Tomorrow, I will take part in the Merrell “Down & Dirty” Mud Run. After posting in January about my tattoo and the importance of abiding in Christ, I’ve learned what it means to “run the race with obedience,” and will bring my journey to a head in the mud tomorrow morning.
As I’ve been training for this race, I’ve found that it’s more meaningful to dedicate it to someone than be in it simply for myself. As the miles have passed under my feet, I’ve found I gain energy every time I think of or pray for someone close to me, or even for a group of people in need of redemption or awakening (I’ve been especially concerned for America as a whole the past couple of weeks. As one of my classmates at Medill said, ‘Looks like we’re going to hell in a handbasket – let’s move to Canada!’) Which, I think, may not be too bad of an idea at this point in time.
Though fleeing to Canada may be an enticing thought, there are plenty of individuals outside America in need of prayer too, and so, my prayers have been applicable across borders: for anyone and everyone who has ever felt restricted, restrained or oppressed by fear, anxiety, insecurity or pain. The anxieties and fears some of my friends have expressed to me recently have shaken my world, and their confessions make me ever more confident in the freedom that’s offered in Christ –an incomparable and insatiable desire that motivates, enables and propagates freedom, peace and love for all who are thirsty.
I wouldn’t be so adamant about the freedom that’s offered in Christ if I hadn’t experienced it personally, myself, each and every day. Coincidences are more than by chance, and since inking myself with the theme of John 15 in January (and even before that), I’ve begun to see God speak to me through Bible verses, songs, people, news articles, job offers, and more. Some people tell me, “AJ, that’s just a coincidence,” or have said, “Yeah, so what?” but for me, these “daily miracles” mean everything. Like my Ancient Near Eastern religion professor told us during my junior year at Wheaton, “God used to permeate every aspect of creation. In the Old Testament, people believed God was in a tree, or God was in the wind, or God was in the temple, physically and manifestly.” Turns out, it wasn’t until recently, our skeptical and post-modern world that people took God out of creation and started to wonder and ask where the heck he went. For me, I like the omniscient, Old Testament version of Yahweh better than the modern Stephen Hawking-esque, “God is not here” perception. It makes people think they have to strive, or try to reach God, when, in essence, He’s been here with us on earth all along.
Hebrews 12 is a verse that has spoken to me with intensity over the past couple of years, and is my inspiration going into the race tomorrow. At the Passion conference in January 2011, my college Bible study group leader held me as I sobbed in fear and anxiety after a John Piper sermon (he has the tendency to drop truth bombs that scare the crap out of congregations. Or is it just me?) Little did I know then, it was his words that cut the cords of dependency on my old life and ways apart from God.
In any case, I was comforted by my leader’s words: “My prayer for you is that you will learn to love God as your father, and you’ll learn to trust Him and let Him hold you. I want you to picture yourself running to his arms -just like we sang tonight. Run into His arms.”
She was referencing “Forever Reign,” the worship song Kristian Stanfill played to close out that night’s session of Passion. The song’s chorus shook me to the core:
“I’m running to your arms
I’m running to your arms
The riches of your love will always be enough
Nothing compares to your embrace
Light of the world, forever reign”
And now, a year and a half later, there’s no place else I’d rather be than leaning on the everlasting arms. Back then, God’s embrace was foreign to me, though, as I had substituted His love with darkness, lies and a dependency on worldly desires that threatened to take my life, and the lives of those around me. That night, I realized I was living a lie, and my brokenness at Passion was the beginning of my journey home to the Father.
As I began to take baby steps of obedience to God’s call last January, I experienced refreshment, renewal and rejuvenation in various forms, though it wasn’t always easy. Through counseling a team of high schoolers at HoneyRock, participating in the “Solid Rock Club,” wandering the violence-ridden streets of Chicago with an audio recorder, notepad and pen, producing blog posts and freelance articles about topics ranging from community outreach projects to hip-hop and broken homes, taking Bible & Theology courses at Wheaton, experiencing days and nights in my tiny studio apartment, taking runs to the lake, going to church services and concerts and developing and maintaining life-giving friendships, I have learned more about life and love and responsibility than I ever thought possible. Where I once was self-absorbed, only worrying about myself and my selfish needs and desires, I now see every day as a miracle, and look for opportunities to better love those around me with the love that God has given me to dispense freely.
Though I’m an eternal optimist, I have come to realize life isn’t easy and doesn’t come without opposition, anger, challenge, trials and tribulations. Each time I’ve encountered these things, I’ve been reminded that we are all fallen and have lost sight of what it means to love as Christ did. Each negative encounter makes me all the more confident that God is good and has overcome all of it – making me more dependent on the hope that is in Jesus, and all the more adamant about letting Christ live through me, cuz the world needs it. I know the war is won, and He is protecting us from harm and making everything new in the process – all I want is for everyone to jump on the bandwagon and come along for the ride.
Therefore, as I prepare to pin on my official race tags and hit the 3.6 mile course tomorrow morning, I will be thinking of nothing else but the people who need Jesus in a way they may not even realize. I will be praying for those who maybe want to start the epic adventure and journey of walking with Christ, but aren’t quite sure how to start; for those who are stuck in the mud pit and are afraid of stepping out in faith and obedience; and for those who feel held back by fear, anxiety or insecurities, afraid to express who they really are or think they are “too far down the rabbit hole” to be saved. We all have a story, and mine has been at times challenging and riddled with dirt, grime and mud, but the truth is, the amazing second chance God has given me is incredible and every day is a miracle. The cleansing water I will hose myself down with after the race is a metaphor for the loving grace God dispenses on us if we’re willing to receive it, and is a powerful reminder of God’s encouraging presence and insistence there is something greater waiting at the end of the course for all of us.
The mud run tomorrow is a culmination of my convictions established over the past year and a half of my life: that, though there are times when the going gets tough, there is something far better waiting, and every time I feel like I’m stuck in the mud, someone else feels the same way too, and God is waiting for us to admit our weakness and surrender to Him so He can pull us out of our crap and lift us to something better. God is SO good. And, as Florence of Florence + the Machine states, “it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back” – so, I’ll let her sing it but I’m gonna preach it : it’s time to SHAKE IT OUT!!!
For me, that means running a mud race to put my past demons behind me and confirm my faith that a walk with Christ isn’t always easy but is always best…I wonder what it means for you. I hope it means you’re ready to “shake the devil” from your back – get it, people. Go run the race of with obedience – you won’t be disappointed with the freedom that’s offered in Christ.
“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.Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” -Hebrews 12-