We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
-Paul, 1 Thessalonians 1:3
I’m missing my cross country team today. When I started coaching 56 middle school cross country runners last fall, something fresh caught fire in my spirit. Perhaps it rekindled my love for teenagers from years of youth ministry before we planted a church. Maybe it was the chance to be outside helping kids discover a passion for running that has defined much of my life. I don’t know, but it was one of those things that just felt right. It’s a remarkable experience to encourage and then witness young people pushing themselves beyond what they thought they could do.
But this year, that’s not happening. So many things aren’t happening. We’ve moved well beyond the flash of our crisis. Now most of us are walking in this deep trough of a new reality, knowing that even when things change, it will still be slow. What felt like a quick sprint now feels like a marathon- but the worst type of marathon, because you’re not actually sure how many miles this race is. At times it can feel difficult to do anything more than just try to slog through it.
Last year, at the end of every practice and at the start of every race, I told my team this message:
You are more capable than you realize.
Over and over again, I told them that. Because we need to hear some things over and over again.
As Christ-followers who constantly fall prey to dualistic thinking, there are two extremes that we can move toward. We either think we’re amazing on our own (which usually proves false when crisis hits) or we believe that we are completely weak and live a very defeatist day to day reality when things are hard.
Our biblical identity transcends this duality. Humans are made in the imago dei, the image of God. We are amazing. We're also not God so we are weak. But because God’s image is in us, we are capable of far more good than we realize. And for those who seek to trust God, the Spirit of Christ dwells in us and empowers us in a divine partnership. We are empowered people. This is why we have so many stories during the early centuries of Christianity where disciples were able to joyfully suffer, even facing death with incredible hope, strength, and love.
Jesus’ message to his disciples was consistent throughout the gospels. You might feel weak, but you are more capable than you will ever realize, because you’re not alone.
You give them something to eat.
When you are arrested unjustly, don’t worry, for the Spirit will give you the words.
You will receive power when my holy spirit comes upon you.
I will be with you always.
The prophets often revealed the same message of Jesus:
But those who hope in God will renew their strength….they will run and not grow weary.
Yes, the feeling of weakness and exhaustion is so pervasive right now. But as people of faith, our identity is to live in faith. We are empowered by the breath of the very God of the universe, for whom death isn’t even an equal adversary. And according the scriptures, the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is in us. So it’s on us to decide if we’re going to live in that hope or not.
At the end of last season, one of my girls came up to me after her race, sweaty and exhausted. She was not one of our fastest runners. Near the back of the team in most races, she didn’t improve the way she had hoped most of the season. But this last race, she persevered so incredibly well, and it was her best effort all year.
She walked over to me with a huge smile, still catching her breath.
“Hey Coach….. I’m stronger than I realized.”
Yes. Yes you are.
And in Christ, in this season, WE are too. We are strong enough to keep loving others. We are strong enough to keep listening. We are strong enough to have compassion. We are strong enough to celebrate each other. We are strong enough to keep working for justice. We are strong enough to overcome our own destructive habits of thought and action. We are strong enough to keep walking forward. We are strong enough to resist bitterness and disdain. We are strong enough to be the best versions of ourselves when it hurts, because Jesus was the best version of himself when it hurt…. and he is in us. We are more capable than we realize, because we are in Christ, and Christ is in us. It will take a lifetime to fully grasp that simple truth.
Jesus, bring strength to my muscles and hope to my spirit, for You and I have work to do.