Thursday, February 19, 2009

No Towel Tossing!

There is one way to ensure personal and spiritual stagnation--hang around with others who are content with status quo and mediocrity. Really. It's more contagious than the common cold.

The children of Israel had been miserable at times during their wilderness journey--so much so, that their griping and grumbling had resulted in some pretty serious consequences. For that reason alone you'd think they'd be ready to do a happy dance as they were finally about to cross over the Jordan River into the promised land.

But chapter 32 of Numbers reveals that two of the tribes, Gad and Reuben, were content to remain east of the Jordan in the land of the Midianites and the Moabites. It had been the dream of God's people to return to the home of their ancestors since Jacob had moved the family to Egypt some 400 years earlier to escape the famine. But now, just as they were about to finally realize their dream, these two groups decided that they'd fought long and hard enough and they'd be just as happy to stay where they were rather than receiving their inheritance in the promised land.

Two things come to my mind when I read this passage. The first is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being content. In this case however, that was not the whole story. They weren't motivated by Godly contentment, they were "done". There were still battles to be fought, and the men of Reuben and Gad were needed if victory was to be ensured. Moses was quick to point out to them that it wasn't right for their brothers to go to war while they just "sat there".

The truth was, God had great plans for them--plans to give them a wonderful inheritance and a permanent homeland. But rather than pressing on to see the culmination of all they'd longed for, fought for, and hoped for, they were now happy to throw in the towel and settle for less.

I've been there before, maybe you have, too. It's tough when you're tired, worn out, and weary. It isn't easy staying the course and pressing on when the journey has lasted longer than anticipated or the way has been tougher than you expected--but it's nearly impossible to stick it out when you are surrounded by other towel tossers.

But God's best comes to those who press on even when the going is tough. His strength really is perfected in our weakness. When I consider that I only have one life, one opportunity, I am much more inclined to make the effort to press on. It's only when I am encouraged by other quitters that I, too, am tempted to quit.

When David was young, he wanted to play every sport, every season. He excelled at baseball but he wanted to play basketball to "stay in shape" for baseball, and he wanted to play soccer because his friends played soccer. We always cautioned him at the beginning of each season that our only requirement was that no matter what, he couldn't quit. If he made a commitment to the team, he had to see it through to the end of the season.

When he was twelve, David was chosen as an All-Star in his baseball league. Not realizing that there would be a conflict, our family's week of vacation coincided with one of the play-off games, and the coach was really upset to learn that we would be away.

On Wednesday, George and David left the beach and drove home so that David could be there for his team, and then drove back to join us for the rest of our vacation, arriving sometime around 3 a.m. I have to confess that I was proud of David for choosing to sacrifice a day at the beach for a day in the car simply because he didn't want to let his team down.

The next morning, I asked David if he'd hit one out of the park for me. He grinned, but said no. Because he was smiling, I asked, "Well, did you hit two out then?". "No," he said, still smiling, "I hit three out of the park.". At first, I thought he was joking, but he showed me his three home run balls and then gave me the play by play of his best game ever, a game that to this day I hate having missed.

In life, we only experience great things when we show up. Sometimes, showing up requires sacrifice. Sometimes, it requires tenacity. Other times, it requires every ounce of every bit of determination we can muster because we just don't feel inclined to get in the game. But there is no promised land for those who give up east of the Jordan. And although our "promised land" isn't a plot of real estate somewhere in the Middle East, it is every bit as precious and just as worthy of our earnest effort to get there without giving up. The inheritance that God has for us is worth it, and I am so thankful that when I feel like I just can't, I know for certain that he can!

Romans 12: 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. 3 Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

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