I was never really into running, or much physical activity other than throwing myself around on my bmx bike during high school. But then towards the end of university I started getting into running. Once I got past my initial super out-of-shapeness and was able to run longer than 5 minutes without collapsing, I really started loving my runs through parks and along the waterside. I loved how it gave me a certain energy and vigor too. But then I started getting shin splints, really bad shin splints. Whenever I would run, I would get shooting pain up the inside of my right shin. If I kept running for awhile, it would feel like my actual bone was bruised and raw, like it could just break or something at any time. This was quite annoying, because I had just fallen in love with running. I would try to rest it, and run in shorter bits, but to no avail. I was injured, and couldn’t run at all.
“How is it that some people can run for hours, and I can’t do it for 10 minutes without aching for days!” I thought.
I went to a good sports doctor, and he attacked the problem with from two angles: strengthening, and proper positioning.
The other day I read something in Hebrews 12, and I realized how applicable this physiotherapy was to our spiritual race of faith.
“Therefore strengthen you feeble arms and weak knees, make level paths for your feet. So that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13
Right off the bat, my doctor gave me a bunch of strengthening and stretching exercises. I had to do calf-raises to build up the muscle the areas that were strained and bruised. I had to do stretching to get the muscles that were knotted up and strained freed up and working properly. The muscles around this area had to be beefed up so that it could hold the strain of this activity that I wanted to do.
In the Bible, we can find a lot about strengthening in the Spirit, about beefing up our hearts in Him.
“But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude 20
James tells us literally to strengthen our hearts. (James 5:8 NASB)
In Luke 21:36, Jesus tells us to to be alert and praying, so that that we can have strength to escape all the crazy trials and sufferings that are going to break loose and to stand before Him.
Just like I had to take time each day to do my calf-raises, (and it was surprisingly difficult to take those 2 minutes to do this simple thing!) I need to take time to pray and build up the spiritual muscles around my heart, around my inner-man, so I can deal with whatever emotional and pressures or temptations that may be coming.
I also had to rest. My doctor would make me lie on the table and would put my stuff like a hot-pack, some electric pads, or sometimes a sort laser light therapy thing on my legs. I just had to do was lie there and let the heat, the electricity, or the light massage and stimulate the cells in my tissues, accelerating the natural healing process.
In the same way, we often need to stop everything we’re doing, just lie down, and let the Spirit work His healing as he massages the tissues and fibers of our hearts.
It turns out that I had pretty serious pronation in my ankles. That means they would collapse a little and fall inwards, putting unhealthy strain on my legs. I had never noticed this before, it was just the way I always walked. But when I started running, the extra strain started pulling the muscles off of my shins, and that’s why I had that aching pain that made it feel like my bones were bruised.
I got orthotic soles for my feet, and these held my ankles up, and set my feet right. Then, my steps stopped causing unnatural strain on my shins.
“Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.” Proverbs 4:26
As we run the race of faith, we have to make sure we’re taking good, firm steps. We know that he has good works prepared for us, so that we can walk in them. (Eph 2:10) But if we take steps in pride or fear, trying to make some of our own ‘works’ happen, we can end up spraining our ankles. If we’re not looking with faith for him to get his work done, and we’re leaning on our own natural resources and what we can see and control ourselves, things can get ugly. If we’re always taking steps in the flesh, totally depending on physical or worldly things, money, status, physical assets, whatever, our legs will start to get sore and our bones will feel bruised. We have to make sure that every step is taken by faith, with our foot firmly and correctly positioned in the ‘orthotic’ of trust in him. (Actually a natural, healthy foot doesn’t need an orthotic at all, because that’s the way it’s designed to move. Plus, saying “the ‘orthotic’ of trust” sounds really awkward. Anywayyys…)
We should always move forward with his peace. I love how it says, “you will go out in joy and be lead forth in peace” (Isaiah 55:12) “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called to as one body.” (Colossians 3:15) Allow the peace of Christ to rule over your decisions. When you don’t have that sweet, deep peace about something, it’s probably not a good idea to go forward. (Group discernment really helps in this area.) Taking a step outside of the Spirit’s peace is like stepping sideways on some sort of jagged rock when running full speed. It will probably hurt. Take only steps that are firm.
If you do end up taking a wrong step, guess what… the next right step is not worrying about that. Don’t beat yourself about it or despairing about how everything is ruined. God makes crooked ways straight, he heals us, and he redeems his children as they trust him. Despairing over the last wrong step is just another wrong step. Looking with hope and trust towards God and looking forward is the next solid step.
“…so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed!”
After some time of this strengthening, and walking properly with my orthotics, I was able to run again! It was such a joy to be able to fly through some forests and paths, and get my blood flowing and my heart rate up. In the same way, when we live lives of constant heart-strengthening and proper steps, we’re able to run, and to bring healing to others who have been disabled.
With a strengthened body, races that seemed impossible become joyful romps through fascinating terrain. And we’re able to keep on running, even as we get further on in years.
“The Lord will guide you continually; and satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land. He will make your bones strong. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11
As most people know, when we work muscles, the fibres get torn, and then as we rest they are repaired, and end up being stronger. People put their muscles under strain, and their muscles get bigger. That’s pretty common knowledge. But recently I found out that exercise actually makes your bones change! This remodeling of our bones as they are loaded with pressures happens through a process called “mechanotransduction.” This may sound like crazy talk, but Wolff’s Law states that,
“bone in a healthy person or animal will adapt to the loads it is placed under. If loading on a particular bone increases, the bone will remodel itself over time to become stronger to resist that sort of loading… The racquet-holding arm bones of tennis players become much stronger than those of the other arm. Their bodies have strengthened the bones in their racquet-holding arm since it is routinely placed under higher than normal stresses.”
As we heard from Isaiah:
He will make your bones strong.
Think about this. The very core of your being will be changed to be able to bear new things.
When I look at people who’ve run well for the Gospel for many years in dark, dry places, I see that they make sure they live their lives with good strengthening and positioning. They dearly cherish their personal walks with God, and the time they get to sit with him and strengthen their souls. They rest a lot. And they’re careful to take selfless, faith-filled steps, just as He leads them forward. Because of that, they end up being like those super-runners. They can effortlessly run through stuff that would cripple a normal person.
So, when we give our hearts to him, trust his care, and pour your life out for the gospel in needy places, we go through an incredible strengthening process. With this strengthened body, races that seemed impossible become joyful romps through fascinating terrain. And we’re able to keep on running, even as we get further on in years.
“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; He enables me to stand on the heights… You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.” (Psalm 18)