I began today like most mornings with some exercise at the gym. Today’s exercise was a spin class, and facing us at the front of the class was our instructor who pushed us to get the most from our workout by making eye contact with each class member and calling out the familiar orders for them to increase their bikes resistance or to push themselves harder. But today when the instructor made eye contact with me she gave me an instruction I wasn't expecting. She simply said, 'Smile!' I wondered if I had heard her correctly or if there was a camera hidden somewhere. But the instructor kept looking at me, and smiling herself she repeated again, 'Smile!'
I've never given much thought to my facial expressions while doing a spin class but in that moment I was suddenly aware of how I looked. I realised my brow was furrowed and my face was sternly set as I conquered my imaginary mountain on my stationary bike. When the instructor looked at me again and for the third time instructed me to 'Smile', I felt my face relax and the hint of a smile begin to form in the corners of my mouth. Once the sternness of my face had softened into a smile the instructor looked at me and said 'Better!'
I thought about 'googling' the impact of smiling on the outcomes exercise but I'm not sure that was the point. I actually don't think smiling made me cycle any faster or push myself harder. I think the point is simply that I had more fun! My spin class went for 55 minutes, smiling or unsmiling. I was completely focused on working hard but my instructor shifted my attention to something equally as important, 'enjoying the ride!' When I finished the class I may not have worked harder but I was definitely happier.
I don't think my spin class this morning was a coincidence. With the dates of the Esther's Voice Retreats fast approaching the NGO teams in Cambodia and I have been working hard. In my recent conversations with the Cambodian teams, it appears we are sharing the common denominator of 'weariness'. Physical tiredness from the work already completed combined with the mental strain that comes from the knowledge there is still so much more to do. And the weariness is clearly showing on my face!
In my gym class this morning my instructor shifted my attention to the antidote of weariness, 'Soul Strengthening Joy!'
In Joshua 3 the Israelites are camped on the banks of the Jordan River. A nation of furrowed brows weary from their extended journey through the wilderness, anxiously anticipating the oncoming obstacles both known and unknown. Their faces sternly set as they contemplated crossing the river and conquering their giants.
In the midst of the concentrated focus, Joshua brings them an important reminder of what their journey has been about all along, God's presence and His power. The instruction Joshua brings God’s people has nothing to do with battle commands, he simply tells the people to 'look up and smile', to keep their eyes on God and watch Him steal the show.
'Keep your eyes on the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God and follow it.….for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.' Joshua 3:3-5
The fight for change in our lives is real, but the battle is only ever temporary. Christ's victory is eternal. On our journey to freedom we are following God, not the other way around, and He takes the pressure off by reminding us that it’s not our ability but His presence that is responsible for the 'great wonders He will do among us'.
In organising these Esther’s Voice retreats and in my own life my job is simply to create the space for God to steal the show. Hard work is important but the secret to endurance is enjoying the ride. The antidote to weariness is happiness. So take a moment to 'look up and smile' and remember God's got this