Each year at the Jim Ryun Running Camp, we ask various counselors to give a morning devotional on a topic that is applicable to the every days lives of our campers in the 21st Century. We live in a day and age of relativism, where, as Judges 21:25 says, ". . .every man [does] what is right in his own eyes."
There are no absolutes, no real right or wrong. The Bible is no longer relevant to many in our culture because many view it as either a period piece or a book of allegories, not realities. I happen believe to the contrary. It is living history. There is a God who still speaks and the Bible is a plumb line for living and inside of this paradigm is a road map for life.
I always hit clean up at camp and give the Friday morning devotional. This year's is below, edited and added to for this blog post.
15 Minutes with Christ (Becoming Spiritually Fit)
I want to talk to you this morning about being spiritually fit. We have talked a lot this week about how we can become physically fit, from threshold running to anaerobic work to reps and mileage and how each one of these parts of the Daniel's Running Formula fit into your training regimes. Around this core component of running are the auxiliary things like nutrition, biomechanics and strength training. We even got to hear from Dr. Dave Templin on how we can train the mind for our best performances.
But I want to talk to you this morning about how you can become spiritually fit even as you train the body for its best performances. Before I do that, I want to go back to the devotion I shared at camp two years ago. For those of you who are returning campers, you might remember some of it, but it is a great launching point for this morning's devotion.
The text is found in I Kings 18:29-39. It is the famous showdown between Elijah and the Prophets of Ba'al, but I want to give you some context for this event. It took place on Mount Carmel in Israel.
I have been there and stood atop the mount. It's an amazing place, a rocky mount that over looks the Valley of Jezreel, one of the most bountiful valleys in the Middle East. It was also one of the main thoroughfares in ancient times, which is why the fortress, Megiddo, sits there. It was a Canaanite royal city before Israel entered the Promised Land and in Solomon's time, became one of his chariot strongholds. The greatest king Israel ever had, King Josiah, died there fighting the Egyptian army. Oftentimes "har" is used in front of Megiddo as it is built on an elevated place. It is the Hebrew word for "hill" and from there we get "Har Megiddo," or as most know, Armageddon, the final battle of time between good and evil.
Across this now quiet valley sits a small town that many of you have heard of. It's called Nazareth, the town where Jesus grew up. One has to wonder if he ever stood at the edge of Nazareth and looked over the valley. I tend to think he did. The home of the Prince of Peace, Mount Carmel, Armageddon. It seems almost too good to be true.
But it is on Mount Carmel that we witness one of the great showdowns in history between good and evil. Let me lay the groundwork for this epic event. In a day and age where the lines between right and wrong, good and evil are blurred, the events on Mount Carmel seem foreign to us. During that time in history, there was a distinct line between good and evil, in part I think because the good was so good and the evil so evil. The people of Israel were torn between two belief systems. One was the belief in one God, the God who had led them out of Egypt and shown them His signs and wonders time and time again. On the other hand was the worship of Ba'al, the fertility god of the Canaanites and more importantly the god of Queen Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab of Israel. It was a brutal religion, calling for human sacrifice because of the belief that if Ba'al was offered up humans, the crops the following year would be more plentiful.
I love how even the names of our protagonist and antagonist reflect the times. Elijah was the prophet of God, Yaweh. Eli-JAH. The "jah" at the end of his name meant, "I am with Yaweh." And then there is Jezebel's name, with the same type of delineator at the end, "bel," and you all can guess that that means. She wasn't with Yaweh.
In the midst of this time of good and evil, Elijah had told King Ahab there would be no rain in Israel, a direct insult to Ba'al, who was also the god of storms. After three years of this, it was time to settle things and Elijah threw the gauntlet down. "Call the people of Israel to Mount Carmel, Ahab. Bring your 450 prophets of Ba'al and let's settle this once and for all."
And there they stood on Mount Carmel, the solitary figure of Elijah on one side, the 450 prophets of Ba'al on the other. The rules of engagement were simple. Each side was to offer a bull as a sacrifice to their chosen diety with one caveat-no fire could be used.
"You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The God who answers with fire, he is God."
The prophets of Ba'al laid their bull out on their altar and began to call on Ba'al. Midway through the day, there was no answer and they began to cut themselves, going into a frenzy while Elijah and the people of Israel watched. In fact, Elijah began to taunt them. Still, there was no answer.
Nearing the end of the day, the prophets of Ba'al collapsed and now it was Elijah's turn. He rebuilt the altar of God and dug a trench around it and cut his bull into pieces. Then he did something incredible. At a time when it hadn't rained for three years, he asked that water be brought to dump over the bull, the wood and the altar. One time, then another then a third (where did they get the water, I wonder). When the water overflowed the trench, Elijah prayed and I love this prayer.
"Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let is be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant and that at your word I have done all these things. Answer me, Lord! Answer me so that this people will know that you, the Lord, are God."
It is recorded that fire burst from heaven, consuming not only the bull and the wood, but the rocks as well. The rocks! That is intense heat. Can you imagine the reaction from the people of Israel and the prophets of Ba'al? Holy smokes seems to fall a little short, but kind of hits the nail on the head.
And here is where I want to challenge you. Elijah didn't suddenly show up on history's stage. Yes, he was a man chosen of God and there is some historical evidence that he was also a Nazarite, someone totally committed to God, a step above others.
But consider his prayer. It was really just five words: "Answer me, Lord! Answer me!" There is power in its simplicity, but I happen believe it sprung from a place of spiritual fitness.
We may never stand atop a mountain and prayer for fire. We may never be called to as great a stage as that one on Mount Carmel, but I do believe we are called to be spiritually fit just as we attempt to be physically fit.
With that in mind, I want to challenge you today to take 15 minutes a day with Christ. Your time with Him may grow from there, but it is good to lay down an attainable marker at the beginning and I want to present to you three easy steps.
We talk about mileage as runners, right? It's the foundation of becoming a good runner. To become a good runner, you have to actually run and to achieve your goals, there is a certain amount of running that needs to take place. Remember what Jack told us? The simple function of running, even at 60% of your maximum heart rate, does what? It recruits more mitochondria through the process of running forcing more oxygen into the system (you run, you breathe). The more mitochondria, the more energy is produced in your muscle cells. This is all from the function of just going out and running at conversational pace.
Reading God's Word daily is like running mileage. It provides the foundation for the rest of our spiritual lives. It provides life, just like Moses told the people of Israel so long ago.
"Take to heart all these words I am giving you as a warning to you today so that you may command your children to follow all the words of this law carefully. For they are not meaningless words to you, but they are your life and by them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess."
God's Word is life to us. It provides a guide book for living, a measure by which we can decided what is right and what is wrong in a day when we are told neither exist. Start by taking 5 minutes a day and dig into God's Word. I always start my day with reading various Psalms and the "Proverb of the day" and go from there.
Next in this goal of spiritual fitness is what I like to think of as the Anaerobic work, the intervals. You know, the 1 to 1 type work of a 60 seconds of hard running with 60 seconds rest or 30 seconds hard with 30 seconds rest. The kind of work that makes your head feel like its going to explode after a while. I think a spiritual correlation is scripture memory. It's not easy, right, taking the time to commit chunks of written words to memory, but it is great training to internalize God's Word. King David wrote all those years ago:
"Your word have I hidden in my heart that I might not sin against You."
"Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
When we take the time to internalize God's Word, we become that much more spiritually fit. It literally becomes part of us, how we think and how we act. So take 5 minutes a day and work on memorizing various verses from the Bible.
The third component to spiritual fitness is the one we all struggle with the most: sitting still and meditating on God's Word. When I say meditating, I am not referring to Eastern mysticism. I am referring to sitting still and listening for the voice of One who still speaks today.
After his great showdown with the prophets of Ba'al, Elijah did something very strange. He ran and not in victory. He ran away to hide and he hid in a cave on Mount Horeb. Some Biblical scholars think Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are one and the same, the latter being where God handed the Ten Commandments to Moses, but to some extent it doesn't matter. Horeb was a holy place and Elijah fled there for a reason. As he hid there, the Lord spoke to him.
"Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord."
There followed what must have been one of the most amazing displays of God's power over His creation. There was a wind that "shattered cliffs" and following that an earthquake and then fire.
"But the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him and said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'"
I love that phrase, "a soft whisper." God could have spoken to Elijah through His mighty power, but He didn't. He spoke to Elijah in a soft whisper.
Our modern day and age is loud. We are assaulted on every side with this and with that. It's noisy. It's busy. We are encouraged to constantly be on the go. Being alone and quiet are the antithesis of our "modern" age.
But after your reading of God's Word and memorizing of Scripture, I want to encourage you to take 5 minutes to sit still and listen for God's voice. As Jack says and I firmly believe, you have to allow your body the time to absorb the training and the same is true spiritually.
I am not saying that if you take 15 minutes a day with God that you will suddenly find yourself atop Mount Carmel, calling down fire from heaven.
But I do believe that when we are spiritually fit we will be like King David in Psalm 18.
"God-He clothes me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer and sets me securely on the heights. He trains my hands for war, my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me your shield of salvation, your right hand upholds me and your humility exalts me."
That, my friends, is the essence of being spiritually fit and when we are spiritually fit, God can and will use us to do great things in His name and for His glory.