• The Bane of Excuses November 10, 2014

    I suffer from a universal malady. It’s called, “excusivitis.” It’s a terrible ailment, actually. It causes me great pain and discomfort. Yet it is pernicious in its determination to cling to me and refuses to succumb to my efforts to rid myself of it. Perhaps you are a fellow sufferer.

    This disease generally does not launch a full frontal attack. It is far too clever for that. It poses as common sense. It dons the garb of wisdom and pretends to be your best friend. Before you know what you are doing, you have surrendered yourself to it, and your life remains miserably the same.

    It goes like this: I look in the mirror one day and am dismayed at the sight. I have put on weight, and it doesn’t look good on me. I notice I’m getting winded just walking up a flight of stairs in my house. It dons on me that I have not done any intentional, vigorous exercise for several weeks. For a fleeting moment, I begin to make a resolve to begin regularly exercising once again in order to get in better shape. And then it strikes. The excuses begin flowing, as if awakened by the intrusion of healthy, common sense thinking.

    “But you have such a busy schedule. You don’t have time to go to the gym. . . You leave for a trip tomorrow, there’s no point in going for a run today, you might as well wait until you return home . . . You can’t go for a walk today. You are in a strange hotel in a strange city, and you have a breakfast meeting. You had better just wait until you return home and you have more time. . . Of course it’s not good to eat dessert after every meal, but you have been on a very stressful schedule and you need your strength . . .” There is an infinite number of excuses fully prepared to join the fray at a moment’s notice. Each excuse is customized to perfectly fit our frame of mind and current circumstance. And worst of all, these insidious excuses do not reveal themselves as your enemy, but as our dearest friend. “Sure, other people are rising early and exercising, but they don’t have the brutal schedule you have . . . they don’t suffer from the sweet tooth you do . . . they have an easier life than you have . . .”

    Each excuse whispers into our ear as if it was the only true friend we had in the world. At last, we agree with our malicious friend and cast aside any thoughts of doing anything healthy today. Certainly tomorrow will be more convenient to begin a strenuous exercise regime. Satisfied that we have found an excuse sufficient to justify continued unhealthy living, we carry on doing what we really wanted to do all along.

    The result? Christians who go for weeks without having a quiet time or taking time for extended prayer. People who are grossly overweight and out of shape. Excellent books, unread, consigned to dusty shelves.

    If Satan cannot convince us to abandon our loyalty to Christ, all he must do is arm us with a sufficient excuse to believe we are too busy, unfit, or ordinary to serve Him. The result is the same.

    Exclusivitis is not new to Christianity. It has plagued humanity from its inception. Nevertheless, its devastating effect has never been more vivid than in our day. American society is continually marching to greater depths of immorality, degeneracy, and ungodliness, yet American Christians are armed to the teeth with excuses why they cannot adjust their lifestyle to meet the growing challenge. Radicals and terrorists are butchering Christians by the thousands yet American Christians are blithely shrugging their shoulders and comforting their consciences with the realization that there is nothing they can do from so far away. The majority of American churches are plateaued or declining, yet church leaders resign themselves to the fact that Americans simply don’t want what churches have to offer these days.

    Excuses cripple us and then convince us there is nothing we can do to remedy our situation. So, we sit back and embrace the status quo. Even though the current state of the Church is inadequate to meet today’s challenges, excuses abound why there is nothing we can do. As a result, church pews are filled with bloated, lazy, out-of-shape Christians who have justified their appalling condition and who are obsessed with any means to make their lives more comfortable.

    I am well familiar with excuses. I have been plagued by them my entire life. I know full well that there are many areas of my life that could be better, yet I allow year after year to be spent without making the necessary adjustments so my life improves. I feel my pants fitting more snugly than they have in a while, but I make no adjustment to my routine to shed the unnecessary tonnage. I sense my spiritual life has grown stagnant, yet I do not rise earlier the next morning to dig more deeply into God’s word.

    However, last week I did something that rattled my lethargic cage. My son Daniel, my daughter Carrie, and her husband Sam, ran their first marathon in Raleigh, North Carolina. They had previously run two half marathons and decided that, if they was ever a time to conquer the 26.2 miles; this was it. So they took six months to prepare for one of life’s most grueling challenges. They asked my wife Lisa and me to accompany them so they had fans and someone with extra strength Tylenol close at hand.

    Lisa and I were at the starting line at 7 a.m. as the group of marathoners commenced their sojourn. There were the sounds of the upbeat DJ shouting words of encouragement. There were cheers from the supporters, lining the streets. Adrenalin-rushing, high-tempo rock music blasted through the loudspeakers. It was so inspiring I was almost tempted to don my sneakers and join the pilgrims.

    Four hours later, Lisa and I were in position at the finish line to welcome home our heroes. I suppose I expected to see tough, Olympian-like, bronzed athletes galloping across the finish line happily making their way to the nearest vegetable juice concession stand. I was taken aback by what I saw. There was a middle aged man, carrying at least as much extra baggage as I was, determinedly pushing one foot ahead of the next to make it to the finish line. There was an older woman, moving slowly, but surely, to her goal. You could tell by looking at them that they had not just fought a battle over the last four hours; they had waged all out war. Many had pained looks etched in their faces. Some were gulping fresh air in a desperate attempt to supply their depleted bodies.

    Yet there were also a lot of smiles. One man pretended to be an airplane, coming in for a landing, as he passed the welcoming crowd. One woman danced her way to the finish line as she heard the music blaring from the loudspeakers. Several of the runners had family and friends join them for the final few yards, running alongside and cheering them on. It was a powerful moment to behold.

    There was no doubt that these runners had suffered. No one left unscathed. Over 70 people were unable to finish. But no one could doubt that everyone who participated had won an important victory. An enormous number of excuses had bombarded these people as they trudged on, mile after mile. When they encountered the unending hill at mile 21, many must have considered quitting, or calling a taxi. No one could have blamed them. Yet they trudged on.

    I watched as ordinary people crossed the finish line between four and five hours after they had begun. The winner of the marathon used less than 2.5 hours to make the journey. None of the competitors I watched seemed focused on where they placed. They all knew they had won. While they would not be standing on any podium that day, they could look themselves in the mirror and declare: “I defeated every excuse!”

    I was inspired to watch that marathon. It helped me see what can happen when people don’t accept excuses. It showed me the finish line. We all need to view that some time. Life can seem like a marathon and we can begin to think that our effort today will make no significant difference tomorrow. But keep going. It is worth it. Excuses are not your friend. They want to rob you. They want to prevent you from ever becoming what God intended when He placed you on the planet. No excuse is worth relinquishing God’s best for your life.

    Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24; Apostle Paul)