The Ultimate Long-Haul
Last Saturday, I participated in a 13-mile mini-marathon for the first time. What a learning experience it was for this novice! Although I had read all kinds of info regarding what to expect on race day, nothing totally prepared me for some of the more odd obstacles I would encounter along those thirteen miles, from runners dressed in costumes to garage bands along the streets blaring really bad music to bystanders toasting us with open beer bottles at 10:00 a.m.
I started strong, but around mile 10, I grew weary and wondered if I could meet my goal of simply finishing the race. Those last three miles were long, giving me lots of time for contemplation and prayer—recalling Bible verses was a lot more inspiring than focusing on how bad my feet and legs hurt.
Many of us are very familiar with Paul’s comparison of living a Christ-filled life with running a long race, how neither is meant for sprinting or for the uncommitted. Paul understood that we believers are entered into the ultimate long-haul.
Even if you are not a runner, here are 10 running tips that parallel facets of the Christian “race:”
1. Train well (faithful, intentional spiritual growth). Those who train and those who don’t may look indistinguishable at the start line, but by the end, it will be obvious who prepared. In Hebrews 12:12, Paul comments about "training:" “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.” A certain amount of stress, as in weight-training, is good for the body. A certain amount of stress, as in leaving a comfort zone to help others or spending longer time in prayer, is good for the spirit.
2. Watch your step. Manhole covers are not flush with the road. Trash is slippery. Potholes are treacherous. In a spiritual sense, Proverbs is full of warnings about snares such as laziness, lust and foolishness. In 1 Peter 5:8, we are reminded of the enemy who stalks us from the sidelines. Remember that Jesus himself told us to be “shrewd as snakes and gentle as doves” (Matt. 10:16). This race is serious business--there’s a lot at stake, so "heads up!"
3. Stay nourished and hydrated, but don’t over-do it. Our needs and wants are legitimate, and God has made provision to meet them. If we continually focus on satiating those desires, however, there are consequences. In a marathon, too much water or energy bars can mean an unpleasant time-out at the porta-potty. In our Christian walk, focusing on the material dulls and distracts us from our goal. So grab refreshing water when you need it, enjoy a piece of fruit, but your focus is not on when and where the next reward or satisfaction will come from; it’s on the goal ahead.
4. To borrow a phrase from Max Lucado, “Travel light.” The smallest fanny pack can become a huge burden on the road. Likewise, the smallest grudge can create a lifetime of bitterness. Also, leave behind negative self-talk. So what if you tripped up a step or two back—you are already in a different place. To rehearse our faults and failings along the road is about as counterproductive as fighting any external obstacle, if not worse. Living in grace means traveling light. When I am running, if I exert the energy to turn my head and look behind me, when I look forward again, my pace is off, and I’ve slowed down to an awkward gait. In Hebrews 12:1, we are told, “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” We are not meant to live in bondage or in the past.
5. Stuff happens; keep going. Saturday, I dropped my MP3 player in a puddle of urine on the floor of a porta-potty, got Gatorade thrown on me, lost my sunglasses and got sunburned in spite of sun block. Nothing I read suggested these particular distractions would happen. The same way, no one told me when they handed me my newborn that someday he would need extensive jaw surgery. No one could have prepared me for the marital challenges specific to my husband’s personality and mine. Stuff just happens, and praise God, in these instances we are not alone. But the onus is on us to stay committed in faith to the One who, in the end, makes all crooked things straight.
6. Think about your goal continually. Every day, I think about death and heaven. I am not morbid, and I am not so other-worldly that I am out of touch with life here and now. It’s just that the older I get, the more I look forward to being in heaven with Jesus. Again, Paul admonishes us, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Keeping your eye on the “prize” keeps you energized and inspired.
7. Encourage others. At the race, encouragement came from bystanders, police officers, volunteers, family and friends. One of the lightest moments in my race came when a cheerleading squad chanted at runners: “We know you’re dying; (clap, clap) Keep trying!” We are to bear each other’s burdens and lift one another up. Have you been anyone’s cheerleader lately?
8. Pace yourself. Again, this is a marathon. If you try to sprint the entire race, you will burn out. In our spiritual lives, pacing is tricky because we want to be productive in the kingdom. We want to serve with all our hearts--and heaven forbid we stagnate. Forward momentum is good, but most of us have at one time felt the burden of over-committing or embarking on a ministry that we are not called to or gifted for. It is exhausting, and it is not Jesus’ goal to keep us in a state of exhaustion. It is OK from time to time to take a little break and stretch your muscles—just get back in that race and faithfully go at the pace God designed for you.
9. Don’t focus on how you look or perform. I am a little over-weight. I have cheap running clothes and a cheap sport watch. I run slower than some people walk. So what? Onlookers can’t see my heart, how much I love running/walking or how inspired I am. They can't see how good I feel about maintaining fitness. They can't see how thankful I am that my body will walk and breathe on its own and is not dependent on machinery, due to illness. In the same way, we need to remember that the outer man is but a shell holding the real man. We have so many different gifts and weaknesses that comparisons are really moot. We are individuals deemed worthy by God of running the race and gaining the prize to which we are called.
10. Finish well. 2 Timothy 4:7-8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” We long to hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Carry on, fellow marathoners—finish well!