Actual Food — Threshold
Sustenance for The Spirit
In psychology there is a theory where we react from the weakest stimulus that we detect about half the time, and this is our sensory threshold. In other words, at what point does your tea become sweet? For some people, it must be syrupy to be called authentic sweet tea (In my geographic area, pronounced in such a way that both “sweet” and “tea” are at least two syllables). For other people, there doesn’t have to be very much sugar involved to call it sweet. The basic concept can be applied in many ways. How loud should the TV volume be? How cool should the room temperature be? Perhaps even, how hard should I continue to try before saying, “I’m done,” which is a stretch of the purest definition of sensory threshold, but let’s stretch there anyway.
The apostle Paul is known for his indubitable spirit. In Philippians 3:12–14 he writes, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” He continues by encouraging others to follow his example. Knowing at least some of what Paul went through, these are powerful words of example, encouragement and empowerment. When we are ready to throw in the towel, we can read this passage and continue on, fighting through the pain and/or struggle.
As Friday nights become occupied with football and volleyball in the next month, we look forward to the competitive spirit, especially as we see youth develop, through the events, with qualities like determination and perseverance, whether winning or losing the contest. Across the world, competitions take place for young and old. Things from 5K running races to 24 hour obstacle course marathons. I recently listened to a Jordan Raynor podcast, where he interviewed Alec Avierinos, a two-time World Champion in the 50+ category. He competes in those OCR (Obstacle Course Races) that last 24 hours. They run, but they also carry sandbags, progress through rings hanging above them and things we used to call “monkey bars”, climb walls, push tires, and you get the picture. You can go to YouTube and see them in action.
Alec lives in South Africa, and although some may call it crazy, he believes we can always push harder and accomplish more than we think. Here is a quote,
“You know your body is capable and when you get to a place where you think you can’t
do anymore, you only really at about 40% of what you’re capable of doing. In that
particular race, I was really in a bad way at 40 kilometers and I ended up totaling 130. So
I did almost a hundred kilometers after justifiably could have and should have quit.”
This is an entrepreneur, a man of faith, who doesn’t allow his threshold to stop his drive and determination. We don’t all have to run a 24 hour ridiculously difficult race to understand, thank goodness. But, pushing ourselves forward when we’re ready to stop is difficult, and it doesn’t hurt to realize that God has given us tools that will get us past what we think is the stopping point.
I’ve noticed this same idea in a couple of other ways. When I was working with kindergarteners on emotional control, we did a lot of fun breathing exercises, and one of the things we would do was count slowly to ten. The students were to let their breath out slowly for the entire count, all the way to ten. It took practice because their first instinct was to let all their breath out during 1–2–3–4 and then they realized they still had several counts to go and not much air to release. After a while they learned to make their exhale last the entire count to ten, and we all learned we had a lot more breath in our lungs than we first thought.
Another way I see this concept is on the occasion I do yoga (which is sporadic, unfortunately). I love the end where you get to lie down on the mat, face up, hands to the side, palms up and just relax. I always think I’m relaxing when the leader will start mentioning specific parts of my body (like my shoulders) and, although I’m relaxed, my shoulders are not, and I have to focus on relaxing those specific tense areas to get completely relaxed. My relaxation threshold has to be adjusted to get to total relaxation.
I can’t help but relate this threshold concept to the Holy Spirit’s work in me. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes to the Corinthians who were struggling with exactly how to manage the Holy Spirit. I go to verse 7, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good…” and then he lists out some of the specific ways that the Spirit might be displayed through an individual. Things like wisdom, faith, teaching, healing and more. The list always makes me feel a little uncomfortable since I am not from a charismatic background, and I can easily feel guilty because I’ve never personally experienced the “speaking in tongues” part. But, I go back to verse 7 and realize that I don’t have to worry or feel guilt over what the Spirit may or may not feel is for the “common good” through me. As we read letters from Paul to specific times and places, we have to understand that the concepts are strong even if circumstances may be different from today.
That said, I also don’t want to be limited by a threshold that I have in place, that the Spirit wants to push through. It’s pretty plain in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Do not quench the Spirit.” That brief verse seems the opposite of stopping at 40% or the count of four, or forgetting what it means to totally relax. Perhaps it does relate to living spiritually in the moment. The Spirit, like God, has no beginning or end. For our human bodies, or temples, to house something infinite like God’s Spirit is mind boggling, but so beautiful. It is hope on this planet. It causes questions like, where is this taking me? If I hold on and keep going, where will I land? It’s knowing it doesn’t really matter because God will be in the mix of it all. Threshold is not in the Spirit’s vocabulary. When I think, “That’s far enough” the Spirit is saying, “We’re just getting started.”
What is our capacity for the Spirit’s work through us? Probably much, much, much more than we realize. We may grow our capacity in little bits, like adding one teaspoon at a time to sweeten our iced tea, or it may be like adding a whole cup of sugar at once. Either way, there’s always room to grow our Spirit space for the “common good”. This is really good news in our world, and if we start to stop when God is saying go, let’s pray for strength and have the confidence Paul knew in Philippians. Let’s push on to the goal.
Have a wonderful day!