Why I Run on Hills

Written By Joy-Ann Wood, Barbados

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? (Ps121:1)

Our running group has been training for a marathon over the last few months. As part of our training, our coach designated hills training on a weekly basis.

Hill runs are tough. So why do we do it?

Precisely because it’s tough.

Hills increase the difficulty of a run and improve endurance. Hill training is all about going up steep inclines that require greater effort than training on a flat surface. As you run, you have to lift your knees higher than usual, which develops muscles and increases power. Because of the greater effort required, strength, speed and anaerobic capacity are built. Our coach especially likes to emphasize the importance of “using our arms” to build momentum and push ourselves up the hill.

Three-time Olympic gold medalist, Florence G. Joyner, once said, “Hill training is often more of a mental challenge than a physical one.” It is a mental challenge, because we have to convince ourselves that we can do it, that we can keep going, even when our bodies cry out for rest and all we want to do is give up.

In the spiritual realm, the same rules apply. “Hills” build our spiritual strength. Spiritual hills are the trials that present themselves when least expected. These trials can build our spiritual muscles for the bigger situations in our lives—whatever we experience today will train us for the future.

While hill training requires greater use of our knees, spiritual hills call for more time spent on our knees, praying and seeking God for endurance, asking Him to mold and change our hearts as we rely on the Holy Spirit to empower us.

“Using our arms” during difficult seasons can also help us, as we praise God during such times. When we raise our arms in praise and adoration to Jesus, we surrender our circumstances to Him. Singer Tauren Wells wrote a song, Hills & Valleys, which says, “. . . He’s the God of the hills and valleys, hills and valleys, and I am not alone.” Singing praises to God during difficult circumstances helps us take the focus off of ourselves, and think about who God is and what He is able to do.

Sometimes, when we go through the hills of our spiritual life, we may feel lonely, discouraged, and despondent. In some ways, this is similar to the exhaustion experienced with hill training. In those moments, it is very encouraging when a fellow runner shouts my name, saying, “Come on, Joy, let’s go! Tell yourself you can do this! Let’s go, push!” Similarly, during the trials of life, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus is always with us.

Jesus has promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). In Isaiah 41:10, God says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” God is there throughout our spiritual journey, strengthening us for whatever hills lie up ahead.

On those days when you have to literally push yourself to look up to the heavens for strength, remember the words of the Psalmist, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?” (Psalm 121:1). Take joy in the fact that you have sought the face and strength of Jesus in those hilly moments of daily life, instead of relying on yourself (Psalm 105:4).

As you train spiritually and prepare to conquer whatever comes your way, may you look to God for His strength, perseverance and encouragement. We can have faith that God will come through for us, that He will bring us through victoriously (Isaiah 49:23). He is right beside us cheering us on! Amen.

Do Temptations Come from God?

Day 6 | Today’s passage: James 1:16-18 | Historical context of James

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

Two weeks after Christmas, I excitedly ripped open a letter from my mom and chuckled when I found a neatly handwritten thank-you note inside. She had always reminded me about the importance of good manners, and it felt like her note was a genuine thank-you as well as a subtle reminder to send my own Christmas notes. Point taken, I tucked away her letter and sat down to start writing a few thank-you’s.

My mom’s note was a good reminder to celebrate good gifts. And James tells us that whatever is good and perfect ultimately comes from God (v. 17).

Recognizing blessings and expressing gratitude is especially vital when we’re in the midst of trial and temptation; in other words, when it’s most difficult. The Jewish believers during James’ time were likely facing this kind of discouragement. At times, it’s possible that they even questioned God’s goodness. Were these trials and temptations from His hand?

But James gently reminds us that not only does God never tempt us to do wrong (1:13), He never gives us a bad or evil gift. The suffering of this world is a result of our brokenness, of the imperfect world, and of the deceiver Satan.

God is the source of all good things. He is not like a shifting shadow; He is constant and faithful (v. 17). Let’s not allow anything to persuade us otherwise.

