The Long Run

“The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
And how does that work out?
I’m tired, dragged down by all the brokenness:
women scrounging far and wide for water,
youth without a future, men distressed.
Marriages are fragmented, replete
with selfishness, misunderstanding, pain.
Wars and crime make headlines every day.
I cannot make it go away.

“The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
I turn away from the huge mess
and try to focus all on him:
my eyes, my inner being, frenzied mind.
What I see is goodness: pure and strong,
healthy, wise, courageous, tender,
understanding, pulsing love --
love that gives itself completely for the other,
for me, for my good in the long run.

May I remember this: it is a long run!
There is some joy in the journey:
victories, signs of transformation,
friends who care, numerous blessings
way beyond what I deserve.
If I just take the time to notice.
There are goals met, prayers answered,
delicious fruit and art and song and fun.
Remember these, tired soul, while you run!

And grab the hands of others in the race,
grab the one who stumbles on the path.
But while you keep on serving, 
hold on tight to that one hand
that always pulls you through.
Feel his goodness coursing through your veins
to give you joy, and strength to run
to the sweet goal that lies ahead:
complete renewal after the long run.

When Glenn and I were preparing ourselves for 2023, we drove down to Belle Isle the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. The island sits in the middle of the Detroit River, and where we parked we could see across to Canada. We were there to spend a few hours in silence, listening to what the Lord might be saying to us. It was too cold to go outside, but just sitting there in the car, watching the water flowing by, infused us with peace.

At first, as usual, it took a while for my thoughts to quit roaming. There was so much going on in the world, in our family, in our plans for the future. I had to quietly lay each concern in the hands of the Lord. Finally, the silence began to reign.

And what I heard surprised me. It was a line from a song we used to sing in my childhood: “The joy of the Lord is my strength!” It continued to play, over and over, and I took it as an indication that this was to be my 2023 theme. What would it mean? How could I learn to rest in the truth that “joy” is not the same as feeling happy? It is more exuberant than that, and when linked to “the Lord” it has a whole other connotation. Just as his peace is not the same as what the world gives, so his joy is extra-ordinary, a force that streams from his heart and his sovereign knowledge of the course of the world that is way beyond our understanding.

It is not the first time that he has impressed on me my need to rely on his joy as my strength. The poem featured above was written in 2016! We were on the field, serving in Côte d’Ivoire, when these words poured from my pen into my notebook on a Saturday morning when I was in my silent space, praying, listening. I was tired. There were major concerns not only in the world at large but many coming to my attention every day as local people flowed into my life. They were poor, managing life in a setting where personal funds were sparse, sicknesses like malaria a constant challenge, and relational issues often seemingly insurmountable. Whether they needed counsel, encouragement, or financial aid, it required personal investment of some kind from us.

Now, the Lord was preparing me for a repeat. We were going back to that other home for six weeks, and we knew that the needs would be there waiting for us, people dear to us hoping for relief. Our goals included working towards solutions to some of those problems, like improvements at the chicken farm that has the goal of helping widows in dire straits, and preparation with the former Nyarafolo translation team for what we hoped might be their future: working together to finish the rest of the Old Testament. Their jobs were at stake, yes, but more importantly, they were clinging to the dream of having the entire Bible available for their people, still a least-reached people group. Could it happen?

As you probably know, amazing answers to prayer showed up. Hope for a much better future was being put in place as the widows’ co-op researched how to move ahead, changing from raising meat chickens to layers. It was harder to know what might happen with the translation project. We were practicing long-distance approaches to translation, hoping, and I was editing drafts of literature. But that is not all that was happening.

I was delighted to be back “home,” where my roots are deep after spending most of my life in that country. It was pure pleasure just to take my morning walks outdoors and through town. Friends were visiting daily, bringing gifts of home-cooked local meals or roasted peanuts, whatever they could provide. And as we shared news back and forth, there were stories of astonishing progress. On the other hand, great needs were often revealed: inadequate funds for schooling or medical help or building a home, a relative gone missing, crop failures, dreams dashed. These were people who were not strangers but long-term friends and “companions of the Road,” like family to us. We were able to help many of them. There were other needs beyond us. But in each case, we prayed with them for the Lord’s guidance and provision.

“The joy of the Lord is your strength!” I kept hearing the refrain, reminding me not to let sadness or compassion-fatigue reign in my heart. I needed to turn to the One who provides strength, through joy. It was easy to feel that joy when we saw answers to our prayers. But there was a certain concern in particular, a relationship gone sour, that seemed to elude all attempts to resolve the issues. Where is joy then?

I asked the Lord that question as I sat with him in the early morning. I was reading the last chapters in John, contemplating what it means to be attached to the vine, to be one with my Lord and with his people. And when I turned my thoughts to his desire for that kind of intimate connection, I would sense that joy that he talked about. If I could just become increasingly one with him, with him living in me more and more completely, that joy would strengthen me for whatever he would have me to do. I could almost feel it! So I would go out into the pre-dawn dark to start my walk, and he was with me. There was joy. Throughout the day, I needed to just turn my thoughts to him, and his presence was what I needed. That was where I found joy and was strengthened for the “run” that we were on.

I picked our a book that was on the bookshelf in the bedroom of the house we were living in:  Life Without Lack, by Dallas Willard. He is long gone on to heaven but is still mentoring me! This is one of the gems I found there:

“The strength you experience in this day with Jesus will be followed by a deep sense of joy and confidence. You can count on that. Jesus was full of joy and he means for us to be full as well . . .These things have I spoken to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11). . . When we are with Jesus, the resources available to us are in such overflowing abundance that Paul is emphatic about what our general response should be: Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Phil. 4:4). Joy brings with it confidence. It is, in fact, a matter of confidence. It is not some kind of superecstatic state. Joy is a pervasive sense of well-being that claims your entire body and soul . . .Joy comes naturally when we are confident (‘con-fide,’ literally ‘acting in faith’) about who we are and what we are doing. To be with Jesus is to have both.”[1]

Turning my thoughts to him increased my confidence, my trust. There was still pressure: so much to do, and schedules were constantly interrupted by people. Yes, we were back in Africa. There was joy in community, and it was a great reminder that we are not running the race alone—even when the race is long. With my eyes on the Lord who knows what is around the corner, and who is ultimately in charge, I could keep running.

His ways are beyond our understanding. It turned out that he would bring unexpected answers to prayer during that very last day we had there in Ferke before heading south to depart. The message came at the end of the translation team’s morning with their new board: yes, their project was now approved by SIL! We rejoiced together. That was joy as we were experiencing what the Lord had done. And that afternoon, the difficult relationship was also addressed, and at last there was mutual understanding and forgiveness.

You make me glad by your deeds, LORD; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. (Ps. 92:4 NIV)

We were literally exhausted as we made our way south the next day, and we’re still feeling it after the long trip and moving back into Detroit life. By there is a new understanding of joy in my mind, and a renewed determination to turn my eyes onto Jesus throughout the day. I will continue to find my joy—my confident well-being—in Him.

May it be so for you, too, however long your run may be, whatever pressures may be exhausting you. Turn to him, and the joy that comes from him will be your strength!

[1] Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23. (Thomas Nelson, 2018) 194-195.

Published by Linnea Boese

After spending most of my life in Africa, as the child of missionaries then in missions with my husband, I am now retired and free to use my time to write! I am working on publishing poetry and on writing an autobiography. There have been many adventures, challenges and wonderful blessings along the way -- lots to share!

One thought on “The Long Run

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