I am fascinated by a particular sport.  It is called the ultra-marathon.  An ultra marathon is defined as any distance over a typical marathon of 26.2 miles.  Therefore, it could be 30, 50, 100 or some are even distances of 150 miles.  I think that it is amazing the training, the discipline, the physical and mental rigors that ultramarathoners will put themselves through in order to see what the human body can endure.

One ultramarathon race, in particular, blows my mind.  It is called the Badwater 135, and it starts in Death Valley, California in the middle of July.  It is a 135-mile road race that frequently is run in 125-130 degree heat.  The runners must run on the white lines of the road so that their shoe will not melt.  They must wear reflective clothing so that their calf muscles do not incur 2nd degree burns.  They each have support teams that must ride alongside them to provide food and water.  Even at night, the temperatures can reach 110 degrees.  To prepare for the race, runners often run on a treadmill in a sauna while wearing wool sweaters.  The fastest runners can complete the race in about 24 hours.  The cutoff time is 48 hours.  Everyone who completes the race in the allotted time from the first to the last in under 48 hours receives a, get this, a silver belt buckle.  No prize money.  These runners endure extreme exhaustion, sometimes dehydration, hallucinations, depression, and rattlesnakes in the road for a belt buckle.  Some say that the reason they run the race is to see what the human body can endure.  Others say the sense of accomplishment, pride, and self-esteem is what keeps them on the path ’til the end.  One runner said after finishing an ultra that he felt that he was unstoppable and that he could do anything.

The Christian life is often compared to a race.  In fact, Paul calls the Christian life a race several times in his writings.  Hebrews 12:1 says: “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  Yet, the race we run is not for silver or gold, and the motivation is entirely different.  In the following passage, I hope to provide us with some exercises that we can employ so that we may be strong in hope to the finish that awaits all of us.

Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)

I. Gird up the loins of your mind. 

 This is an image of a 1st-century person wearing flowing garments and tucking the garments into his belt so that he can run and move about freely and quickly without tripping over his clothes.  Running in a long robe is difficult, but when tucked into the belt the person can flee or even fight, if necessary.

Yet, Peter says: “gird up the loins of your mind.”  He was using a word-picture to express the need that all Christians have to bind up our minds and our thoughts because what we think about most affects and reflects what we think about God and the world.  A.W. Tozer said, “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

Peter certainly knew this.  This book (1 Peter) was written to Christians who were enduring trials of many kinds (1:6) through possibly persecution from the government and maybe even their neighbors simply because they were Christians.  Peter’s purpose for writing this verse was to say, in essence, do not focus on this fiery trial.  Put your focus on God and His promises for you in the future.  Tie up your loose thoughts of complaining, the feelings of abandonment, that God does not care for you, and replace these thoughts with Truth! (I don’t think it is any coincidence that the belt we are to gird ourselves with in Ephesians 6 is the belt of truth).  Peter is saying to his readers: “…bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

How does this “girding” occur?  Is it just about having happy thoughts, and not worrying but just being happy.  I don’t think so.  Peter’s word to the 1st century believers is the same for us today.  We need to know God’s Word.  We need to spend time reading, memorizing, and meditating upon the Scriptures in order that we may endure fiery trials when they come our way.  I will offer a few suggestions on how to do this. Everyone’s personality is different, but maybe at least one of these will fit for you.

A. Get a good Bible plan and read through the Bible in a year

B.  Read one chapter per day, and read through the book.

C.  Read one paragraph per day.

While you read do the following:

A.  Ask questions about the texts and parts you don’t understand   (prayerfully).  Don’t expect a Divine voice, but as you think about the text, it may come to life for you and become rich with significance and application.

B.   Memorize a verse or few verses that stick out or that you sense the Spirit’s leading in.

C.   Meditate, chew on, think about the memorized passage over time so that it will bury its way deep w/in your soul and that the Spirit can use later.

Transition: Whatever your method, get into the Scriptures b/c its is God’s means of bringing about transformation.  However, getting into the Scriptures requires that we…

II. Be sober.

Peter knew that his readers would need sobriety in life in order for the girding of the mind to have its full effect.  This sobriety may include not over-indulging in alcohol but it can also involve many other types of over-indulgences.  (Examples: too much T.V., too much sleep, too little sleep, too much internet or video games, too much food which can dull the senses and hinder concentration, etc., etc.).  The point is that we need discipline in order to spend time in God’s Word.  We need to put forth the effort to see that it gets done b/c we can do a 1,000 different things w/ our time that we deem important.

To revisit the ultramarathon illustration, these people will sometimes put their children to bed, kiss their wife, and then head out into the night to run for sometimes 6-7 hours straight when they are training for an event.  They are often very meticulous about the food they eat, and some are “foolish” enough to run through town in the middle of summer with a wool hat, a sweater, and long pants to train for exceptionally hot conditions.  Why?  Because it is important to them.  They want to succeed and they will make (sometimes) dramatic sacrifices to ensure that they do succeed.

Spending time in God’s Word will also take discipline.  It may require setting your alarm clock early or sacrificing other things in your life to make it happen.  Yet, the results of your sacrifice can often be quite dramatic and fulfilling.

From the preface of the book My Sacrifice, His Fire author Anne Ortlund says this about making a quiet time a priority:

“…day-by-day quiet times are offerings to Him that may seem human and weak—even boring.  But when you faithfully, obediently, offer Him what little you have, God’s part will be the fire of His glory and power.  In Leviticus 9, the Israelite priests just did their important, human thing—preparing the sacrifice and offering it on the altar.  But suddenly, says Leviticus 9:24, “Fire came out of from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering… And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy…”

Our being obedient to being sober and spending time in God’s Word are not ends unto themselves they serve a greater purpose which is ultimately the meaning of the Christian life—hope.

