Life is a series of transitions. Sometimes we are tempted to hold on to the current season desperately. Other times a crisis or traumatic experience out of our control propels us into the next season. At times we may mindfully choose to move on. My High School season (ages 15-18) was a transition period for my faith. Looking back, I think it was part of the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, moving me toward maturity in Christ. I had said yes to Jesus, not aware of all the ramifications of my simple act of faith.
The most impacting transition involved making my parent’s Christian faith my faith. Raised in a Christian home, at the age of seven, I had invited Jesus into my heart. I was kneeling bedside by my mother during the evening rite of bedtime prayer. My mother had not been explicitly evangelistic that evening. I was as knowledgeable as a seven-year-old could be about the gospel having heard the message from my in utero days.
Another transition that marked my High School season was developing personal devotional and Bible study practices. I no longer merely relied on what my parents, pastors, or other authority figures believed and taught about Christianity.
I approach the seventh decade of my life; I have been looking back and contemplating the changes in my life since those formative High School years. One of my insights surprised me. I feel lighter! The irony is that fighting physical weight gain has been an ongoing battle in my life. When tempted to berate myself about this never-ending battle, I make myself feel better by blaming my mother. In the culture in which I was a baby, the evidence of good mothering was a chubby baby. Mom ensured that she would launch me into the future laden with an overabundance of fat cells!
Besides physical weight, there are also mental, emotional, and spiritual weights that can burden our life. We become accustomed to carrying these weights. I remember times when I have lost significant body weight and then pick up one of my exercise weights with an equivalent weight to what I had lost. It was a sobering experience. I did not realize that I had become accustomed to carrying that much physical weight.
I have heard comments from parishioners over the years to the effect that they had experienced feeling a weight come off of them. The experience could have happened at some point during the worship service or a counseling session. Those who have experienced inner healing, physical healing, or deliverance often testify to the same sensation.
When I experienced healing from post-polio symptoms in 1991, I felt this sensation. I was visiting a midweek service when the Pastor invited me up to the front for healing prayer. He invited those who wanted to lay hands on me to join in. They anointed me with oil, and 22 people prayed—those who could reach me laid hands on me. I closed my eyes, and soon it felt like their arms were getting tired, and they were starting to lean on me. Just about the time, I felt like I was going lose my balance and fall under all that weight, I had the sensation that everyone, at the same moment, had lifted their hands off me. I debriefed with the Pastor after the service describing what I had felt. He said, “Oh, that was just the power of God coming down on you and lifting something off of you.” His body language and attitude were communicating, “No big deal. We do this all the time!” Within a few weeks, I noted that all my post-polio symptoms were gone.
The author of Hebrews writes:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1)
For whatever reason we humans tend to read this verse with this emphasis:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight AND THE SIN which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”
For the sake of this series, I suggest this emphasis:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, LET US LAY ASIDE EVERY WEIGHT, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”
During my Sophomore and Junior years at Westmont College, My roommate and I lived in a dorm in a suite of three bedrooms, which shared a shared bathroom. The two other rooms in our suite housed cross country runners. Not being a runner myself, These athletes introduced me to the running culture. I thought these guys were nuts.
Mid-afternoon, after class, they would head out for a run. They stripped down to a tee-shirt, jockstrap, shorts, socks, and running shoes. Around two hours later, they would return dripping with sweat, breathless, and smiling. I would ask them about their route. One of the first times I asked, they responded, “Oh, we ran to the University of California at Santa Barbara and back!” The course they ran from Westmont and back was about 20 miles roundtrip. As I said, I thought they were nuts!
Some days, even though they stripped down just enough to preserve their modesty, a weight would engulf them during their run. I knew it had been one of those days whenever they returned without their usual smiley faces. Groans replaced their HOOAHS. Santa Barbara is unique on the Californian coastline in that it has a south-facing beach. To the south is the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Some days the wind would shift and blow the LA smog cloud north up the coast. The smog cloud would dead-end against the Santa Ynez Mountains and encompass the Santa Barbara area. A 20-mile run, in this atmosphere, weighed down with an LA smog cloud, is a painful experience.
As I ponder why I am feeling light, I have identified some of the weights I have lost over the years. This list is certainly not exhaustive, and I do not present it in any weighted order. (Pun intended!)
The occasion for discussing this first weight comes from my exposure to social media, especially politically inspired posts. It seems like humans around the globe become very passionate about their political views. Personal passion tests one’s ability to remain in control of their humanity. There is nothing wrong with such enthusiasm. Zeal communicated in a humane, and honoring way is healthy. One of the concerns I have is this. Passionate folks tend to assign unsavory motives to those with whom they politically disagree. Assigning motives weighs down our humanity. Being accused of an unflattering motive is a weighty experience as well.
Happily, I was a younger man when I laid aside this weight. It was during my college season. One of our assignments in a Greek class was to translate and paraphrase the book of 1 Corinthians. Here is a passage from chapter 4 verses 1 through 5, which addresses the assigning of motives.
“Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. But with me, it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this, but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”
The “counsels of the heart” mentioned here by Paul are the unseen core motivators that orchestrate how we live life.
My paraphrase of this passage is:
What follows is how I wish you to think about me. Gary is a servant of Jesus Christ and a student and teacher of God’s mysteries as revealed to him by the Holy Spirit. Gary’s ultimate goal is to be found faithful to his identity and call in Jesus Christ. In light of this, your opinion about Gary’s motives is unimportant to him. Gary likes to think that he is motivated by the best of intentions and that God praises Gary for that. Gary realizes that even he is not ultimately qualified to make that judgment. He is content to wait for that judgment until he stands before Jesus Christ once he wins his earthly race. Gary believes that only Jesus Christ can deliver an objective and unbiased opinion about Gary’s motives. If Gary is not qualified to judge his motives, then you certainly are not eligible to judge Gary’s motives. As Gary, you must be content to wait to hear Jesus’ judgment of Gary’s motives after Gary wins his race and stands before Jesus.
I remember in my first years as a Senior Pastor, I would hear about unflattering motives being assigned to me by those who did not like or agree with my ministry. These assignments added unnecessary weight to my life. I learned that the act of extending legal forgiveness to these motive assigners lifted that weight. My favorite motive assigned to me was this, “Gary is from Canada. He came to the U.S. to become rich so he could return to Canada and live like a King!” I found that one particularly laughable.
Not having to assign motives to others and not taking motives assigned by others seriously is a remarkable weight loss discipline. Merely responding to what others say and do at the moment is much less weighty than trying to assign a motive. Not assigning motives is also an act of love.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8)
Accept people at face value without trying to assess motives. If in the future, when someone’s behavior betrays an improper motive, appropriately address that behavior at that time. Even though love thinks no evil, and believes all things, it does not rejoice in iniquity.