The pic above represents of one the most rewarding and stupid decisions of my life. Back in high school, I got a lot of A’s, but never one in physical education—you had to be a super jock in regular PE, but everyone on a sports team got them. Dad had razzed me a lot, so I bet him $5 I would my senior year. Distance running came fairly easy on a regular PE class level, so I checked out cross country. The best 10 ran varsity, the next 10 junior varsity. I figured 18 or 19, I’d letter and get the A and the $5.
After the first week of practice, coach Bucky Harris sauntered up, “Riter, I think you can make varsity. Keep it up.” Believing Bucky, I started to put more effort in, did some extra running, and ended up as 6th man on the varsity team, one that went undefeated in the tough Moore League in Long Beach CA, and came in third in the large school CIF finals. In one race, we dominated so much that our 10th man was ahead of the other teams’s first, so we joined hands to cross the finish line, a ten way tie for first.
My goal: run JV and win $5. Harris’ goal: another varsity runner. Harris knew my capabilities exceeded my own evaluation. Maybe God is the same?
Have no doubt, he challenges us in ways that exceed what we think we can do. He told a young rich guy he had to sell all he had to become a follower (Matthew 19:21). He told a prominent religious leader he had to start all over as a baby (Nicodemus, in John 3:1). In general statements applying to all, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison — your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26, NLT). The next verse did not come easier, “And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.”
Drop down a few more to verse 33, “So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.” Some more absolutes that I cannot do, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NLT).
God is not safe if we want to live in spiritual complacency. He challenges us, with these essential targets, if we want to follow him. Can we do them fully? Absolutely not. I didn’t become our top cross country runner, get a USC track scholarship and become a world class miler. But I accepted the challenge to target doing my best. I did, and achieved far more than I dreamed of.
Perhaps we all need to stretch ourselves. To go beyond our comfort zone. On a physical level, my next challenge is doing an Iron Butt motorcycle run, at least 1,000 miles in one day. July 1 is the target date. I suspect that will be easier, even at 70 years, than some of the forgiving I need to work on.
Kick Starting the Application
Think of a time when spiritually you exceeded what limited you. What impact did that have on your faith? Identify 1-2 areas that God wants you to stretch yourself in. What most stops you from trying? Do you want to stretch yourself spiritually? If not, are you willing to ask God to change your heart on that? What step can you take this next week?