From the Couch to the Commonwealth Games

Seven years ago, at the age of thirty-three, Steve Way was way over weight, drinking way too much and smoking twenty cigarettes every day. Yesterday (Sunday 27th July, 2014), he came in tenth in the Commonwealth Games marathon.

Way has no background in sport. He was no athlete in his school days.  According to the BBC’s coverage of this remarkable story, his vices were beginning to take a toll on his health. Nights spent coughing, depriving him of sleep, were the result of too many cigarettes. He says that one day he looked in the mirror and decided he needed to have a radical change of life.

How did Steve Way bring about such a transformation? A number of factors stand out.

Firstly there was that moment of realisation, the realisation that it was a case of change or let your life go further down hill.

Then there was the discipline of taking up running. He gave himself to this with a real intensity, which is obvious from what he has achieved. Such was his commitment to his new life style that he left a well paid job in IT and took up a lesser paid job working in a bank – just so that he could devote more time to running.

His progress was not without setbacks. He had tried running eighteen months earlier and completed the London Marathon, but then gave it up and went back to his old lifestyle. Even though he gave in, he didn’t give up.

His new passion affected his social life. Even though he managed to maintain his friendship with those who had been drinking buddies, they initially struggled with the disruption that Way’s change of life brought to their relationship.

There is so much in this story that is directly applicable to anyone who is serious about change in their life or their lifestyle. And so much that applies to anyone who is serious about following Jesus.

There is the moment of realisation. The realisation that if we continue to do the same things we will attain the same results. That realisation can come in many ways. Through self reflection. Through conversations. Through prayer. Through the Bible. Does it not say in the book of James that when we read the Bible it is like looking in the mirror? (James 1.22-25)

Setbacks are always part of progress. The temptation to give in can prove too easy an option to resist, but if we give in without giving up, we can be sure that according to Psalm 37.23-24 the Lord is there to pick us up again.

Being willing to make sacrifices to ensure our progress is all part and parcel of change. It might not mean taking a job that does not pay as well, as it did for Steve Way, but discipleship always entails sacrifice. Jesus calls it taking up the cross.

And of course our friends, sometimes even our families, do not understand what is happening when we begin to respond to what the Holy Spirit is doing in our hearts.

Perhaps the most important element in all of this, the key to it all is developing inner passion. These are Steve Way’s own words:

“In order to bury your vices you need to find an equal and opposite addiction. You need to find a passion.”

A great Scottish preacher from a bygone era, Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), once preached a sermon entitled The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. He argued that that if we wanted to overcome sin, developing our passion for God was more effective – and important – than trying to stop loving the particular sin.

Developing a love for God and a vision for the life He has planned for you is far more effective and exciting than settling for a deep dislike of the things that are holding you back.

For years Steve Way sat on his couch slowly destroying his life, yet all the time a first class athlete was locked up inside of him.

God has put far more inside of you than you could ever imagine. Once you begin to grasp even a little bit of that you’ll never be able to settle for the couch again.

A fortune waiting to be discovered

If you read last weeks post, you will have no doubt about what the Bible says about the power of our words and how even recent psychological research confirms that. Words are powerful things.

What is even more powerful is God’s Word. His Word to all of humanity is given to us in the Bible. Most of us know that. We know and believe God’s Word is true, even if we don’t understand it all. We know that when God speaks, things happen, things change.

However, we sometimes overlook God’s desire for us to take hold of His words and apply them to our own lives and circumstances. Jesus said in Matthew 4.1 that man does not live on bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. He spoke those words when tempted by Satan. In fact, Jesus used God’s word to resist every line of attack from the devil.

It’s not only Jesus who is given God’s word to use as a weapon. Paul says in Ephesians 6.17 that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God. The word translated “word” is the Greek word rayma. It is also used in Matthew 4.1. Although the distinction between rayma and logos (the other Greek word used to translate “word” – I know it gets confusing!) is not as pronounced as some think, nevertheless the use of rayma does draw attention to the spoken dimension of the “word”.

Why am I saying all that? Firstly, because the word is our weapon in spiritual conflict. Of all the spiritual armour, it is the only offensive weapon. Secondly, when we talk about the word in this context we are not simply talking about the whole Bible. This is a word from God that is specific and appropriate to our situation.

How do we receive such words? By asking the Spirit to open our eyes as we search the scriptures to find what God is saying. Often those words come in the form of promises. Philippians 4.6-7 is a good example of a promise from God: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The Bible is packed with promises. Promises that we can claim. Promises that we can speak out in prayer. Promises that we can use like a sword as we engage in spiritual conflict. And they are all there in the Bible. Just waiting for you and me, with the help of the Holy Spirit to discover them.

In 2010, Haiti experienced a massive earthquake. To the appalling poverty which had come to symbolise Haiti was added further devastation and disruption, along with untold suffering. Two years ago, however, a Canadian mining company discovered a seam of gold and precious metals in the mountains in the north of the country. The deposits of gold are estimated to be worth about twenty billion dollars. A whole nation was and is living in abject poverty, yet all the time there was and is a twenty billion dollar fortune waiting to be discovered.

There is a wealth of divine promises for you and me in God’s Word. They are just waiting to be mined. Let’s get digging.