Hi there! Welcome to you! This post is part of a series I’m working my way through in the month of October, called Swim Your Own Race. If you’d like to start at the beginning (it is a very good place to start, after all) you can do so, right here. You can also find a link to all the posts in this series on Day One. I hope you enjoy diving in!
You know what can really throw you off your game when you’re preparing for a race? When one of your competitors false starts. You’re standing on the blocks and the buzzer is about to buzz, you’re focused on swimming your race and you know what you need to do once you hit the water. The buzzer goes and you spring into action and you’re on your way, and then you hear the loudest, most unpleasant repeated honking sound and you know — somebody false started and you’re going to have to get back on the blocks and do this thing again.
Those were the rules when the hubs swam in South Africa years ago, and when I swam in high school. It was quite an inconvenience to have to swim back to the wall, get out of the pool, and prepare yourself wait for that buzzer and spring into action all over again.
The rules in swimming (and track and field) have changed now, and if a swimmer false starts at the Olympics, they will automatically be disqualified. The race will carry on. Like one swimmer in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, you could train your whole life for this moment, miss the timing by false starting and lose the chance to swim your race because you moved a fraction of a second too soon.
Over the course of the conversation this month, we’ve talked about When to Get Up, slowing down to make Room in the Margins, Keeping Pace, and even trusting God In the Waters of Postponement. And yesterday, we added the important concept of Rest to the discussion, as a reminder that our life has to take place inside a balance of time when we are focused and working, and time when we are allowing our souls to breathe and giving our bodies the rest they need.
So, you might ask, how do we know? How do we know when our race is in the waters of postponement? How do we know when to get up? When to rest?
Here’s a little story about that, with a little backstory that I’m very fond of.
In 1 Kings, the story of Elijah the prophet is told. He has a boldness that I enjoy reading about, and the gifts that he has kind of make him seem like a stealthy spiritual super hero. Where we’re picking up in the story, things are not so nice in the nation of Israel. The wicked king Ahab is ruling, with his exceedingly wicked wife Jezebel steering his hand, and the people are worshiping Baal instead of the God of Israel. (Worshiping Baal often involved self-affliction, ritualistic prostitution and even child sacrifice, so in addition to the fact that this is a completely false god and they’re turning their back on the true God who loves them, this is a pretty nasty deal.)
Jezebel has gone on a rampage to kill any prophets that belong to the God of Israel — anyone who could continue to share His truth and speak against the way this wicked king and queen are steering the nation.
Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a sacrificing contest. He says, “Let’s head to Mt. Carmel, each build and altar and sacrifice a bull on it, but we won’t light the sacrifice on the altar. We’ll pray and see whose God accepts their sacrifice. And you guys can go first.” So the prophets of Baal build their altar, pile up the wood, load up the bull, and promptly start a prayer ritual to pray that their “god” will accept the sacrifice. They holler and scream and dance and shout for hours. They cut and lance themselves and they’re leaping around their altar and bleeding all over the place.
Elijah looks on, and teases them. One translation of one of his comments is that they should “Cry louder…maybe their god has gone to the bathroom.” HAHA!
Nothing happens to their sacrifice, and finally, in the evening, Elijah draws the people’s attention. He finds twelve stones to build an altar. He digs a big trench around it, puts the wood in order, lays the bull in pieces on the wood, and then proceeds to pour water on the sacrifice. He dumps gallons of water onto the sacrifice until the trench he’d dug around it is full of water and everything is soaking.
Then, he prays and calls on the name of the Lord and the Lord sends fire, which consumes the sacrifice and the wood and the stones and the dust, and even the water in the trench is “licked up” by the flames.
It’s clear who the true God is, and he orders the false prophets of Baal to be killed. Those false prophets were Jezebel’s minions, so she is furious.
She sends a message to Elijah that she will make his life like the life of the prophets he destroyed by tomorrow. He sees the message and runs for his life. He travels to Beersheba, leaves his servant there, and then goes a day’s journey further, sits down in the wilderness under a broom tree and asks the Lord to take his life before Jezebel does.
He has just had this mountaintop victory and now he’s on the verge of total meltdown.
He lay down to sleep under that tree, and an angel of the Lord touched him and encouraged him to arise and eat. He ate and drank and lay down again, and the angel returned again, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose, ate and drank, and then” traveled in the strength of that meal for forty days and forty nights.” I suppose he was so full of fear, he was a bit like Forest Gump and he just felt like running.
Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.
Psalm 103 puts the concept I want to emphasize quite well in verse 14: The Lord knows our frame, he remembers we are dust.
Elijah had an amazing victory on Mount Carmel, but immediately afterward, he was shaking in his sandals. The Lord knew his frame, knew him inside and out, and knew that when he saw that message from Jezebel, he was going to start running. So what did the Lord do? He prepared him for the journey. He gave him water to drink and food to eat, twice, before the journey began. There was a time to prepare for the journey and there was a time to set about the journey.
Although we might not experience a So You Think You Can Sacrifice kind of moment, where we face off with 400 prophets to prove the existence of the one true God, we are likely to have some mountaintop moments in our lifetime, and there will be other moments where we will completely despair our own existence. In every situation, the God who created us can look deeply into us, heart and soul, and lead and guide us, based on His plans for our life, but also just because He knows our frame.
It turns out, when Elijah finished running, God simply asked Him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah explained the situation from his perspective, and God responded by reminding Elijah of His incredible power — the scene where He was not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire that He caused to pass Elijah by on the mountaintop, but He was the still small voice. Elijah heard that still small voice, wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out to listen to what the Lord would say to him.
God gave him directions to go back, and if I could I’d play music from Simba’s decision to go back to the pridelands in the Lion King right now, because it would really just fit.
God knew Elijah would run, so He prepared him to run, allowed him to run, met him where he was, and then gently encouraged him to head back, not to be afraid.
Elijah waited through the strong wind, the earthquake and the fire, and eventually found the still small voice.
Similarly, we often need to be still and listen for the still, small voice of God. It may seem like the world is falling apart all around us, we might be fearing for our lives, or just dreading another day, but if we can quiet our souls and listen, we will hear a voice, willing to lead us. If we are willing to live with a yielding to the Spirit of God, God can tell us when it’s time to get up, when it’s time to trust Him and wait, and when the journey is too great for us, and we need to eat and drink and prepare before we dive in again.
While a false start will not disqualify you from the race that you swim to the glory of God, I think it’s fair to say that you’ll always be thankful for the outcome if you choose to listen for the gun, and hear the voice of God leading you in His perfect timing.