Thriving in the Middle

EIB pinning

The Army’s EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge) “forced march” is daunting. With full pack and weapon, a soldier set out to complete the twelve-mile journey in less than 3 hours as part of the testing to earn the proficiency badge for the infantryman’s craft.

I was never an infantryman, but this “twelve-mile ruck march” was adopted by several other training courses I participated in as a way to test physical and mental toughness. The physical element test is self-evident…but let’s take a moment to explore the mental test and see how it applies in other areas of our lives.

On my first EIB March, I can say that there was great enthusiasm at the onset and the last few hundred yards also bolstered enthusiasm within. Where the difficulty resides is in the middle. Somewhere after the first six miles or so, the road begins to drone on forever and the pain in your body appears to be more prevalent. It is in this difficult “middle” that the mental test reveals itself. A battle rages in the mind of the soldier to succumb to the throbbing feelings in the back, legs, and feet…or to press forward. Pressing forward is not complicated but it requires mental toughness. Simply stated, to work through the middle requires one to intentionally continue placing one foot in front of the other.

EIB Badge

Step, then step, then step, then step. This is the recipe for overcoming the middle. Some guys create games to focus their minds such as developing a cadence in their head. Some will simply focus on another soldier and the interval between them. Others will work on counting off paces along the way. Whatever mental game is implemented, the task is to put one foot in front of the other and then to repeat.

Life in general is like this too. Church life (my present reality) also bears these characteristics. In recent days, I’ve watched several people I love simply lose focus in the middle. They struggle to attend faithfully. They struggle with their personal devotion time. They struggle with fulfilling obligations made to teams and committees. They, frankly, are in the middle of the march. Some of those, experience teaches, will fall away. Some will think the problem is the “march” they are in and will look for other marches (churches) to join. Others will just focus on the throbbing in their legs and sit on the side of the road waiting on the pick-up truck to carry them back to the rally point where they will tell the many reasons why they needed to stop and try again some other times.

But…and this is huge…some will simply put one foot in front of the other and repeat.

Where is the motivation to continue the march?  Friend, that is the part of the test that demonstrates mental toughness. It is individual and personal. At the same time, there are a few aids that seem to be common with everyone who presses through to the finish line:

  • Don’t forget WHY you started. The Infantryman doesn’t want to march, he wants the proficiency badge and the honor that goes with it.
  • Don’t focus on the pain. Feet and legs throb in the march. I get it. Focus though on the terrain or the interval to the next “soldier” ahead of you. Paul instructs us in this when he says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
  • Eliminate “other marches” from your field of consideration. All marches in life have a middle. They all test mental toughness. If you quit this one, your future ones will be that much harder, even if you change marches.
  • Remember those around you. Yep, you became part of a team when you started. Someone loved you, cared for you, and encouraged you through your difficulties. If nothing else, defer to your sense of loyalty to the group and put one foot in front of the other. Failure to do so will be a thorn in your side eventually and will serve to discourage the “family of marchers” that loved you to the point where you are.

You can finish. One foot in front of the other. Step, EIB Finish 2then step, then step…

Grace and Peace…and finish the march.

#P5: Rehearsing the Gospel

Pastor's Five, P5 logo“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” Psalm 23:1.

In my reflection time this morning after reading my devotionals, I was thoughtful of King David in the writing of the 23d Psalm. Often times we read Scripture and think of it as someone sharing a new truth or enlightenment. It is that many times, but it is also a written as a response to situations or circumstances affecting the writer at the time. (All of this according to the Inspiration fo the Holy Spirit of course). My thought…”Was David preaching the gospel to himself…and if so, why?”

We often think of the gospel as the good news of God’s Salvation for the lost…but it is also a source of encouragement for the saved. Life is difficult. It is stressful. It is overwhelming. Not all the time but certainly sometimes. When those times occur, how does one become strengthened?

David notes that the Lord is His shepherd. This is not because David sought out and enlisted the Lord’s service; rather, it is because the Lord sought out David and enlisted him! I think that was a source of encouragement to David. God sought and bought me! God is not sentimental or sappy….He is not wasteful or capricious. He is purposeful, glorious, and righteous in all things! God sought me and became my Shepherd!

All encouragement in the Christian life stems from this fact.

When we find ourselves discouraged, remember Him. When we are overwhelmed, remember Him. When we see no point in persisting, or remaining righteous, or pursuing justice…remember Him.

YES…the gospel is good news for the lost but it is also good news for the saved! We are no less needy of the gospel once we are saved than before we ever heard and responded to it initially. Today…preach to yourself. Rehearse the gospel. Do not fear being given over to pride. No right perspective on the gospel can lead to pride. Rehearse it and then be swept up in the glory of God’s grace toward us that not only saves, but also sustains!

Shalom. CA

#P5: Too Great a Journey

Pastor's Five, P5 logoThe angel said to Elijah, “…Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” 1 Kings 19:7, NASB.

This is perhaps one of the most significant chapters of Scripture in my personal journey. I often return here as I wrestle with the conviction of God’s calling and the cost of obedience in my own life.

Elijah has just seen God move powerfully on Mt. Carmel. He has done a supernatural feat and must be on a spiritual high! Then Jezebel threatens him. He certainly believes the threat because he is afraid and flees to Beersheba. As Elijah lays down to die, he is ministered to by the Lord and it is only the provision of God that sustained him over the next 40 days to Mt. Horeb.

God chose to speak to Elijah there, but not until a couple of reflecting questions were posed. Every minister needs to hear and answer these questions from time to time. God chose to speak softly…not in the way He spoke at Mt. Carmel with fire from heaven. He spoke personally, privately, and prominently to His prophet…as He reminded him that his mission was not up until God said it was. Elijah was strengthened and returned to Damascus and played out the last chapter of his earthly life’s story.

What is significant to see today…is that God’s provision is sufficient. Apart from Him and IT…we cannot finish the course before us. We will fail. The journey is too great. But with God, we are amply supplied…even if we do not know it in the moment.

When you find yourself at the end of your rope, remember who holds the rope and take courage. Look for the provision of God. Consume it. Rest in it. Be restored to your mission. Finish your course.

Shalom, CA