I love running. Specifically, I love running outside. I love the fresh air, constantly changing scenery, and actually moving forward to get somewhere. Alone is ok but with a friend, we can find a pace that is mutually beneficial, talk to each other, and accomplish something together. The weather isn’t always perfect, but I love being OUTSIDE. But occasionally, due to weather, I have to run on a treadmill inside a gym.
I hate treadmills.
Don’t get me wrong, the availability of a treadmill is great. The climate is controlled for you and you never have to leave the room. It’s predictable. But that’s also the problem. For me, what makes running a joy is that it’s outdoors…and I was born for the outdoors. Treadmill scenery never changes. People come and go out of the gym but you’re stuck in the same place you started. Others may run alongside you but they’re not getting anywhere either. Headphones on to distract from the boredom and to avoid any awkward conversation, they just get busy. Treadmills have become the subways of the fitness world, crowded and lonely at the same time. Churches can be like that, too.
I’ve been on a spiritual treadmill at times, too. Running hard to keep up with what I thought were Kingdom priorities but getting nowhere, mistaking busyness for progress. I’d fallen into the common trap of thinking that doing for God was the same as being with God. But they are not. On the spiritual treadmill you work hard but see little fruit from your labor. You try to live a life of excellence without realizing you are already made in the image of God and it’s the work of Christ in you that makes you excellent.
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to good works… Ephesians 2:10
…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill Hs good purpose. Philippians 2:13
The worst thing about a treadmill is that we never leave the room. On the spiritual treadmill the church building becomes our gym as all of our time and effort is used to entertain Christians. We build stationary church buildings and expect the lost to come to us when Jesus said to go out into all the world and make disciples.
Our efforts on the spiritual treadmill say ‘come and see what we’ve built’ when Jesus said ‘go and make disciples.’
Responding to the call of Jesus to go out is risky. It’s easier to put on the headphones of our religious rhetoric and get right back on the treadmill. But after a while even the fittest get tired, turn off the machine, and walk out of the gym. There’s always someone else waiting for your treadmill.
The outdoors are for me. I’ve come to realize that Jesus is more concerned about me walking with Him than how far I’ve run, or whether I outran the person next to me. He’s not interested in what I’ve built. He’s interested in me. He’s interested in who I’ve brought to Him. Jesus is bringing His Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy to a world that desperately needs it and He is bringing me along. There is freedom and beauty in an outdoor run and in there is freedom and beauty in that kind of relationship with Jesus.
As a disciple of Jesus, I can no longer afford a spiritual treadmill because if what God pours into the Church stays in the Church, then it will die in the Church. To make disciples and advance the Kingdom of Heaven my greatest efforts need to be outside the walls of my church building where the real gains are to be made.
Do yourself a favor…Get off the treadmill. You’ll be glad you did.