You Can Move Ahead No Matter What


Gordon MacDonald

Nelson Books, 2004, 240 pp.   ISBN 0-7852-7151-1


MacDonald, a retired pastor from the Boston area, is well known for his writing and speaking on the practical spiritual life.  He is also one of the original idea people behind ACMC.  In this book, he remembers his high school track coach who refused to let him quit and taught him lessons for a lifetime.  “Let us run with perseverance [read resilience here] the race marked out for us.” (10, quoting from Hebrews chapter 12)


“The race of life is a race of distance, not a sprint.  I must cultivate a spiritual life that covers that entire distance and never loses sight of the race leader, Jesus.  This is the start of the resilient life.” (Introduction)


I.  Resilient People Are Committed to Finishing Strong

“I had a quitter’s gene in me.” (2)  “The temptation to give up in the face of difficult challenges has never been too far from my thinking over these many years.” (4)


“One must anticipate that the greatest contributions God has for us to make will happen in the second half of life.” (4)


“Resilience for first-generation Christians had a lot to do with real suffering.  Resilience for us has, in most cases, more to do with lasting and thriving in the spiritual way.” (9)


Resilience is the word that describes the toughened condition of both the body and the mind.” (10)


“It confounds the mind that the Son of God would be subjected to the most degrading treatment people of that generation could have conjured up.  Yet He endured it ... and He did not quit.  This message—that faith’s ‘number one’ did not quit—is the burden of the writer of Hebrews.” (12)


“The fear of sloth and indulgence has come home with a huge fear and fairly driven me to God to keep me from ever forgetting what I owe him.” (15, quoting Oswald Chambers)


“The search for resilience is a futile one if a person is unwilling to engage in a regular assessment of self along the lines of Paul’s challenge to Timothy: in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (18)


“The pursuit of resilience never ends.  It is a lifelong, calculated adventure.” (22)


“The search for resilience is dampened if one coasts on his or her natural abilities and talents.” (23)


“Count on it: the second half of life can (and maybe should) be the best and most productive half of life.” (24)


“When was the last time you ever took a look at your life and determined that you would change something about it?” (27)


Dr. Vernon Grounds, in his 90s, is a “gentleman from whom all kinds of other people draw inspiration and resolve.”  “Our conversation begins.  Instantly, he pounces on me with questions.  Always the questions.”  “He has always thought about his life and the lives of others around him with a big picture in mind.  He has always known the center of his strength and his call.  And he has wasted little time out on the edges of activity where he is less competent.”  “He never allowed any of the common adversities in his life to cripple or shrivel his soul.” (32-33)


II. Resilient People Run Inspired By A Big-Picture View of Life

His high school coach cared enough and believed in him enough to sketch out a plan, with times down to the second, for all the races in the next 40 months of athletic development. (39)


The big picture provides direction, hope, and a framework for growth. (40)


“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I think I am living for, in detail, and ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully the thing I want to live for.  Between these two answers you can determine the identity of any person.  The better answer he has, the more of a person he is.” (42, quoting Thomas Merton)


“The resilient life is one where a person lives every day in pursuit of the big picture.” (45)


“The contemporary concept of Christian conversion is far too small.  It emphasizes the driving of the first spike—a choice to entrust life to Jesus—but tends to ignore the last one—what Jesus calls us to be and to do.” (45)


“What does God expect of me as I run the race?”

“What have I been equipped to accomplish?” (46)


“The sixty-year-old asks: When do I stop doing the things that have always defined me?”  “The sixty-something wonders what is yet to be accomplished,....”  “The question hovers, who will be around me when I die?  And...what is it like to say good-bye to someone with whom you have shared so many years of life?” “Doubts and fears may arise in quiet moments.”  “What do I regret?”  “What have I done that will outlive me?” (57-58)


Spiritual development for a Christian is “a life-journey in which one walks in the ways of Christ and gradually becomes more like Him in conduct and inner orientation.” (60)


“Character is a word that describes the default ‘me.’” (61)


“The practice of continuous repentance is a part of character development.”  “In the larger sense, repentance is that regular, sincere acknowledgment of all that is broken within me and which needs fixing.”  “We’re talking about a frank assessment of one’s shortfalls, an acknowledgment before God of their existence, and a serious intention to correct the wrongs.  Face it; name it; renounce it; replace it.” (63-4)


“Character is developed—for believers, anyway—when we let the Scripture inform us.  We are what we permit to enter the deepest parts of our soul.”  “A daily exposure to the Scripture and to literature that focuses on Scripture is a necessary part of the diet.” (65)


A call “describes a summons to a way of life, a responsibility, a long-term task.”  “It is an acknowledgment that one is accountable to God for the discharge of his life’s duties.” (67)


“Resilient people reflect on questions such as, what path should my life be taking, and what should I be doing with the resources and sensitivities with which God has blessed me?” (68)


“My calling and my friends, those are the two hinges on which my life turns.” (69 quoting Friedrich Schleiermacher)