And as if to address those of us who are still not convinced, James proceeds to remind us of the greatest example of God’s good gifts to us: the offer of salvation and redemption (v. 18). This is God’s ultimate gift of grace to us.

“In this world, you will have trouble,” Jesus said. But do you know what He said next? “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). That is another good gift—the assurance that our Savior has overcome.
Today, let’s look out for the good and perfect gifts in our lives.

And perhaps a thank-you note to God wouldn’t be amiss.

—Karen Pimpo, USA

Questions for reflection

1. When are you most tempted to doubt God’s goodness?

2. What encouragement does this passage offer to those who face trials and temptations?

Hand-lettering by Sonya Lao

Karen Pimpo lives in Michigan, USA, where everybody complains about the weather but secretly loves it. When she was little, she wanted to be a librarian. Not much has changed. Besides literature, listening to and performing music is one of her greatest joys. She sings and writes to help untangle the knots in her head, and because telling stories helps us realize we are not alone. She endeavors to face the unknowns of life with the naive bravery of Bilbo Baggins: “I’m going on an adventure!”

Read 30-day James Devotional

A Quick Summary Of James 1:1-15

It’s time to consolidate what we’ve learned from James so far. Here’s a recap of this week’s truths!

Note: There will be no devotions sent over the weekend.

Seeking Wisdom For Trials

Day 2 | Today’s passage: James 1:5-8 | Historical context of James

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Last October, I was retrenched from my job without warning after working there for about two years. The following month, my girlfriend’s father, who had motor neuron disease, was admitted to hospital. He died two months later.

Even though I kept reminding myself to keep trusting God, I must admit that those months have been especially tough.

In his introduction (vv. 1-4), James urges us to rejoice during our trials, because the testing of our faith produces perseverance. But how can we apply this instruction while we are struggling through difficulties in life—when illnesses strike, when we’re facing financial difficulties, or when we’ve lost a loved one?

The Bible teaches us that the solution is not to pray that God will get us out of the trial, but to pray that He will give us the wisdom we need to help us get through it. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge; it is the practical use of knowledge. And it is necessary to help us view trials from the right perspective, so that we can see them as opportunities for us to mature and grow.

And the assurance is this: God will give us wisdom generously if we ask Him.
The longer a trial drags on, of course, the harder it can be to keep trusting God. Perhaps that is why James tells us that it is important to ask in faith. We need to be careful not to be double-minded—uncertain if God is really listening to our prayers or doubting if He is really a loving God. James uses the analogy of a seafarer to describe a double-minded person: tossed to and fro by the wind, such a person easily gives up his trust in God when faced with unpleasant things in his life.

So let’s approach God with full confidence that He will give us the wisdom to understand Him and believe in Him in the midst of our trials because He will (v. 5).

Godly wisdom is rooted in the fear and reverence of God (Psalm 111:10). What this means is that we can have the assurance that God, being the ruler of the world (Revelation 4:11), has power and authority over all things He has created. We can therefore trust that He is still in control even when things are not going the way we want them to.

Worried that we might not have enough money to cover the additional expenses incurred for my girlfriend’s father’s medical treatment, my girlfriend and I reminded each other to trust God, who promises to provide for our needs because He loves us. True enough, help arrived at the right time, at various points of time when we needed it.

Ultimately, we can rest in God because we know that we already have the best thing in life: salvation. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), and we can rejoice that our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20)—regardless of what we’re going through in this life.

—Alvin Chia, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. What do you usually pray for whenever you face a trial?

2. God has promised to give wisdom to those who ask.
Pen a prayer asking God to give you wisdom for the trial you are presently facing.

Hand-lettering by Sonya Lao

Alvin Chia is always hungry. One of the things he cannot do while others easily can is to stop eating after a meal and stand still at a bus stop. But he is well aware that God is the only one who can truly satisfy him and cause him to be still. He used to be a sports journalist but he doesn’t exercise. No wonder he is no longer one now, so that he doesn’t have to live an inconsistent life.

Read 30-day James Devotional