Well I’ve got my summer reading list on the boil for January (I have the whole month off!), and it contains two running books. The first is Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike. Really looking forward to this one, given Nike is my favourite shoe this year. That may change next year as Saucony has a new ISO model that looks suited to a marathon and….but I digress.
The second is by respected run coach Greg McMillan, You (Only Faster). What I like about McMillan is his recognition for both elite and non-elite runners that life events, family etc, must be factored into a running program. He’s no cookie cutter coach, and he’s got the er, runs on the board in terms of success to back up his ideas.
You (Only Faster). I like that idea. Especially on the back of a year in which I PB-ed every distance between 5km and 21km in the first six months, then tanked through illness and injury in the second half of the year. I’m about to crawl over 3000km for the year, but it should have been a whole bunch more and a 3:59min per km half marathon. Oh, well, there’s always next year. Next year is the year I can feel it.
You (Only Faster). The only reason I care about this is that I want to get faster. But perhaps running is not your schtick. Perhaps for you it’s You (Only Slimmer), or You (Only Wealthier), or You (Only Happier). Whoever you are, you have a you attached to a comparative because you want it, want to be that thing more next year. That’s just the way we work.
It’s gotten me thinking. As I look back at my running year, the pitfalls, the successes, the goals, the missed opportunities, the failures, the injuries, and yes, the fun of it all, that none of it just happened. It came with effort. It came with getting out of bed in the middle of winter at 5:15am, running intervals along a cold dark path, or over-heating on a long run on a muggy day. None of it just happened.
You (Only Holier). That’s a good goal for next year. I sometimes think that if I put as much emotional and actual energy in pursuing holiness in 2016 as I did pursuing running, I would have been, well, holier.
The word “holy” and “holier” get bad press from too much of the Christian culture at the moment, as if somehow the desire to so be is a vestige of an outdated Christianity, one that is too self-focussed, or too self-righteous, or too proud or whatever.
Quite frankly that’s nonsense. Hebrews 12:14 states: Pursue peace with all men, as well as holiness, for without holiness no one will see the Lord.
Say what? No holiness, no last day gazing on the face of Jesus? Yep, that’s what it says.
Oh I know, I know that our righteousness is in Christ, I totally get that. But so does the writer of Hebrews. Yet here they are saying “pursue holiness”, as if somehow it’s entirely possible to not pursue it and therefore not see the Lord – which is exactly what the writer is saying!
So I look back at the year that was 2016 and ask myself, Did I pursue holiness as readily as I pursued a running PB? Sometimes. Sometimes not. There were periods, just like in running, when my body glided Teflon-like past besetting sins, leaving them in my wake without giving them as much as a glance. Heart rate steady, leg-action smooth, arms low.
Then at other times I felt like Velcro, heavy and distracted, sin clinging like burrs. I was trudging spiritually. Those were the times it was an effort to pray in the Spirit, to counter the devil’s ideas with God’s Word, to rejoice in gathering with his people. Often I felt like me, only less holy. And those are never good times for us, are they.
You (Only Holier). Where do we start? Well, perhaps its a multi-faceted approach – just like running. It’s about being aware of our own unholiness, yet seeing ourselves able to approach the holy throne of grace through the work of Christ. No one has yet to truly grasp how alien their righteousness is and want to be unholy.
And then there’s the disciplines of grace; the scriptures, prayer, meeting regularly with God’s people, taking the sacrament in repentance and faith, the slaying of sin by resisting the devil and not feeding the flesh.
And you’re going to have good times – PBing holiness, so to speak. And then you’re going to fall over and sustain a spiritual injury at some stage. At that point wallowing in self-pity or remorse is not the solution. Only the joyous rehab of confession, repentance and remembering the grace of God in Christ for you will get you back on your spiritual feet.
So get out there and pursue holiness. In fact make You (Only Holier) a more important item on the 2017 agenda that any one of the other “You’s” you could focus on.
For the fact is I will see the Lord if I’m slower, fatter, poorer this time next year. I don’t want those things, that’s for sure. But they’re not spiritually fatal to me. However if I’m not holier, in fact if I put my efforts into pursuing unholiness, then reaching the finish line is no certainty. I could have a spiritual heart attack out on the course. And I don’t want that, for me, or for any of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Let’s leave the last word to the writer to the Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (12:1-2)
Holiness or sanctification (or saintliness) is of course a great ambition, but there may be a danger for your readers. The danger is in seeing the flipping of the calendar as strong enough an impetus to create such noble changes in self. Check out the stats regarding failure of NY resolutions.
More effective than a new calendar ahead and self-determination is anchoring such endeavors in your baptismal vows. It was under the waters where you gave yourself to be a living sacrifice that followed Jesus’ model from self-crucifixion to resurrection. From start to finish, a shared experience and the start of a covenant relationship which had this cross-bearing start.
It was under the same waters where sins were washed away. That is often referred to as “initial sanctification” because in the baptismal waters the HOLY Spirit took up residence within. That fresh Spirit–rather than fresh calendar–is the power that continues sanctification.
And it will be accomplished in the daily dying of one who was baptismally crucified with Christ Jesus.
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