Edwin Friedman, famous writer and sociologist, explains that for the longest time in the racing world no one could run the mile in four minutes or less. Many great runners had tried it. The great Swedish runners such as Gunder Haag and Arnie Anderson couldn’t break it. Many sports writers were beginning to think it wasn’t possible for a human being to break that record.
Then on May 6, 1954 at Oxford University, an Englishman named Robert Bannister broke the record. Two months later Bannister did it again. Over two decades later John Walker from New Zealand became the first man to run the mile under 3:50. American Steve Scott holds the record now with 136 sub-four-minute miles, and Hicham El Guerrouj from Morocco holds the record for the fastest mile run at 3:43.13.
Friedman points out that something called “the emotional barrier” was broken with Bannister’s 1954 run. Once that happened more and more runners began to believe that the four-minute mile was possible, and consequently more people began to run it. In 1994, an African runner beat a world record. One of his running-mates was interviewed afterwards by eager reporters amazed by what his mate did, and of his friend the fellow African runner said, “He is not caught up in the mythology of Wester runners.” What’s possible is limited by what was imagined to be possible.
Friedman’s point was not that anyone can break a running record if he or she just puts his or her mind to it. His point is that we are often shackled by our own limited imaginations, what he calls “an emotional barrier”. This barrier can lower our expectations and cause us to miss all that is truly possible. I believe that the Church is often limited by this emotional barrier: a limited view of what God is able to do in our lives, communities, cities, and world. We don’t expect much from God, and we don’t expect much to happen through us. So nothing much happens.
Jesus expected much more for His Church. He sent the disciples out, commanding them without batting an eye to heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons, cleanse the lepers, and proclaim the Kingdom (Matthew 10:7-8). He was heard saying things like “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27) and “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greaterthings than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 12:12). God is after all the God of ninety-nine year-old Abraham, timid Moses, and young David all through which we see God do extraordinary things in seemingly impossible circumstances. God tends to be most active where people are more open and expectant to God’s supernatural work. These “greater things” Jesus speaks of may not make us look like world-beaters in the eyes of others, and these things may not happen instantly or perhaps even in our lifetime; but God will accomplish the vision and passions we let Him place deep within us.
What if God intends to transform the schools around us in radical ways or the run-down apartment complex up the street or the lives of our homeless friends with cardboard signs or our own hurts and addictions? We know from the Scriptures that these are exactly the types of things God is in the business of doing, yet the problem might be our own limited and stunted expectation.
Try praying this: “Lord, what do you want to do? Show me. Amen.”
By Chris Symes