As reported several years ago in USA Today, Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab and Kevin Lin know endurance better than most. For 111 days, they ran the equivalent of two marathons a day in order to cross the entire Sahara Desert on foot. They touched the waters at Senegal and then made their way through Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Egypt to touch the waters of the Red Sea. Along the way, the trio faced blazing afternoons of over 100 degrees, jarring, freezing nights, sandstorms, tendonitis, violent sickness, and the usual aches, pains and blisters.
But the biggest challenge they faced can be summed up in one word: water. Finding it in its purest, cleanest form gets to be a bit of a chore while in the middle of nowhere.
Crossing the Sahara Desert on foot is an amazing accomplishment. But there are several other “marathon finishers” whose accomplishments are also quite commendable, if not even moreso:
• Christians who finish their lives still growing, still serving.
• Husbands and wives who stay faithful to each other “until death do us part.”
• Young people who preserve their virginity until marriage, in spite of crushing peer pressure.
• Pastors who stay passionate about ministry until their last breath.
• Church members who weather the rougher patches and remain joyful, loving and faithful.
So how do you and I accomplish such great feats? Do we grit our teeth, bear down, and simply keep our nose to the grindstone? Or do we just grin and bear it?
C.S.Lewis, the Irish professor, author and apologist, made the appropriate observation that, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next … Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
But what does it mean to “aim at heaven”? I want to do that, don’t you? But how?
William Falk, editor-in-chief of The Week magazine, gave us a sense of what that may mean when he reported that: “A recent Yale study that tracked 3,635 people over 12 years found that book readers lived an average of two years longer than non-book readers; the more time spent reading books, the study found, the better. So, my friends, no matter what fresh madness the new year brings, armor yourselves with a pile of good books. Our lives, and our sanity, may depend on it.”
While Falk never said this, when I read his report, I could not help but think of another book that extends life for all eternity and deepens life into abundance — the Bible. Our lives and our sanity may depend on it — how true that is. But it is not just knowing it that keeps us on the cutting edge of life, but by trusting its author and then living by it, we indeed can accomplish the impossible, running the marathon of life at its best by aiming at heaven and not earth.
“But the Bible,” you may say, “is a complex book that no one can really understand. How can I trust its author and live by it when I cannot understand what it is trying to say to me?”
May I suggest a fairly simple, but time-proven method for allowing the Bible to come alive in your personal life? Don’t misunderstand: I am by no means saying or even implying that th Bible is not alive and needs to have someone breathe into it a breath of life to make it work. The Bible is already “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12).
But there are certain steps you and I can take to insure that for us personally it imparts to us that life on a daily basis. These four steps will indeed allow you and I to aim at heaven.
First, we must read the Word. I cannot tell you how many people I have met who tell me they want to aim at heaven but have not ever read the Bible. For many years now, I have made it a practice to read through the Bible every year. That is a very good practice. But it is also a fast-paced attempt to get through an assignment. And to really aim at heaven, you and I must slow down. Take your time to read the Word of God, and allow God to show you what He has for you today.
Second, we must meditate on what we have read. Now this is a continual process of reflecting on what that passage might be saying. It is not, contrary to popular opinion, putting your mind in neutral and expecting something of value to emerge. It is reading and re-reading a particular passage or verse of Scripture, then pausing and thinking about what you have just read, allowing God to show you what it means.
Third, we must pray. Prayer, to put it simply, is conversation with God. Most people somehow think that when we are praying we are talking to God. They suggest that prayer is the time when we should be laying out our long list of needs and requests. Well, prayer is that, but it is also much more than that. Prayer is a two-way conversation including both talking and listening. It involves serious talking with God, but always listening to hear what God says to you and me.
Fourth, we must contemplate on what we have read. While this may sound a lot like meditation, it is specific in that you are contemplating how to directly apply what you have read to your life today. Meditation concentrates on what the passage means. Contemplation is more how it works for me.
James encourages us to become “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:22). There are a variety of ways to do that, but the intent of all is so that we will aim at heaven.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at email@example.com.