Each year my congregation kindly cover the cost of me going to our annual ministers' conference. Often in the run up to it a thought goes through my head, "You are very busy and two and a half days out of your preparation time will really put you under pressure - just duck out this year." Thankfully I have a godly wife who knows how much I need these few days and encourages me to go. This year was the twentieth conference since my ordination (though I think I missed one with a funeral.)
The teaching is always good, the food in abundance and the fellowship brilliant. Three or four of us have developed a bit of a tradition for a run each morning at 7.30pm. Just three miles these days as our combined age is now two centuries. The pace is much slower than it was twenty years ago and the chat not as vigorous. For me the challenge is completing the course. To tell the truth I really didn't want to go out this morning. But the rendezvous had been set for 7.30am in the lobby and my brothers were expecting me. The first mile was grand, a reasonable pace and the odd sentence darted out between gasps. But then the rain started and the wind increased. Turning at the half way marker the growing awareness of aching limbs meant that the temptation for me to stop was growing by the stride. The thought of battling all the way home into the wind was draining me of the last ounces of will and strength. Then one of my brothers, one as broad as a barn door, strong and fit having sensed my struggles slipped in in front of me. I was sheltered from the blustering wind and the spray of passing lorries. He took it all. One way home for me - stay as close in his slip stream as I could without tripping him up. I didn't even see the gradients that lay ahead, just his back. With half a mile to go my fellow minister by my side saw the tell tale signs of me just easing back on the pace. Keep it going was all he had to say and a fresh wave of determination pulsed through my aging legs. And so I made it to the end, I didn't stop. I had one bigger and stronger than me in front and the voice of a brother by my side saying - keep going. And that is the reason why I need to go each September to the conference. We get weary as ministers. The temptation to stop or ease back in the ministry seems to increase with the years. And it is at the conference that I remember each year I have one right in front of me, Jesus Christ who sees every weary step I take and promises to shelter and strengthen me all the way home and I have brothers around to pray and say - keep it going.
It took twenty six minutes to do the three miles this year. But every step was worth it just to have such a vital lesson why I need to go to the conference each year. Looking forward to the Conference in 2014.