After many years of diverse career experience, I was excitedly counting down the days until my retirement. I eagerly anticipated being in control of my schedule and time while enjoying a slower pace of life. I envisioned more days devoted to serving in ministry at my church and deepening relationships...
When was the last time you heard God’s voice? Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that God doesn’t speak to us dynamically, conversationally even, through the Bible. In fact, therein lies the only sure words of God available to us.
In case you don’t believe me, or need to be encouraged that God does speak, I’ll tell you what God recently said to me. See, my soul felt dry. Forming prayers felt like writing an uninteresting essay. I went to the Bible, but while reading my brain felt like brick—unimpressionable. Heavy-hearted, I felt laden with unidentified sorrows. And still he spoke,
My son, be attentive to my words;
incline your ear to my sayings.
Let them not escape from your sight;
keep them within your heart. (Proverbs 4:20-21)
So, on my lunch break, I began to walk around my office building per usual and opened my Bible app to Proverbs. As I read, the Father brought an image to my track athlete’s mind. This sounds like Coach Bradley talking to me. It brought back memories of cross-country and of the sweet sound of my assistant coach’s voice, “Push it, Eden!” as I jumped over hurdles.
Imagine with me now that you’re going on a run. Stick with me here. For all you runners—this should be easy.
Listen to Your Coach’s Voice
Okay, you’re running. No headphones; you’re in a race. But there’s noise all around. Other runners are heaving, stomping, moving. Opponents are whirring by, chasing, at your side. You hear the sound of striving, your own heavy breathing. And you hear a steady voice in your memory: “Son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart” (Proverbs 4:20-21 NIV).
It’s your Father, your LC (Life-Coach) as my mom and I like to say. At the start of the whole race, he put his hands on your shoulders, looked you in the eye, and said, “Listen, my son, accept what I say…I’ll guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble” (Proverbs 4:10-12).
So as you run, from the shot of that gun, there should be one thing on your mind—you’re listening for your coach’s voice, and repeating his speech to yourself (v. 21).
Let His Words Enliven Your Body
Now all athletes have preached at one point, “Mind over matter.” As your feet are pounding, you hear the Father saying,
Keep them [his words] within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body. (vv. 21-22)
We understand this. As athletes, what we let entertain our mind (our heart) will overcome our physical performance. What’s in your heart will affect your body: I can’t finish. I’m getting tired. I’m losing. My knee is starting to hurt. Oh no—cramp! These are the thoughts that leave our hearts in tatters. And as we sow these thoughts, our legs slow.
Why? Because our physical performance—our very life—flows from the heart. Thus, we must guard it. How? By setting our attention on words of life. By listening closely to our coach by rehearsing the words he’s spoken to us in the Bible, and not letting his speech drift from our mind’s eye. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (v. 23).
Tell Yourself the Truth
We also guard our heart by training our sights on the words of life, but also by casting off corrupting talk. “Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you”, he says (v. 24). Why does our Coach say this? We do lots of self-talk in life—in running too. As mentioned earlier, the dangerous form of racing self-talk is self-focused and self-abasing. You can’t. You aren’t. You won’t make it. He’s disappointed in you. He’s expecting so much more.
The Bible teaches that crooked speech comes from a crooked heart. God “delights in truth in the inward being” (Psalm 51:6). He won’t have us speaking about ourselves or him in ways that aren’t true. That’s why he coaches us in this way in his Word. “Guard your heart! Get rid of the crooked thoughts you have about you, and the crooked thoughts you have about me!”
Look Straight Ahead
As you’re running effortfully, hear the strong tone of a loving Lord yearning for his child to finish well: “Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure” (vv. 25-26).
Eyes forward, not behind you. Golly, no one can run with their head over their shoulder—not without a serious neck cramp! Don’t dwell on the past. Your sins are long gone, taken care of through the cross of Jesus (Psalm 103:12).
Gaze straight. Not to the side, looking around you. Jesus said to his disciple Peter, “What is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22). You’ll slow your pace if you’re looking left and right at surrounding people and circumstances.
Look straight before you. Don’t look down. Don’t look at your naval, consumed with what’s going on within—eyes up. There’s no other place for your eyes to be if you truly want to run.
Look to your Lord, the risen Christ, who is standing at the finish line.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil. (v. 27)
Because we’re forgetful people and fickle in will, our Coach reminds us of the obvious. Don’t steer your body down a path that will deliver you over to destruction. This is a blatant statement: Don’t do what you know not to do.
When we’re tired and the race feels long, we may find it easy to justify jogging down a forbidden path. Don’t go there, God says. Stay away from what you know to be evil.
Christ Qualified You to Run
Huh Huh Huh. Keep breathing, keep running. You’re in the race, friend. That’s grace. You weren’t qualified to run the race of faith, and you can’t earn the win. You’re on Team Jesus, and he placed first. He put your whole team in the lead and won for you eternity. And his race was the hardest of all—he sweat blood before the toughest part began. For the joy set before him, he endured.
…[look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
But you’ve got to finish well because you’re part of the team. And you’re not alone. There’s a whole multitude you cannot see cheering for you in heavenly stands: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1).
In conclusion, I wrote a poem for you, as a reflection on this Scripture passage. You can find it at my blog here.