I’ve had a horrible, reoccurring dream since High School. In my dream, I am expected to do something I haven’t had time to prepare for – act in a play, speak at a church, wait tables in an unfamiliar restaurant. My stomach clenches as I realize I’m not going to be able to deliver what’s expected of me.
I’ve lived for many years as a Christian with the exact same fear – that God, my leaders, or my team are expecting things of me I’m not prepared for. The result is sure to be humiliation and failure. Somewhere along the way I picked up a misunderstanding about how growth and success are achieved. I’ve placed a huge emphasis on my ability to muster up faith in moments of crisis (mostly done by squeezing my eyes closed, hoping I had a spectacular Quiet Time recently, and praying with everything in me that I won’t look like a complete idiot).
Somehow, I’ve misunderstood what’s expected of me, and have confused which activities and efforts in my daily life might lead me to increased spiritual health and maturity.
John Ortberg explains it like this in his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted. Imagine someone appears at your door out of the blue to inform you you’ve been chosen to represent your country by running a marathon starting in twenty minutes! He hands you a jersey and a pair of running shoes and says, “Try as best as you can.”
Chances are, you may be able to run a few miles, but unless you’ve been in some type of training program, all your best effort and sincere trying will not be enough to get you to the finish line successfully.
However, imagine if the same man came to your door six months or a year earlier and said, “I hear you’re interested in running a marathon. That’s great! It’s very likely that with some considerable training on your part, and some wise coaching on my part, you could complete a marathon in the future.”
One scenario is similar to the nightmare I have from time to time, and the other scenario describes an intentional plan to reach a desirable goal.
So much of the Christian life is about faithfully training and learning, not just trying hard in moment of crisis, pressure, or inspiration.
When I think of the women and men of faith I admire I used to image they had mastered this “try really hard” approach to life. Whenever I saw them speaking in a meeting or leading an event they looked relaxed and happy. They seemed to be performing splendidly without much training or practice. However, as I’ve discovered more about their life behind the scenes, I realize they have been “in training” for decades. The profound, anointed messages, the powerful prayers, the courage and wisdom in trials are the result of “training” in the faith day by day. Because they have spent years and years practising the life of faith they are able do to the equivalent of running a spiritual marathon.
According to Ortberg, the way I live my life today is preparing me for what is to come tomorrow. If I want to be a woman of courage, generosity, gentleness, hope, humour, gratitude and humility, then today is the day to train. Today I can practice, learn, and grow in these areas.
Somehow, I’d focused too much on trying hard to perform well at a prayer meeting or on an outreach. I’d forgotten that what I can offer any team I’m part of comes out of the depths of who I already am. Today is the day to build the strength of character I will be able to draw on when I’m under pressure in the future. That’s it.
As followers of Christ we’re invited to see each interaction with another person, all activities in our schedule, and every task we do during our free time as vital to our growth. Waiting in line at the movies, folding laundry, buying coffee, or praying for a student after class are the training exercises for us to learn the ways of Christ. None of these activities are less important than any other. None are less holy. All of them are chances for us to learn how to live like Jesus.
With this in mind I feel much less pressure than I felt years ago. I no longer show up at a leadership meeting “trying” hard to be spiritual or to hear from Holy Spirit. I don’t need to prove myself or show off.
Instead I understand that I’m a person in training. Each experience, discovery, and conversation is preparing me more and more for the life I’m living. If I have something helpful to contribute I’m willing to share it. If I mess up, I reflect on what happened and get back in to the game.
If you spend a lot of time “trying” hard yet unable to live the way God is calling you to live I recommend this shift of thinking to you. What kind of opportunities for “training” are there for you? What would it look like to strengthen yourself a little bit each day? How would it feel to be less concerned about performing well and more focused on learning as you live? Reality is you’ve been in training for years already and have a lot of great stuff to offer!
**What is Holy Spirit inviting you to discover and how is He inviting you to “train”?**