By Karen Ward Robertson
It all started with a murder when I was 9 years old.
The slope into the pit of darkness was gradual. I didn’t know how deeply into the wilderness I had gone until I stood at the crossroads. My heart broke when I heard the devastating news that began the mercy killings:
“‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’ When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:36, 37)
It was my fault, the crucifixion, this scandalous murder. Mine was the mocking voice. Mine were the sins that nailed him to the cross. He was murdered for my transgressions.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (vv. 38, 39).
Repentance came with a shocking rush of sorrow. The old me was buried in the water and the new me was born. God gave the Holy Spirit without measure, pouring himself into me with an overflowing of grace, mercy, and love.
I was standing in the church basement, pulling off wet clothes and putting on clean clothes after my baptism. I was newborn, forgiven. Joy bubbled forth from a wellspring as the Holy Spirit flooded my broken heart with hope and thankfulness.
The old me, whom I call Mabel, was dead and buried. A new creature, powered by the Holy Spirit, was ready to soar sinless on wings like eagles.
“If I never sin again,” I said softly to myself, “I will always feel exactly like this.”
I didn’t even make it to lunch.
Running the Race
This morning, at the age of 56, after a two-year personal best of a rare 8-minute mile, I ran a 7-minute mile.
When I first began to walk a 20-minute mile, I was alone. I couldn’t see beyond the stumbling and grumbling to make it through one mile. It never entered my mind that I could one day be a runner. I saw myself as a crippled, fat girl because that was the lie Mabel had always told me.
My mind was fixed on negatives. I didn’t want to get diabetes or have my childhood diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis worsen. I did not want to be tired and weak. I did not want to be stiff and in pain.
It was a long, lonesome road.
I subscribed to a runner’s magazine and learned everything I could about what it takes to endure and excel. I began to listen to people who started out just like me and became runners. Gradually 15-minute miles became 10-minute miles. As I trained for a 5K, a 10K, and then a half marathon, I filled my mind with the wisdom and knowledge gained from experienced runners.
I joined a website of runners who challenge and teach me as I train alongside them. Their discipline and determination prods me onward. They know what to do if I’m hurting or discouraged. They speak truth when I am listening to lies. There’s no negativity because faith and hope bring opportunity and improvement. I run alongside marathon warriors.
In spite of their encouragement, Mabel, my old self, still nags at me.
I’ve worked hard to get my body into better shape over the past few years. As I have decreased my excess physical self, I have increased strength and energy. As I put off my old physical habits, I’m also putting off the person I used to be spiritually and increasing my reliance on the Holy Spirit’s power and energy.
The battle to become a stronger person physically has coincided with a spiritual battle to change myself spiritually. It’s all spiritual warfare.
Satan, speaking in the voice of Mabel, tells me lies, trying to manipulate with pride, envy, and self-absorption.
“You’ve tried so many times and failed,” Mabel says. “Why do you bother? Other people don’t train this hard. They look happy, but you’re never happy with yourself. People would like you better if you’d just lighten up and have fun. You’re getting old. You can’t do this. Everybody gets tired and slows down eventually. You will too.”
The more I am tuned in to the Holy Spirit, though, the more alert I become to the subtle manipulation of those lies. The Spirit is my voice of truth, near and clear even when the lies are loudest. As I soak in the depths of the Word, he fills my mind with words of encouragement and promise.
I’m disappointed when I allow the old me to take over again, putting unhealthy fuel into my body. Weakness and complacency set in. The junk slows me down and causes me to lose focus, endurance, quickness. The old habits hinder my race.
Spiritual junk also causes me to slow my life race. When I allow Mabel to have space in my heart, she distracts me with negativity, guilt, and frivolous pursuits. My focus wavers and complacency sets in. There is less energy for meeting the needs of others, less money to give, less time to offer.
I’ve had to study and seek out instruction on how to succeed as a runner. To run with the Holy Spirit, I’ve had to study my Bible daily, stay alert to the evil one, and train myself to walk and talk with God. Those disciplines fill me up with a fuel that never loses power. I walk in the easier rhythms of grace, being steadily refined, refreshed, and equipped to sustain a clean, strong race.
I seek out others who are actively trying to keep in step with the Spirit, filling my mind with the wisdom and knowledge gained from their experience. There’s no feeding negativity because faith and hope bring opportunity and improvement. I run alongside spiritual warriors.
When I finish a long, hard run through my neighborhood, I’m emptied of toxins and energy. Muscle tissue has been stressed and broken down. I am poured out physically. The healing that comes from rest, water, and nutrition renews me. My muscles are refined and equipped for use. By being poured out, I can be healed to run with greater strength and endurance.
Running with the Spirit
Keeping in step with the Holy Spirit is also a long, hard run.
My old self must die daily so I can run hard uphill through enemy territory, sustained by the Holy Spirit through the wilderness where he gives me every good and perfect gift.
When I step out in faith to do the work he’s prepared for me, the Spirit challenges me to go farther and faster, in spite of that old inner voice telling me to give up. When I’ve finished meeting the needs of a stranger or counseling a distraught young mother, I’m drained. Teaching prisoners, visiting the sick, and seeking the lost empties me. Binding up the brokenhearted may exhaust my resources, but my selfish will has been broken. The toxins of self-recrimination and pride drain out of my soul. The brokenness is a fount of blessing.
The Holy Spirit is the hand that pulls me forward, the warrior that fights with me, for me. He heals me when I’m wounded, gives courage when I’m afraid, and sharpens me with his wisdom and knowledge. He inspires me toward the discipline that trains me through brokenness. The Holy Spirit equips me to run alongside the needy with greater strength and endurance.
The Holy Spirit drowns out Mabel’s negativity, holds her back, cheers me on, and enables me to run in such a way as to win my race.
I reported my 7-minute mile to my friend Carl, who routinely excels in marathons.
“I’m as proud of your 7-minute mile as I am of my marathon,” he said. “You have been completely poured out and built back up better than ever. Killer run, girl. Clean win. Well done.”
When I faithfully respond to the smaller opportunities the Holy Spirit places in my path, he gives me greater challenges to stretch me. He’s ruthlessly equipping me to kill my old self daily so I can run hard for his glory. The Holy Spirit is proud when we run hard with him.
Killer run, girl. Clean win. Well done, good and faithful servant.
Karen Ward Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.
There are lots of metaphors and analogies for the Holy Spirit and how he fits in with the other parts of the Trinity—apples, eggs, shamrocks, and more. Each way of looking at the complexity of God has its benefits and limitations.
Try your hand at creating your own metaphor or analogy for the Holy Spirit and the Trinity:
• Begin by thinking of a specific aspect of the Holy Spirit or a certain time the Spirit worked in your life. Describe it in detail.
• Then find ways to compare this aspect or experience to something else—perhaps an element of people, objects, jobs, or hobbies you know. It may be profound; it may be simple. But your understanding of God will grow through creative association.