s good for us to put ourselves in positions to serve others.  And if you can’t make Heartland Hope work, then serve on Saturday mornings at 9am when we set up all this stuff.  45 minutes and we are done.  And if that sounds self serving, well, it kind of is.  

And if you can’t do that, then try to stick around afterward when we tear it all down after the service.  Again – 30 minutes or so – put yourself in the position of serving one another.  it’s training for godliness 101.

Now’s a good time to remind us to pick one and only one until you feel you have learned something – and then maybe put that down for a bit and try something different.  But it would be a huge mistake to look at all of these and think – I have to do all of this at one time.  

8.  If you have children – at night before you put them to bed, pray for them.  

Something like this:  Thank you Lord for my handsome son – I pray your blessing on him.  Help him to grow up to be loving and kind, just like you.  And give him a good nights sleep tonight, amen.

9.  Memorize a longer passage of scripture.  “I’m not good at memorizing” – okay good – it’ll be a real stretch.  Work on one or two words a day and keep adding them as you go.    Start with Psalm 23 in KJV.  Then go to the Lord’s prayer.  Other options?  Col 3:1-17.  1 Cor 13.

10.  Read a theologically minded book.  Some trusted authors? AW Tozer – the pursuit of God.  Timothy Keller.   Philip Yancey.  John Ortberg.  Francis Chan

11.  Prepare your story.  Put some thought into how you might answer someone who asks you why you follow Jesus?  And then after you write it out and practice it, send it to me.  I’d love to read it.  And then see, perhaps there will be an opportunity during the course of the week where you will get a chance to very naturally, not forced, share the reason you have for the hope you have placed in Jesus.

12.  Develop a friendship with another person you respect for their faith.  I was surprised that this was the second most common response I received from people I asked for help.  One person wrote,

“I need to meet one-on-one with other ladies from the church, sometimes to just discuss life.   We may not consistently meet, but if I can find a committed friend, just one; it helps me.”

“I meet with a friend weekly and we study a book together- Dallas Willard books provide amazing thought provoking materials”

13.  Take a daily 15 minute walk and pray as you walk.  Sometimes praying can be difficult because of it being in the house.  Get out – take a lunch walk and as you go talk to God.  

About what?  Don’t worry about it.  Just set out and in your head begin to talk with God.  Or out loud – let the neighbors wonder about you.

14.  Begin a journal – some write a thankfulness journal.  Others write out what they are learning.  A journal is a good discipline – not always easy to stay on top of – but my first pastor swore that this was one of the most powerful spiritual disciplines there was.  And when I got word back from these friends, I was surprised how many people mentioned that they keep some kind of journal.

15.  Be intentional with your drive to work time. (Or drive from work time)

Perhaps this is where you listen to great preaching.  Lifechurch.Tv Craig Groeschel.  Andy Stanley is good.  Timothy Keller is awesome and smart.   Or – listen to the bible on tape.  Or – make phone call – ask God what do you want me to do now?  Phone call to encourage someone?

Pick one thing.  Don’t you dare walk out feeling over whelmed.  That’s the opposite of what I’m shooting for today.  You can’t run a spiritual marathon tomorrow.  But you can train – you can make some efforts.

In what sense are you pressing forward in your walk with God?  

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