Running The Race of Faith
"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"
Hebrews 12:1 A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend that left me feeling sad after we got off the phone. I love this friend dearly, but after chatting I realized we are no longer in the same place in our friendship that we used to be for so long. To be perfectly honest, this feeling has been coming on for some time, and the shift in our friendship happened over the course of several years. But after this particular conversation, it became truly evident that we were on different pages. As I do with everything now, I went to the Lord with it. I shared with Him my feelings of sadness and discouragement surrounding this friendship. I shared my grief in feeling like we can't talk the way we used to to, or share in the same way we once had. I laid my heart bare. I'm sure there are many women who can relate with me. We have friendships that we've had for years, and then something happens that derails it or changes it in a way we didn't expect. It's sad. It leaves us heartbroken and wondering if we did something wrong. And a hole forms in our hearts when these friendships no longer give us the life and communion they once did. But I want to share something with you that God showed me. I pray it encourages your heart the way it did mine. The Christian Walk, Is Like a Marathon As I was pouring my heart out to the Lord, the Holy Spirit suddenly brought to my mind Hebrews 12:1. I began to meditate on the verse, rolling the words over in my head, wondering why God was speaking that verse to me specifically. As I was thinking on the words " let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" suddenly God gave me a faith picture in my heart. He showed me a marathon. He showed me how each person in the Christian walk is running in this marathon together. Some people are running faster than others, some are running slower. He showed me that there are spectators on the outside of the race who haven't committed their lives to Christ. Some people stand outside the marathon lines and they taunt the Christians as they run by. Some people throw insults, some are indifferent, and some even throw stones. But then He showed me something else. He showed me myself, running in this race. He showed me how He had ordered my life so that when I first recommitted my life to Christ, I would be running alongside women who would help me in my faith walk as I learned to commune with Him. He showed me how as we ran together, we laughed and prayed and helped one another along. When one of us fell down, we came alongside and picked up our fellow woman. Sometimes, we carried each other when we were too weak to run by ourselves. God showed me that when I needed them most, He happened to bring women into my life that I needed. They cried with me, laughed with me, and most importantly, loved me. And then He brought to my mind a pivotal prayer that I prayed early on in my faith journey. He told me, "You didn't know it my beloved, but that prayer you prayed set you up to run at a different pace." Prayers Can Change Our Running Pace I heard a sermon one day that radically changed my faith. I heard a pastor preach about speaking in tongues, and the importance of it in our lives as Christians. At the time, I had all of the normal arguments come to mind as to why this pastor was nothing more than a charismatic quack. And I mean that in the kindest, most Christian possible way. Growing up in a Christian home, my dad had plenty to say as to why speaking in tongues was the "devil's work." It wasn't until year's later, shortly after hearing this sermon, that I asked my mom why dad always said that. She said something to the affect of, "Well, he's probably so against it because when he received Christ he also received the gift of speaking in tongues in the same moment, and he started using that gift. But then he was attacked by Satan and never did it again." That intrigued me. I didn't realize my dad could speak in tongues. I also found it interesting that Satan attacked him for it. I had always heard that if Satan was leaving you alone, then you're doing something wrong. He only goes after those who are moving and shaking his hell-ish hole. So, I brought my insecurities and fears to the Lord, and I started asking Him about it. Really, at the time, all I did was talk to God about my fears surrounding the idea of speaking in tongues, and that I thought it was an absurd idea. But one day God asked me to look into His Word and see what it said about the topic. So, I did. I realized the Bible actually has quite a lot to say about it. I Corinthians 14:1-5 "Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification." I found it interesting that a man or woman who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, and that Paul wished that all Christians spoke in tongues. The dictionary definition of edifies is to instruct or benefit, especially morally or spiritually; uplift. I began to realize that this spiritual gift was something to be desired, as Paul said. I wondered how it would edify me in ways that I couldn't comprehend. Further down in that chapter Paul says "I thank my God I speak with tongues more than you all;" and that one verse caught my attention. I pondered on Paul's ministry, and that no one can argue he had the biggest impact on the sharing and spreading of the gospel. There is no man that made more of a difference for the growth of the early church than Paul. I started thinking about Paul's ministry, and that I also wanted to be effective for the kingdom of God. I chewed on this for a few more weeks, and then one day I made a decision. I decided I wanted this gift, and started I praying for the gift of tongues. The first part of I Corinthians 14 says to desire spiritual gifts. The actual Greek word here is zeloo, which means to burn with zeal, to desire earnestly, pursue. So I decided to take God at His Word, and I prayed for the gift of tongues earnestly. Nothing happened for awhile, but during the time I was praying for this gift, God was preparing my heart to handle it. He burned away the fears and lies I had about tongues, and he replaced them with the Truth of what His Word said about the gift. In the time I prayed, He showed me how the very first believers who received the gift of the Holy Spirit also received tongues in the very same moment. The mark of those early believers was the gift of tongues. Acts 2:1-4 NKJV "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (bold mine) I prayed for a year, and nothing happened. But I didn't realize at the time the impurities in my thoughts surrounding tongues were becoming pure. After a year I began to covet the gift and pray earnestly. And God started preparing my heart to receive it. And then one day, it happened. He loosened my tongue, and suddenly I was able to speak in the unknown language. That one gift, began to radically change my prayer life and set me up in ways I couldn't see at the time. Because every time I pray in tongues, I am edifying myself. Lies have no place in the presence