I’ve been a runner for decades. While I’ve run in a few half marathons and 10K races, I’ve never really been a competitive runner. I do enjoy competing against my current times and fitness levels, however. One of the lessons I try to keep in mind about running, which carries over into life, is knowing when to run and when not to run!
Early this year, I mistakenly did long runs two days in a row. (Long for me) I was getting on a plane the third day for a long trip and thought it would be good to be physically tired before starting on this journey so that I might be more relaxed on the planes. As well, I was encouraged by a great run on the first day. While it seemed smart as I started the second day’s run, it resulted in minor damage to one of my knees that took some four months to get over. It was the wrong time to run!
We seemingly live in a day and age, where the concept of delayed gratification has been severely marginalized. Many seem to think if they can get everything picture perfect right now in their lives, they can experience an Instagram lifestyle. This ‘everything now’ perception of life has fostered a growing problem of prematurely jumping the gun. Premature marriages, premature divorces, premature quitting of jobs, relationships, and commitments too often are systemic of a culture that fails to understand the keys of long term commitment and working towards long term rewards even, and especially, in the face of difficulties.
2nd Samuel, chapter 18, relates the story of King David’s defeat of the rebellious Absalom and his army. When the battle is over and, in effect, the kingship is restored to David, Joab, David’s commander in chief, sends an official runner to bring the good news to David, who is miles away. However, a second would be runner, by the name of Ahimaaz insisted on also running to bring the report to the king. Joab’s response to Ahimaaz, in 2 Samuel 18.20, is an essential key to understanding the ways of God in our lives. Joab told Ahimaaz that he would run in the future, but not today!
In many official races, if a runner jumps the gun (starts before the gun sounds), the competition is restarted. But if he does it twice, that runner is then disqualified. However, new rules have been implemented in some track events so that even one false start can disqualify the premature runner. Likewise, in life, there are some false starts that can be very self-sabotaging.
I have observed how, over several decades, many well-meaning Christians have disqualified themselves for many seasons of their lives by running before God releases them to run. That was Ahimaaz’s problem! Again, please note- Joab did not say he would never run, but just not today!
After the official runner, a young Cushite man, began to run to David Ahimaaz said, “whatever happens, I’m going to run”! Joab, somewhat prophetic at that moment, then asked Ahimaaz, “why will you run- you will have no reward”? But when Amimaaz insisted on running Joab, in frustration, responded “run” and Ahimaaz did.
Giftedness is not Enough!
Ahimaaz was such a gifted runner that he outran the Cushite even though he has started well after him. When he arrived first to deliver the message to King David, he blurted out the good news; the kingdom had been restored to David, and the rebellious army was thoroughly defeated. While that was good news, indeed, it was only half the message the king wanted to hear. When David asked how it was with his son Absalom, Ahimaaz was ignorant. Ahimaaz was then told to stand to the side. 2nd Samuel 18.30 reads, “he turned aside and stood still.” This is a picture of what can happen when we run the races of life prematurely. We can end up off to the side of where we wanted to be with nothing really to say, and with no reward for our labors!
When the ‘official runner’ arrived, he not only had the news of the victory, but he also had the report as to the fate of Absolom. He had the full message!
Too often, we see people like Ahimaaz. They are gifted and have amazing abilities to serve God, man, businesses, etc. Like Ahimaaz, however, they don’t have the full message, and they run with only partial knowledge of what they need to know. For example, there are many Bible preachers and teachers today that have a very strong ability to preach and teach on the grace of God, but they do so with only a partial grasp of what Biblical grace really is. When it comes to the empowering grace God gives us so that we might be conformed to the image of Christ in our lifestyles, they have little to nothing to say. God’s values of discipleship somehow get thrown out the window. Alternatively, some are quite strong in preaching and teaching the message that we ought to be living lives of righteousness but have little to no help for those struggling to overcome addictions and demonic strongholds. They are similar to the false prophets and teachers whom Jeremiah rebuked. They say “peace, peace” but don’t really lift a hand to help those with bondages and wounds. (Jeremiah 6.14 & 8.11) Both sides of the coin are needed to proclaim and release the wisdom of God fully. When only one side of that coin in championed, the results can be deceiving and harmful.
Timing is everything!
It has been said by many that a healthy marriage is comprised of 3 elements- romance, friendship, and commitment. While it is quite easy to fall in love, it is also quite easy to fall out of love without the necessary girding of dedication and friendship. Part of the issue is that commitment and loyalty are developed over a season in which they are severely challenged. Those life lessons cannot be learned merely from a blog or podcast. They are learned through the school of life!
