I got a lesson in patience, persistence and encouragement last week. For about two weeks I had been wanting to go for a 5 mile run. I feel like I need to start increasing my mileage if I am going to be able to run the Army 10 Miler on October 21st. Now, I won’t be running it in Washington, D.C., but my sister and many of my friends will be. So, I thought as a show of support and unity I would do 10 miles the same day and time that they were. Now, I only have 5 more weeks to train for it, so I am starting to worry I may not be able to reach that distance, certainly not on my own anyhow.
From the beginning of this running journey, I have felt God pulling me along and seen many signs of encouragement along my routes. Usually, they are in the form of pretty flowers or flying creatures just ahead of me on the trail. Mostly butterflies and dragonflies that remind me how much more God loves and cares for me than even these amazingly beautiful creatures.
The hills here at Fort Polk have been a little discouraging for me in my quest for distance, but I heard about a flat 1 mile track at a place called Honor Field and decided that was where I should do my increases. Last Thursday after I dropped off my youngest son at pre-school I plotted my course with the GPS in my phone. Certain I knew where it was leading me, I headed out. And then, all of a sudden, the road ended with a large security fence and a sign that said “Road Closed.” I could see the track, just on the other side of the fence across the road. But, as we always used to say on family vacations where our navigation failed, “We just can’t get there from here.” Have you ever felt like that? Like you can see your goal ahead of you, but something is blocking the way? What do you do?
I said a little prayer and asked God to help me decide what His message was. Should I try to find another way? Should I give up on the 5 mile run altogether? I certainly had plenty of other things I could be doing. Ever so quietly, I could tell He was urging me to keep trying, to find a way around the fence. I abandoned the GPS in my phone because it clearly didn’t have an accurate picture of the post boundaries, and backtracked, going a little further North and tried another cross-road. Same story, only this time there was no sign telling me the road was closed, just a fence. I said, “Alright, God, three strikes and I’m out.” I again went further North and the headed East where I found myself leaving post. I was completely confounded. How could the PT test track and something named Honor Field be off post? But, there it was. I had spent so much time looking for the track that I was afraid, at my slow pace, I wouldn’t have time for the full 5. I decided to trust that if God helped me get this far, He wouldn’t let me fail at the rest of my schedule either. He knew where I needed to be and when.
Knowing that God has called me to run gave me the persistence to keep trying to find a way to the track. Still, I prayed for His guidance, because it is so hard to interpret the lesson we are to draw from a road closed sign, literally and figuratively. In life, love, business, parenting, or friendships, how often are we confronted with a tall fence and we don’t know if we should climb it, go around, or simply turn away. When the road ahead is blocked we have to lean on the strength of our conviction to do what God is calling us to. Sometimes the answer is that He is changing our plans, rerouting us for His purposes and that road block is our call to reevaluate what we are doing. Other times, there are lessons in the trials that He leads us through; lessons that we might not learn as well if the road was flat and smooth ahead of us.
At the end of the book of Judges, the Israelites have fallen into deep moral decay and 11 of the tribes are considering going up against the tribe of Benjamin for grievous sins committed. They made their plan and asked God how they should proceed against the far smaller army of the tribe of Benjamin. God gave them their marching orders, but they were horribly defeated, losing 22,000 men. You can imagine their surprise when they thought they were going ahead with a plan from God and were defeated. They “wept before the Lord until evening, and asked counsel of the Lord, saying, “Shall I again draw near for battle against the children of my brother?” And the Lord said, “Go up against him.”” Judges 20:24 In the next battle, the tribes of Israel lost 18,000 men at the hand of the tribe of Benjamin. I would surely have lost heart after these two monumental losses, but they again, prayed, fasted and made offerings before the Lord. Then, they asked if they should go up against their brother again. This time, God answered, “…Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.” Judges 20:30 So, they did and they routed the Benjamites so that only 600 remained. This was a group doing the work of God to bring the tribe of Benjamin to justice that persevered through serious defeat and discouragement. But, the third time God said, “I will deliver them into your hand.” I believe their lesson was that alone, they could not do His work, they needed to acknowledge that He went before them. Through it all, their fervent prayer was crucial for determining their course of action, just as it should be when we face obstacles.
It was a pretty good run, but even on the flat ground I wasn’t going much faster than my times with hills….there goes that excuse. About the time I hit the three-mile mark, I realized I the shirt I threw on in the dark that morning was the one I had received for completing a 5K about 2 1/2 years ago. And God spoke loudly to me saying, “See, you are faster than you were then.” And it is true, if only by a minute or two. “Patience, My child.” If it would take me 2 1/2 years to take a minute off my time for 3 miles, then how much longer might the struggle to improve other areas of our lives take. Psalm 27:14 has become a new favorite verse of mine. “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord!” If that isn’t a call to patience, I don’t know what is. And a promise that if we are patient, He will give us the strength to get through what ever we may struggle with.
As I was coming around the track for the 4th time, I started to wonder if I could make it and I asked God for some encouragement. He was faithful to not only provide me with butterflies and flowers I hadn’t noticed on the first 3 laps, but also with a large bird soaring overhead. What an amazing way to encourage me, I could almost feel the bird taking me under its wing and pulling me forward. Isaiah 40:31 says, “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” When we feel weak or weary, while doing God’s will, He will raise us up and encourage us to go on.
But what if we aren’t on the right path? Sometimes, God sends us Jonah Moments to redirect us, but I believe there are more subtle signs, too. Perhaps it is just a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right, a persistent ache in our hearts, a feeling of unrest or dissatisfaction that won’t leave us. Maybe we fail to see even a glimmer of optimism in our situation. In those times, we must fall to our knees and seek God, beg Him for guidance and direction. This is when it is vital that we have a relationship with God that is strong enough to weather the storms of fear, doubt and failure, trusting in Him to carry us through and place us gently down in the direction He wants us to travel.
It turns out that there was a much easier and shorter route to the track than the way I went. Isn’t that often the way? When we trust things of this earth to guide us, we can get so lost that we question what God is calling us to do or which way He wants us to go. If He is calling us and we are about His business, He is the one we should trust to guide us. His Word is where we should look for guidance, validation, acceptance, and encouragement, or perhaps even a detour we didn’t expect. By studying the Word, through prayer, and with the help of the Holy Spirit I am confident I can navigate all the journeys I will embark upon in this life. And even when the road seems pitted out and full of detours or blocked by “Road Closed” signs, “…we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-17