“What do I hear God saying about the direction of my life and its contribution?” (70)


“Once one is called, financial security, location, notoriety, applause, and power become increasingly less important.  Obedience becomes the primary issue.”  “When one lives obediently in the center of a call, one feels God’s pleasure; one knows a strange joy.”  (74)


“The genuineness of a call is usually (not always, but usually) confirmed by others who discern the unique work of God’s Spirit in a particular person.”  “A third part of the authentic call seems to be giftedness.” (74-5) Giftedness is “a gracious capacity from God to achieve particular things.” (78)


Resilient people are, by intention, generous people. (85)  “It is the antithesis of a life trapped in materialism, self-centeredness, and an obsession with pleasure.”  “What of me can be shared, given away?”  (88)


III.  Resilient People run Free of the Weight of the Past

“One cannot live in a spiritually healthy fashion with an unrepaired past.”  “Repairing the past is best done immediately.”  Unrepaired, they usually become destructive.”  (98) “The soul must be in a constant state of repair.  (104)


My memories fall in three categories: key people who have influenced me, major ideas that have guided me, critical events that have changed me –good or bad. In executive coaching, I have used these categories to help people sort out the pathways of their lives.  (111) 


“Forgiveness...is about cleaning up the memory by renouncing and flushing vengeful feelings about other people.”  It is facing the hard reality that none of us has a claim to superiority over any other in God’s presence.  “Forgiveness is not a single-shot event.  It is a process.”  “Forgiveness is foreign to the human condition.  It has to be learned; it comes with discipline.  It is a proactive choice.” (128)


IV.  Resilient People Train to Go the Distance

Life is a distance run and it demands endurance, which comes from the pursuit of self-mastery ... discipline. (146)  “The rewards we seek in life begin with submission to discipline and training.” (149)


“Acceptance of discipline is the price of freedom.  The pole vaulter is not free to go over the high bar except as he disciplines himself rigorously day after day.” (151, quoting Elton Trueblood)


“I am at that moment in life when the temptations increase to slough off responsibility, to freeze-frame old ideas, to resist change, to let someone else do the heavy lifting.  But I will not do that, because the disciplines I’ve learned over the years will not let me.  And I like it that way.” (153)


“A long time ago I learned the importance of regularly practicing saying no to myself.  And sometimes that means saying no to things that I like.”  “There may come a day when I have to say a very serious ‘no’ to other things of much greater importance.  And I’ll have practiced on simpler things.” (154, quoting Dr. Raymond Buker)


“The mind is like a muscle.  Ignore it, and it becomes flabby.  Push it, exercise it, make great demands on it, and it will grow strong and immensely usable.” (168)


“The undisciplined mind becomes a lazy mind and easily succumbs to the dominance of another mind.”  “Little of value and depth is ever learned through the one-way monologue....” (169)  “The disciplined, trained mind, however, resists the cookie-cutter approach to thought.  It weighs every question and asks if Scripture speaks directly or indirectly to the matter.” (170)


“Resilient people understand that ego has an insatiable desire for enlargement.  Left undisciplined, it becomes addicted to expansion.  The interior side builds and builds a false view of self until there is hubris, a Greek term describing a person who is so full of himself that he loses all touch with reality.” (185)  Ego creep.


“I came to see that I owed my congregation a filled-up soul.  They needed this far more from me than all the church programs and vision I could put before them.” (191)


“To me, spiritual discipline is relatively uncomplicated.  It begins with time—usually early in the morning—when the day is quiet.  “The collective of the mornings, day after day, builds the spirit and makes of it a swelling place for the Lord.” (191)


“I worship and, occasionally, write prayers of praise and exaltation.  I read (Scripture and meditative literature).  I pray.  I give thanksgiving.  I reflect on the events of the previous day and, finally, I try to focus on what I think God is saying about the use of today’s hours and write down my intentions.” (191)


“Each day should begin with thoughts of the acts of God: creating, transforming, delivering, sending, promising, inspiring, coming.” (192)


Praying!  A challenge for an active, wandering mind like mine.  I have learned to pray the Psalms, repeat the great prayers of the biblical saints, mouth the prayers of the Book of Common Prayer, and muse on the prayers of people like John Bailee.” (193)


V.  Resilient People Run in the Company of a “Happy Few”

“One cannot meet all the needs there are for deep human intimacy within the confines of a marriage alone.  There must be others with whom the journey is shared.” (206)


“I have looked back across the years and asked myself, who were the men and women I have appreciated the most?  And when I begin to name names, I discovered that almost every one of them is someone who was tough with me, who expected me to rise higher in character and conduct than I might have by myself.” (223)


Who coaches you? (Coaching may be the new buzzword for disciple, mentor, teacher.) (228)  “It is the personality of the teacher which is the text that the pupils read; the text they will never forget.” (229)


Who stretches you mind?  Encourages your dreams?  Rebukes you? Plays with you?  Seeks after God with you?  (230-37)


Will you be one whose achievements are all in the lives of other people? (239)