While my wife, Kim, was mature enough to get married shortly before her 21st birthday, I, on the other hand, was not ready until I was 25 years old. (Sometimes I think I’m still not ready!) I shudder to think of what would have happened over the first five years of the challenges we faced if I had married several years previously! It was not that I did not want to get married. The problem was I was not ready to get married. I still had some essential lessons to learn about commitment and being a best friend.
What many churches are witnessing today is a rash of divorces among young people. Despite making vows to God and man regarding sticking together “till death do us part” there is a growing problem of giving up on marriage because of the false perceptions that life can be lived in an Instagram bubble. The same can be said of friendships, jobs, ministry, and church life. We’re delusional when we think that any situation, or relationship, really worth having is not going to cost something first! As the old saying goes, “nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.” It’s the prolonged, highly uncomfortable struggles that bring us into a place of comfort and peace!
What we often fail to perceive is that while God does desire to give us the desires of our hearts, He always wants to do so when He brings us to a point where our success will not be the ruination of us! To knowingly wait on God’s timing rather than pushing the door to open is maturity. John 6.15 tells us that the people wanted to take Jesus and make Him king forcibly. Jesus, however, realized there was a crown of thorns to suffer before the crown of heaven could be worn. In other words, there are always some real headaches before we get to wear that hat of promotion. We all want more resurrection life, but not all of us want to pick up our cross daily. It’s in the dying to self that virtues such as commitment, loyalty, and perseverance are perfected!
Ahimaaz’s mistake was trusting in his abilities rather than the God-given authority over his life. He was, after all, a powerful runner! His lack of reward was standing to the side of the action with nothing to say. Let’s believe with all of our hearts that God does, indeed, desire to give us the desires of our hearts. But let’s also realize that our heavenly Father is the God of the times and seasons. And He is always right on time!
A Time to run from Danger!
The first book I authored is titled ‘Walking Out of Spiritual Abuse.’ It has since been retitled ‘Toxic Churches’. It deals with the syndrome of when Christians get caught up in abusive churches where they are continually manipulated by guilt and fear into serving and supporting that church, or ministry. Usually, the problem is insecure leadership, like king Saul, who confuse manipulation for encouragement due to a distrust of God and man. I have been asked many times over the years: “when should I leave an abusive church if I find I am actually in one”?
I believe God answers that question in the story of King Saul and the young hero of Israel- David, the shepherd boy. When Saul first began to know David, he loved and respected David. But, as David began to emerge as a hero and great warrior in the eyes of the people Saul’s insecurities began to choke out his love and regard for him. David, however, continued to faithfully honor Saul despite the growing tensions. He did not abandon Saul until the point came where Saul was actively trying to have David killed! And even afterward, David continued to honor God’s hand on Saul’s life even though he could no longer serve him. Likewise, Jesus continued to include Judas, in his group of twelve, even when he fully knew Judas would betray Him. And in so doing, Jesus came into the genuine crown the Father had always intended for him. When we begin to realize that a toxic situation, or relationship, is going to cost us our soul and sanity it’s time to move on. This, however, is different from incorrectly thinking the grass is green somewhere else simply because we don’t want to work through issues. The grass in not always greener somewhere else- it’s greener where it’s nurtured and watered!
The growing trend towards prematurely jumping the gun and giving up on relationships, jobs, and goals is a huge reflection of the brokenness in our society. The more hurting we are, the more we tend to look for quick fixes for the problems in our lives. The cost is we lose sight of God’s values of loyalty, commitment, and sacrifice. As we marginalize those traits and values of God, we end up all too often with no real reward and nothing of value to say to anyone.
When we examine the lives of men and women of the Bible who God has entrusted with great authority, and who came into real fulfillment, they usually went through long, difficult periods when God allowed the integrity of their hearts to be tested. Psalm 115.16-22 read;
“When he summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread, 17 he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. 18 His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron; 19 until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him. 20 The king sent and released him; the ruler of the peoples set him free; 21 he made him lord of his house and ruler of all his possessions, 22 to bind his princes at his pleasure and to teach his elders wisdom.”
The call on Joseph’s life, since a young boy, was to be a leader of high authority and fruitfulness. The journey towards becoming the man of God who could successfully walk in that authority, however, was one that thoroughly tested him. Likewise, you and I are called to lives of abundant fruitfulness. (John 15.8). Let’s not miss out on our rewards by jumping the gun before the race even begins!