Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Life is in the Blood - OXYGEN

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
- Psalm 150:6

“Sucking wind,” is a coined phrase I’m familiar with. Simply put, it’s when I set-out on the trail and my lungs can’t keep up with my physical ambitions. I desire to push my body beyond its current capacity. A shortage of life sustaining oxygen ensues.    

Every cell in the human body requires oxygen to operate. Oxygen supplies the fuel to convert sugar in to usable physical energy. Without oxygen cells die.

We can exercise and strengthen the organs of our circulatory system to intake more oxygen and distribute it more efficiently. We see evidence of this in “super” athletes like Lance Armstrong. He has perfectly conditioned his body to intake and transfer oxygen.

In my life as a disciple/imitator of Christ, oxygen parallels the disciplines of (a) reading the Bible, (b) prayer, (c) worship, (d) community, and (e) obedience. The result from an intake of “oxygen” is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians -23). Without a continual intake of “oxygen,” my “cells” begin to die.

Jesus is the “super athlete” we aspire to be like. God in the person of Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:1-2). He is the exact representation of His being and the radiance of His glory (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus perfectly modeled for us (John ) what it looks like to supply every “cell” in our body with life giving fuel to operate.

What may cause “sucking wind” in a new disciple is uneventful to one that has been practicing the disciplines for many years. So consider, the more you exercise the more you can attain (1Timothy 4:7-8).

I don’t think about breathing. Do you? It happens, by control of the brain, automatically. I can consciously gain control over my breathing to some extent but, I’m wired to breathe. The same can be said of our need to connect with God. We possess an innate need to know Him and be known by Him. The spiritual disciplines bring us in to the place of connectivity[1].

Think of it this way. Are you being filled with an abundance of life sustaining oxygen? Consider the list below and examine your “lung” capacity:

(a)    Reading the Bible teaches us all that we need to know for life and living. We learn of God’s character, His promises, and His heart through the scriptures. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews ). It should be used as a practical guide book for our present circumstances.
(b)   Prayer gives us the opportunity to bring our requests before Almighty God. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice and our faith in Him we can come before the Father personally (Ephesians , 14). Jesus taught His disciples/us how to pray (Luke 11:1-11).
(c)    Worship allows us to enter a posture of reverence for God. We purposely stop our busyness and intently focus on recognizing He is God and we are not. He is worthy of our adoration.  
(d)   Community, when done correctly, always directs us to return to the presence of God (read these posts for a more in depth look at how Jesus lived in community “Rubber soles” and “Dirty feet”).
(e)    Obedience puts what we've learned about Gods character and His promises for us to work in our lives, consistently. We follow His Word NOT out of fear of punishment but out of an overwhelming desire to return the love He has given us.

As I study the life of Jesus, I observe He did not perform the spiritual disciplines (a) out of duty/obligation, or (b) to gain personal favor with God, or (c) to look admirable to people BUT out of passion to be ONE with the Father[2]. So too must we see “oxygen” as a WAY to know the Father personally and intimately NOT as a way to produce good character traits.

Fortunately, praiseworthy character comes about as a result of communion with a holy God.

With this said, we have to address what happens to our bodies and spiritual lives when we operate without an ample amount of “oxygen.” First, our blood collects an excess of carbon dioxide and causes the blood to fill with carbonic acid. The brain automatically forces the lungs to quicken in an effort to exhaust the waste. Second, lactic acid forms as a by-product of the incomplete conversion of sugar due to a lack of oxygen. Our muscles fill with the toxin and cause pain. Similarly, when we do not practice the spiritual disciplines, our hearts and minds become toxic to things pure, lovely, admirable, noble, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). We move from being God-centered to being me-centered often resulting with painful by-products.

The spiritual disciplines in-and-by themselves do not produce an intimate relationship with God just as the oxygen molecules in-and-by themselves do not produce life. The willingness (humility) of our hearts and minds to be made new, whole, and holy in combination with the spiritual disciplines unlocks the key to entering the presence of God – stay tuned to next week’s post to learn more about the nutrients and minerals we need to run the race as if to win.

I pray you consider every breath you take this week (Psalm 150:6) and the importance of knowing God for yourself not theologically but practically and personally.

Click the picture to watch the video
Would you like to get connected in community with other people to practice the spiritual disciplines? Consider the list below.  

Want to go deeper? Read this week’s FOOTNOTES.

[1] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding how God changes lives. (New York, NY – HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 1988)
[2] Mark J. Galli, Spiritual Disciplines: Duty or Delight? (accessed September 3, 2011 http://bible.org/article/spiritual-disciplines-duty-or-delight )