III.  Rest your hope fully upon Jesus Christ.

The Greek language in this verse actually only contains one command, one verb and that is “rest your hope fully…”  the other two “commands” (gird up, and be sober) are not verbs at all. They are actually participles that relate to “rest your hope.”  Therefore, in the Greek, this verse reads:

“Therefore, having girded up the loins of your mind and being sober, rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

This is significant insofar as it helps us to see what is happening in the verse.  The two participles are subordinate and serve the purpose of the command.  All of this gobbledygook (English lesson) could be put another way.  The verse could read or be paraphrased:

Study the Scriptures and be disciplined in it because through the Scripture you have hope in God and in His promises for you.

A. Reading the Bible is nothing in-and-of itself.  Thousands upon thousands read the Bible and can explain it (even explain it away sometimes!), and can wax poetic about the Greek and Hebrew languages and don’t have one shred of belief in its truth or its power to transform a life.

B.  Being disciplined in-and-of itself can accomplish nothing in the eyes of God. Concerning righteousness which is in the law, Paul was blameless.  Yet, he was completely lost, having no true love for God or man.  Do you want to run around town in a fur coat in 105 degree heat so you can win a belt buckle??  Just so that you can see what the human body is capable of?  Jesus said: “what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and yet loses his soul?”  I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with challenging your body physically.  As I said, I am fascinated by ultra-running, but if that is all you are living for and could care less about knowing God, Jesus says that you are lost, no matter how magnificent your feats.

Bible study and discipline (sobriety) serve the end that you will have hope in the grace of God!  Quite apart from having confidence in yourself or in self-esteem or in feeling that you can rule the world, disciplined Bible study serves the end that we will see and know and feel within the depths of us that there is a GOD in whom we can hope that all the evil and trials that befall us will serve a greater good later… “That all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His Purpose” (Romans 8:28).  That we will know the God of the Scriptures who promises to walk through the fires of life with us.  That cancer, loneliness, depression, persecution, loss of a job, divorce and a 1,000 other calamities cannot separate us from the LOVE of GOD which is in Christ Jesus.  Rest your hope on that!! Gird up the loins of your mind on that!! Not on the Devil who seeks to destroy you and make you miserable and tell you that you will never make it.  Study the TRUTH so that when Satan or others come to you with discouragements you can boldly say:

I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the GOD of my salvation; My GOD will hear me.

Rejoice not against me, oh my Enemy

When I fall, I shall arise, though I sit in darkness, the LORD is a light for me.

(Micah 7:7-8)

During my chaplaincy at Norton Hospital, I was chaplain on the psychiatric ward for about a 6-month period.  One day I stooped by the psyche unit to speak with a woman a friend of mine had requested I speak with.

As I entered the ward, I noticed that there was a woman sitting on a couch by herself, and she was crying.  I was thinking that this might be woman I came to see, but as I went to the nurses’ station and gave the woman’s name, the nurse told me that the woman I had come to see was actually about to go home.  I was able to speak briefly w/ her, but since she was leaving she really did not want to speak w/ me.

I was somewhat dejected b/c I was thinking that this might be an opportunity to share Christ with  her, but it didn’t happen.  As I was leaving the ward, I noticed that the woman I had seen as I entered sitting on the couch was still there, still crying.  I walked past her, but then I decided that I would sit down and speak with her briefly.

This woman told me that she was depressed for many reasons, one of which was her relationship w/ her mother that was strained and had been throughout her life.  She was never able to know of her mother’s love and had actually felt “unloved” by her.  She also felt overwhelmed by her own sense of her own sinful heart.  Before I had come to the unit, she had been sitting in her room, praying and crying out to God for help.

After we spoke for several minutes I asked her if it would be okay if I read some scriptures to her.  That very morning, my quiet time happened to be Psalm 38-40.

Chapter 38
 4 For my iniquities have gone over my head;
         Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
 5 My wounds are foul and festering
         Because of my foolishness.

 6 I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly;
         I go mourning all the day long.
 7 For my loins are full of inflammation,
         And there is no soundness in my flesh.
 8 I am feeble and severely broken;
         I groan because of the turmoil of my heart.

Chapter 40

1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
         And He inclined to me,
         And heard my cry.
 2 He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
         Out of the miry clay,
         And set my feet upon a rock,
         And established my steps.
 3 He has put a new song in my mouth—
         Praise to our God;
         Many will see it and fear,
         And will trust in the LORD.

I simply read her these chapters and as I got to verse 3 of Psalm 40, she began openly crying but also praising God for his goodness.  She stopped me reading and said that she needed to tell me what God had done in her life through this.  She said that before I had come she was sitting in her room, praying and crying out to God for help, needing to know of His love and care for her.  She said, “God, if you don’t bring someone here to help me, I am going to kill myself.”  She said to me, “these people that work here think that we cannot harm ourselves, but I could take that phone cord right there and hang myself with it.  When you came in I was thinking about doing that very thing, but when I saw you I thought you might be my help.  When you walked back by to leave, I said, “God if this is your help for me, make him turn around.”

These scriptures were the very thing that this woman needed that day.  David, the man after God’s own heart, struggled with sin and with a sinful heart.  Yet God loved him and he heard his cry and was his help.  This lady Debbie was help that day to persevere and to not lose hope.  Quite to the contrary, she was able to rejoice in God’s love and care for her.  I do not pretend that all of her troubles would be over after that day, but when she needed God, He was there for her through His word.

It is the same with us, if we are to persevere in the Christian life, we need to be regularly in the Bible so that we will have hope in God b/c it is His means of providing that hope.