About Marathons and Eating Elephants (Psalm 90:12)

Any of us who have gone on a vacation with our children remember the most famous travel question of them all:  “Are we there yet?”  I about died laughing at the scene in Shrek 2 where Donkey keeps sticking his head forward in the carriage and continues to ask that question, along with some other antics!

Often in years past we drove to Texas quite a few times with a car full of kids. To help them get a sense of how far we had gone and how far we yet had to go, Diana devised a system of beads on a string wrapped around the passenger side visor. There were 15 sets of four alternating colors of beads, with each bead representing 25 miles (the distance from New Jersey to Dallas equaling 1500 miles). The boys could look at the beads being moved from right to left and at a glance get a sense of where we were, and how much remained.

The Bible gives us a very clear sense of how far our journey is… on the average. It says in Psalm 90, “The length of our days is seventy years–or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” That is pretty clear, isn’t it? Our lives average about 70-80 years, and the older we get, the more troubles and sorrows we encounter… treacherous journey stuff!

Life is strange. On one hand, it is long, and full of adventures both good and bad. And on the other hand, it is brief, especially in comparison to eternity… and the years just seem to fly by.

The old joke asks, “How do you eat an elephant?”… with the answer being, “one bite at a time!”  And that is how we live life… one day at a time, dealing with each moment at hand to do what is right and with a perspective as to what counts for eternity. We can’t imagine how we will accomplish all we need to do, or how we may survive the trials that have come our way. But like eating the elephant, we handle responsibilities and troubles, one by one.

It helps to have a plan… to live life specifically and intentionally. How do you run a marathon? A step at a time! But there is more to it than even that. You can’t just go out and run 26.2 miles. It takes months of planning and training. For a new runner, it is actually a two to three year process.  “Back in the day” I used to love training for participation in a marathon… picking an event and a date months in advance, and then planning a master program of training full of intermediate goals. It required an incredible amount of discipline and commitment. There were good days and bad days. Injuries and physical challenges. Days when the weather was perfect, but mornings at 5:30 a.m. where it was sub-zero. A plan for such contingencies was indispensable.

That is how our lives need to be lived as well… with a plan that considers the big picture of our lives, and the days and years we may have to serve God and be a blessing to those around us. That same Psalm gives an application to the truth observation as to the normal life span, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  The Hebrew word here for “wisdom” denotes the concept of “skill in living.”

Let me ask you this question. Do you have a plan as to where you will be and what you will be doing five years from today? Ten years from today? Do you have personal goals for that time… and/or goals relating to family or others for whom you have responsibility? To have such plans and goals is to live responsibly, especially as one frames those plans with a view toward the place we have within the story God is writing.

Indeed, This Christian Life is exciting, but the journey is surely a treacherous one as well.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed 3-4 hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and am the editor of a Baltimore/Maryland sports blog called "The Baltimore Wire." My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with a Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

3 thoughts on “About Marathons and Eating Elephants (Psalm 90:12)

  1. You wrote a few good paragraphs that perhaps I needed to hear.

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    That is how our lives need to be lived as well… with a plan that considers the big picture of our lives, and the days and years we may have to serve God and be a blessing to those around us. That same Psalm gives an application to the truth observation as to the normal life span, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” The Hebrew word here for “wisdom” denotes the concept of “skill in living.”

    Let me ask you this question. Do you have a plan as to where you will be and what you will be doing five years from today? Ten years from today? Do you have personal goals for that time… and/or goals relating to family or others for whom you have responsibility? To have such plans and goals is to live responsibly, especially as one frames those plans with a view toward the place we have within the story God is writing.
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    Sometimes it seems it like in my personal life that I have a prolific amount of options … which can lead to “analysis paralysis.”

    There a few scriptures that bear some light on the questions of the future.
    James chapter 4 for example. “13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”
    14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
    15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
    16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.
    17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

    Let’s remember that the context isn’t James raging against planning rather James is addressing those who have a materialistic mindset in which people are pursuing profit and overlooking all kinds of opportunities to serve God, serve others and do all kinds of good. That is why James contrasts materialistic goals with spiritual goals. A spiritual heart will be sensitive to opportunities that God provides to do good. Someone who is highly materialistic might not want their plans for profit disrupted by opportunities to “do good” and James is suggesting that this may be “sin for them.”

    On the other hand the Bible does seem to recommend diversity of skills and employments. The unpredicability of the future from a financial sense has some recommendation for utilizing a range or skils, options or appoaches. Here is a scripture from Ecclesiastes.

    NIV Ecclesiastes 11:1 Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return.
    2 Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
    3 If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
    4 Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
    5 As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.
    6 Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.

    I Timothy 5:8 shows the importance of providing for your family which seems to be what you are writing about (in part, at least).

    1Tim 5:8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

    Of course any of these scriptures are more relevant or important at some time or another. Following God is what is important.

    As it says in Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

    Please don’t think I have everything figured out just because I quote some scriptures. It is one thing to reflect on them and be able to discuss them abstractly. It is another to be able to perfectly execute them in perfect balance.

    A sports analogy could be someone who can coach hitters … but isn’t regularly on the field playing. This goes for every type of sports event, whether golf or baseball… sports is full of coaches who might give advice, but carrying out the right decisions is done by the person on the field often after lots of training.

    So there is spiritual training, life skills training, somewhere there is a scripture about older women teaching younger women and coaching them… many types of ways that we all may effect each other and learn from or mentor each other.

    A scripture in Proverb says something like “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” Another scripture in the New Testament says “Bad company corrupts good character.”

    Anyway it was a thought provoking piece that you wrote.

    Keep reworking old pieces that you wrote before. As Peter said “Though you already know these things” and then he wrote about the importance of being reminded. Also it is probably an effective use of your time (reviewing and reworking old material) freeing you up for prayer, study of the word and other good deeds. Even getting rest can be good!

    And though this isn’t important the new style of scripture quoting that you have had in recent posts looks cool. The little tiny references — it looks sharp and modern.

    Keep up the good work. Maybe I’ll take a break from the computer and pray about some of the thoughts you raised … maybe even pray while I do things around the house …

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