Run and do not grow weary

Run and do not grow weary

What is amazing about the Bible is that within its pages there are such thoughts that transcend time and circumstances and apply to us today. Why should this be so? Because the simple central truth is that the Bible is about God's relationship with us and that does not change from age to age. The built-up testimony of more than 3,000 years is that God is there for us, cares for us and is willing to help us. But we are humans given to weakness, distraction, self-pity and loss of faith. We can give up on God and turn against God very easily. We can let ourselves go; we can backslide. The prophet Isaiah recognised the same symptoms in his time. 'Why do you say, O Jacob and complain, O Israel, my way is hidden from the Lord, my cause is disregarded by my God'. Is there anyone who has not at some time felt this way, thought such words and perhaps whispered them? Spiritual desolation is common enough but even some of those who have known the love of God in their lives have been brought low by adversity, or suffering or loss or misfortune or sinful behaviour. And there are also those who loose their relationship with God for no apparent reason. A disconnection takes places and is not recovered. Prayer ceases. Drift and distance increase. The person says 'I no longer believe. I am no longer a Christian'.

Jonathan Edwards won the Olympic gold medal for the triple jump in 2000. He is the son of an Anglican vicar and was brought up in a devout Christian family. He was called after the great 18th century American Christian preacher and theologian of the same name. As his athletics career progressed Jonathan Edwards initially refused to compete on Sundays due to his devout Christian beliefs, a decision which cost him a chance to compete in the 1991 World Championships. However in 1993, after much deliberation and discussion with his father, he changed his mind, deciding that God gave him his talent in order for him to compete in athletics. He once said "My relationship with Jesus and God is fundamental to everything I do. I have made a commitment and dedication in that relationship to serve God in every area of my life." Edwards even presented episodes of Songs of Praise.

However, in 2007 Jonathan Edwards lost his faith in God. The Daily Mail described Edwards as a "man deeply troubled by the collapse of his Christian faith" but revealed that a friend said "They still go to church as a family". The Daily Mail article also quoted Jonathan Edwards saying that he was going through a difficult period in his life, one that was deeply personal to him and his family such that he did not wish to comment on it. In an interview in The Times in June 2007, Edwards said: 'If there is no God, does that mean that life has no purpose? Does it mean that personal existence ends at death? They are thoughts that do my head in. One thing that I can say, however, is that even if I am unable to discover some fundamental purpose to life, this will not give me a reason to return to Christianity'. Furthermore, in the interview with The Times he also stated 'When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God'. In the same interview he also said 'I feel internally happier than at any time of my life'. In an interview for a film by Matthew Syed broadcast on BBC One at around 18:30 on the evening of 12 August 2012, after the last medal of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London was awarded, Jonathan Edwards stated 'It may seem odd to quote from the bible since I have lost my faith, but...'. An interview reported by Jane Oddy in Mirror News (27/2/2014) quoted him saying 'I am happy and actually it’s fine. I don’t miss my faith. In many ways I feel more settled and happier in myself without it'.

Is your Christian life a struggle to believe? Do you seriously doubt God's good intentions for you? Are you in that half-way house between faith and disbelief? What would change things for you? Do you think you'd be happier without the inner conflict? Are you scared to give up on God? Are you afraid to say that you don't actually believe very much at all? Even in the Bible some of the greatest had their times of doubt and loss of faith. Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Peter and Mark for example. Even Jesus in his last extremity lost contact with God. St Francis had long spells of estrangement from God. During the 1st World War many men lost their youthful Christian Faith in the horrors of the trenches. In the 20th century, university theologians turned this kind of experience into something more academically ordered and respectable. We were taught their stuff as students. And now there is a general falling away and there is a determined onslaught on public Christian Faith by militant atheists. I caught sight of the judge who sentenced Angus Sinclair to 37 years in prison. His white robes have red crosses over them. For how long, I wondered? I half expected to read a letter in The Scotsman from the atheists demanding an end to this visible association with Christianity. To be sure, there were letters protesting about the Christian dimension to recent Remembrance Day Services. I wrote the following letter in reply.

'RM Atkinson raised predictable objections that the London Cenotaph Remembrance Service continues to be conducted in Christian context (Letters Tuesday 11 November). His fellow atheists Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband dutifully sang the Christian hymn and showed respect for the prayers. The idea of laying down one's life for others is rooted in Jesus Christ. Nobility of purpose, duty and dedication spring from centuries of Christian teaching and example. The generations of both world wars held a Christian overview of eternal life. Many soldiers died with prayers on their lips. The Remembrance season has gained in meaning and depth. Why? It is the only occasion left when the nation acts out a form of expiation. Remembrance Sunday is a day of atonement. Throughout history Christianity has offered nations a means of restraint in the worst of circumstances. It still offers the world the way of peace. The conjunction of Christian idealism with national purpose is problematic but in the contexts of 1914 and 1939 in particular, the scale of human wickedness to be overcome was unimaginable. What was happening in atheist Russia in those times dwarfs RM Atkinson's historical objections to Christian participation'. The Scotsman did not publish my letter.

Isaiah preaches with great conviction. 'God..will not grow tired..he gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak...those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint'. That is the testimony of those who continue to trust in God. God has the will, the interest and the power to save and He does.

Jesus made this very personal. 'Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls'. Jesus was visible and touchable and yet he offered the same promise as God did through Isaiah. The same love, the same concern, the same capacity, the same result. The context here is previous rejection of Jesus by various people including the professional clergy of the day. Jesus was no doubt hurt and humiliated but he did not dwell on it. Instead he rejoiced that God reveals Himself to humble people and not to the proud, to children more than to militant atheists and to those who seek Him prayerfully rather than to the likes of Richard Dawkins who thinks he's too clever to believe in God. Jesus offers us relief from the concerns which drag us down, the things that bring on depression, the thoughts and feelings of low self-esteem that cripple us emotionally. Jesus offers to take from our downcast minds all that affects us badly and to lift from our souls the burdens that have become too much for us. The yoke that is easy is the yoke that fits properly and well and does not chaff and hurt. The burden which is light is the Holy Spirit within us giving us victory and enabling us to be the Christians we want to be. In whatever befalls us and indeed in whatever tests our faith and relationship with God, we are to be light in heart and spirit, cheerful, positive, full of faith.

Above all we are to trust in God. Our devotion and commitment is in that greater context. We make an offering of our lives trusting in God's future, believing in God's good will and expecting answers to heartfelt prayers. We are not to be afraid. We must stand up to the challenges of the day. We have the best news in the whole world. We have the proven testimony of thousands upon thousands of Christian lives over the centuries. We have hold of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world still. None better – nowhere near. With His resurrected life within us we can do anything for there is nothing greater, stronger or better in the human condition than resurrection. The boxer Muhammad Ali used to say 'Ah am so great - Ah cannot be beat'. Jesus says 'I rose from the dead – I cannot be beat'. Paul said 'I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me'.

Run and do not grow weary. Run spiritually within your soul. Have enthusiasm and purpose and hope and joy for that is true Christianity – that is what we are called to – that is who Jesus Christ is for us.

Robert Anderson 2017

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