of Truth. The Holy Spirit works in me in ways I don't understand, but the fruit that comes later is life changing. Circumstances Can Change Our Running Pace Not only do certain prayers change the pace at which we run, but sometimes things happens to us that we didn't foresee or predict. Circumstances in our lives change the course and pace in which we run. When we lose people close to us, lose our job, lose our health, those circumstances give us a choice in that moment. When a devastating situation happens to us, how we choose to respond to it will forever affect our faith. If we invite the presence of Jesus into that place, He will become our Comforter and Healer. We will begin to see Him in a new light, and our trust in God grows. Our faith is strengthened when we act on it, and put our trust in the One who is the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2) I think the best thing about that verse is that Jesus is the author of our faith, and the one who finishes it. We don't have to worry about our measure of faith, because it comes from God! The more we come to Him with our measly little faith that we have, the more He grows it under His care. After I received the gift of praying in tongues I began to be attacked by Satan, just like my dad. I was living at my parents house at the time, and I remember being asleep one night and waking up with a terrible feeling of dread surrounding me. When I sat up I saw a demon outside my window, staring at me. I shut my eyes as tight as I could and prayed and declared the name of Jesus over myself, my room, and my life. To say I was terrified would be an understatement. A few nights later I woke up to something, I assume a demon as well, flipping my body over in my bed. I slept on the couch for the rest of the night. The next day I was telling my mom about this and she freaked out. That night my dad anointed my room with oil and prayed over it. Those attacks never happened again. And something happened, my faith began to grow. My faith began to grow because I saw the power of my dad's prayer and the power of the anointed oil. But my faith also started growing because I realized that me praying in tongues was shaking the demonic realm, or they wouldn't have come for me. Those two instances in my life changed the way I saw prayer. When we pray, hell's gates quake. Never underestimate the power of your prayers. The attacks continued in different ways. I ended up getting into a few car accidents and it impacted my health. I started having panic attacks when I would get into the car to drive. I was so afraid to drive and the terror of it would well up in me. I hated that feeling. I knew it wasn't of God, but I didn't know what to do. So, I did the only thing I knew to do. I began listening to sermons in my car every time I got in. It was the only thing that worked to keep my mind off of my fears, and focused on the presence of Jesus. It wasn't until years later that I heard this preached in a sermon: "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17) What I didn't know is that I was building my faith by listening to the Word of God in my car. My car accidents caused fear, which I responded to by focusing on Jesus instead of on my fear. Don't get me wrong, I was very, very fearful for a long time. But God used my car rides to replace the lies of my fears with the Truths of His Word, and slowly my anxiety lessened until one day, it was no longer an issue at all. In fact, now I never think about being fearful in the car. Why? Because My God goes before me, and He protects me. And I know that, in the deepest parts of my soul, I know that to be true. I didn't build my faith, God did. I just sat and listened and listened and listened to ease my fears. And slowly, my faith grew. My Running Pace Has Changed How we respond to difficulties in our lives, or what we pray for in the quiet moments we spend with the Lord, will change the pace at which we run this Christian marathon. God showed me in the faith picture that He gave me, that the prayer I prayed 10 years ago changed the pace at which I now run. He showed me that I no longer run at the same pace as my dear friends do. My prayer language has radically changed my faith and my entire life. I was pondering this faith picture He gave me and He showed me that my new running pace is faster than it was previously, because my faith has grown enough to handle the faster pace. God showed me my heart, and that I have exercised it the way a runner does. He said to my heart, you have practiced perseverance, and grown it as a runner grows their heart muscles. The more you practice My ways, the more your spiritual muscles grow. In my mind's eye, He told me to turn around as I was running. I turned and I saw where I used to run. The pace at which I used to run was slower, more fearful, and quick to believe a lie. As quickly as the faith picture came to me, it was gone. But the vision brought clarity to my situation, and a comfort to my soul. Jesus comforted my soul by showing me that running at a different pace than I once did, is a blessing. While it does mean that I am mourning the loss of what my friendships once were, I am excited for the runners God will bring into my life who are filled with faith and push my walk to greater heights. I look forward with anticipation to the new friends God is preparing me to embrace. Women who are like me, desiring the gifts of spirit and praying for them to fill our lives. I pray this circle of women wants to take communion, breaking bread and doing it often, remembering that Jesus died on the cross and was broken so that we may live. Dear friend, if you read this and it resonates with you, we should probably be friends. Lol! But also, I pray it fills your soul with comfort the way that it did mine. It's absolutely ok to be sad what we are leaving behind when we pick up our pace, but may we push forward in perseverance, knowing that God has something greater in our future for us. Just like a marathon, we might find ourselves running alone for awhile. We might look around and realize it's just us, pounding pavement during the rain and sleet. Or maybe you feel like you've been through a hail storm at night, and you're just trying to stay upright in your run. I've been there. Sometimes God separates us so that the only thing we hear other than our own breath, is the breath of Jesus as He runs next to us. If this is you, rejoice in your season of running alone. It is during my seasons of running solo with the Lord that I gave gained greater distance than I ever thought possible. Keep going. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing." II Timothy 4:7-8 One day we will stand before our King, and He will place a crown of righteousness on our heads. We will know that we fought the good fight, and finished the race. So, just as Paul said in Hebrews, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. God gives each of us a race to run that is purposed specifically to that which He has called us to do. My friend, lace up your shoes, put on your armor, and let's run. With Joy, Jessica