Years ago our pastor’s daughter, who is also a good friend of mine, decided to join her high school track team. Pastor Randy tells the story of how he took Missi out to the track one day, when no one else was around, and he timed her running a 400. Missi gave it her all, and when she finished she said, “Dad, that is as fast as I can run.” Dad just smiled.
Of course as the weeks passed, and Missi continued to train with the team, she got faster, and faster. And then came the end of her senior season, when Missi and her teammates competed in the 4×400 relay at the state tournament, winning the event, and breaking the state record. And she had, after all, been able to run faster than she ever thought possible.
Just recently, I was able to get a taste, albeit much smaller, of this experience. For several years I’ve been running consistently with my neighbor friend, Cheryl. The two of us typically run a 2.5-mile loop, two to three times a week. And then a while back, Cheryl and her daughter, Casey, asked me if I’d like to join them in running the TC 10-mile, a race in conjunction with the Twin Cities Marathon. It was something I’d been wanting to do for a while, so I signed up, and started to increase my training.
Gradually we extended the distance of our runs. From three miles to five, and from five to eight. And it wasn’t as hard as I expected. Before long I realized our shorter loop had become remarkably easy, and adding a mile or two was no big deal.
Yesterday we ran the race, and it was a blast. Fun. The morning was beautiful, sunny and chilly, and perfect for running. And as I’d remarked to Jimmy, a day or two before, “Sunshine is like Mountain Dew for me.” I enjoyed every minute, and as we approached the last two miles of the race, I realized I still had some gas in the tank. And I figured, what can it hurt? I may as well see how fast I can finish. So for the last two miles I picked up the pace, passing a number of runners as I finished the race. For a non-competitive spirit like mine, it felt like a win.
When Pastor Randy tells Missi’s story, he likes to make a point. “We can always increase our capacity.” He’s said it often, in a spiritual context. You always have more room for God – and for the fruit of His Holy Spirit.
A few years ago I was thinking about Missi, and Randy’s story, and it inspired me to pray. It turned out to be a prayer I’ve prayed many times since. God, increase my capacity to love. I remember exactly where I was the first time I prayed it. I was sitting in the bleachers of a high school gym, watching basketball. And I’m not sure what it was about the night or the context, but I remember the significance of the prayer. Increase my capacity to love.
I’ve prayed it hundreds of times since, and it’s second only to my most oft prayed prayer — God, I trust you. The prayer that never fails.
As you might imagine, I’ve prayed both of these prayers a bit more often during the past nine or so months. God, I trust you. Increase my capacity to love.
Not long ago something happened that was kind of exciting. I was doing some work for church, preparing a class on spiritual gifts. The class is for kids and their parents, and I’ll be teaching it later this week. In preparation, I completed my own test on spiritual gifts. I’ve done it before, and I knew what to expect. Teaching and Faith would come out on top. Hospitality and Mercy would drop to the bottom. Except. This time was just slightly different. My top two remained my top two. But just behind them, around the third or fourth spot, Mercy had climbed near the top.
Was it a mistake? An assessment malfunction? Or something else? Dare I hope? That this Mercy surprise is an answered prayer? An increase in capacity? To love?
My scripture memory, just this morning, makes me smile.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11