Today I went for a run in the late afternoon.
It began as all of my runs do: get myself out of the door (often the hardest part), put in my headphones, and start running! About a quarter mile into my run, I felt this nagging sense that I should take out my headphones. At first, I resisted, as I was feeling very motivated by the Andy Mineo pumping through my eardrums! However, as this thought repeated itself, I began to wonder if it was the voice of God. Reluctantly, I ended up removing my headphones mid-run with a frustrating assumption that my pace would slow greatly and my distance would be much shorter than I had hoped for.
It was at this moment that I heard God speak to me saying, “I am the only thing that can sustain you.”
This was powerful for me. After a week full of books and podcasts calling out how the hurried, consumeristic culture of modernity was pulling Christ followers away from the true way of Jesus, I felt completely awestruck by these simple words.
God is the only thing that can sustain me. The music in my ears had no sustaining power, nor did my own strength. With each step I took and breath I breathed, God continued to speak these words over me. “I am sustaining you. I am sustaining you.” Remember how I assumed that my run would go horribly wrong when I took the music out of my ears? Turns out I ran the farthest that I have in months, I had one of my best paces ever, and I felt stronger than ever. In this tiny decision to trust that God’s sustaining power was stronger than the option culture offered me, God proved himself and his power true. In fact, my run slowly evolved into a time of solitude. I ran and listened to nothing but His voice. Along the way, I saw my local trail with fresh eyes. It felt as if God was reminding me of His present as critters hopped and flew around me and when the wind brushed gently across my face. My run became a space about Him leading me instead of a space about me.
While I was obedient in this tiny moment, I can’t even begin to count how often I have ignored His invitations in my life. If I’m honest, I choose alternative modes of sustenance most of the time in my day-to-day decisions. I choose the spiritual practice of coffee shops over the spiritual practice of prayer on my knees. I choose the spiritual practice of the joyride over the spiritual practice of worship. These are not bad things in and of themselves, but, I think I often get my desires out of order. In this cultural moment, I don’t think I’m alone in this struggle. We have the world at our fingertips, but the problem is that the world just isn’t enough to sustain us. We keep scrolling and expecting this time to find the peace and security and affirmation we crave and it is never enough.
As I was ruminating over these precious words, Isaiah 46 came to mind.
“Bel crouches; Nebo cowers. Idols depicting them are consigned to beasts and cattle. The images you carry are loaded, as a burden for the weary animal. The gods cower; they crouch together; they are not able to rescue the burden, but they themselves go into captivity.
‘Listen to me, house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been sustained from the womb, carried along since birth. I will be the same until your old age, and I will bear you up when you turn gray. I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and rescue you.’ ‘To whom will you compare me or make me equal? Who will you measure me with, so that we should be like each other?
Those who pour out their bags of gold and weigh out silver on scales—they hire a goldsmith and he makes it into a god. Then they kneel and bow down to it. They lift it to their shoulder and bear it along; they set it in its place, and there it stands; it does not budge from its place. They cry out to it but it doesn’t answer; it saves no one from his trouble.
‘Remember this and be brave; take it to heart, you transgressors! Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: my plan will take place, and I will do all my will. I call a bird of prey from the east, a man for my purpose from a far country. Yes, I have spoken; so I will also bring it about. I have planned it; I will also do it. Listen to me, you hardhearted, far removed from justice: I am bringing my justice near; it is not far away, and my salvation will not delay. I will put salvation in Zion, my splendor in Israel.’”
I find it striking that in this chapter about God’s sustaining power, he chooses to first talk about how the power of idols is non-existent. In fact, He goes so far as to say to Jacob that the idols whom they assumed to be sustaining them, were actually burdening them. These idols do not have an easy burden and a light yolk as Jesus does, they are heavy and wearisome. While we may not all have a carved golden statue that we put our hope in, I know that I definitely put my hope in the things which culture has told me to rather than Jesus. I trust that social media, television, music, or some sort of idyllic activity will satisfy and ultimately sustain me. Yet, here in Isaiah 46, God begs his people to choose another way, His way. He says “Listen! I will sustain you just as I always have since the day you were conceived in the womb! You are mine and I will carry you! There is none other than me!” This is essentially his cry that we see here, as told through the prophet Isaiah. While other “ways” may be attractive or more desirable at first glance, they cannot sustain us. Eventually my music will get boring and my feet will get tired and I will run out of ulterior modes of self-sustenance because I was made to be sustained by God not by the world. This is what Paul is talking about at the beginning of Romans 12.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
Paul reveals something critical about stepping into a life in which we embrace being sustained by God alone: sacrifice. In order to step into this way, we must present our embodied selves humbly before the Lord and commit to his will instead of our own. For me, this is one of the hardest things about following the way of Jesus. Often, following Christ requires us to leave something behind that our culture’s way worships. To follow Christ, means to stop following the world, the flesh, our disordered desires. To follow Christ, means to let yourself be transformed by the power and presence of the living God, not the power and presence of worldliness. Something that I have to remind myself of often when I come face to face with moments of turning towards or away from God, is to assess my posture. Let’s turn back to my running example. When I first felt God telling me to take out my headphones, my posture towards God’s way was head down, hands over ears, trying to hide. This, I am convinced, was the result of a lack of trust that God was who he says he was. At that moment, I was doubting my theology and trusting the world. Just like Eve in the garden, doubting what God said and trusting her own intuition and desire. This story tends to repeat itself. I had forgotten something critical: God is good and he is for me.
“A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.”
God’s way is not a punishment, it is a blessing. God’s way is not a boring alternative, it is the way to true life. God’s way does not deplete us, it is the actualization of our true humanity. I pray that these are words I continue to learn. I pray that the words “I am the only thing that can sustain you” will inspire faithful obedience in my walk and yours. He is waiting with open arms.