“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
I am a runner. I love to run. I love the feel of the pavement underneath my feet and the sensation of miles accumulating. I love the satisfaction of beating my personal best, enduring the long runs, and persevering to completion. At the same time, I hate running. I ask myself why I do this to myself, training run after training run. It is, in fact, a love-hate relationship with running. Lord willing, I will never stop running. The beauty of going on long training runs is that it gives me ample time to navigate my thoughts and separate them into some semblance of order. My thoughts occasionally go rogue on me and I think the most random of things. For example, I was running along the road one day a couple of weeks ago and my thoughts drifted to pass the time–and the miles–I believe this particular run was a nine-miler. As I was running under the trees, I had the crazy thought about what would happen if one of the walnuts fell from the tree above and land squarely on my head. Would it knock me out? Or would I just have a severe headache? Can you imagine the phone call to my husband: “honey, can you come and pick me up because I got drilled in the head with a walnut?” I was entertained on my run for about half a mile with that thought! However, thankfully, most of the time, when I run, my thoughts become prayers and I use this time to seek God’s face and heart on situations in my life. I pray over the people I love and seek discernment. I will silence my thoughts so that I may hear God’s whisper.
On one such day, I began thinking about the similarities of running and the Christian faith. This was definitely not a leap because Paul referred to the Christian walk as a race in 2 Timothy. In addition, he challenged the church in Corinth to view faith through the same lens as the competitors running a race–with the goal to win (see 1 Corinthians 9:24). I identified five similarities between my walk with Christ and my running regimen.
- Train even when I don’t feel like it. There are times when I really just do not want to roll out of bed, put on my running shoes, and hit the pavement. Yet, I know that it is what I need to do, especially if I am working and conditioning for a half marathon. Even missing one day of training could have a negative impact. Therefore, self-discipline is vital. The same applies to my walk with Christ. Life can get chaotic and crazy with time seeming like it is disappearing with not enough hours in the day. But, self-discipline prevails. I know that if I miss spending time with Jesus, every area of my life will feel the impact. I may run short on patience for the day. So I have learned to pray even when I don’t feel like it. You know those days, the ones where you are in a bad mood and you want to be in a bad mood because it feels good in the moment. Those days where you aren’t completely sure you want your mood to change. Pray anyway. Read your Bible anyway. Every single time, it matters.
- Persevere when it feels like I cannot go one more mile. On those long runs, usually between 10-12 miles, there are moments when I cannot envision myself making it for the long haul. These are the days when I hate running, when doubts creep in and I ask myself why I think this is fun and why I do this to myself. Sometimes, it can feel like that in our faith. Our doubts become louder than the whisper of our faith. We begin to wonder what is the point of all this. Others seem to be getting along just fine without faith–in fact, those same people often seem to be thriving while we are barely surviving. We ask ourselves, “wasn’t following Jesus supposed to be different than this?” We get to choose what to do in those moments, and, hopefully, we continue to persevere through the current circumstance, trusting that what we cannot see is worth it. We choose faith. We choose to believe. We shake off our doubts and leave them in the hands of Jesus and we push on, through one more mile at a time. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that, “faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” And Hebrews 12:1b-2a tells us to “run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.” Don’t give up on the race of faith–instead, look up!
- Don’t get sidetracked or derailed by minor aches, pains, and inconveniences. Inevitably, running makes me tired. Running can sometimes make me more than aware of my age. There are often tired legs, achy muscles, sore feet, and the occasional back ache after long runs. Sometimes, even after short ones. If I were looking for an excuse to not stay in the race, I could give myself an out every single time I lace up my running shoes. My legs hurt. My heels hurt. I’m tired today. It is cold. It might rain. It is too hot. Don’t we do that with our faith too, especially when it comes to putting into practice what we know to be true? How often do we find ourselves making excuses to not get involved at church, to not attend church, to not serve, to not give, to not trust God? If we are looking for an excuse, the devil will provide us more than we need. Let us not give up because we have become distracted by the cares, worries, aches and pains, and inconveniences around us. Stay the course!
- There will be unexpected tough runs, but my conditioning will kick in and get me through them. Self-explanatory in the physical realm. Oh how much more it is true in the spiritual realm! How I have trained myself spiritually will become a factor when tough times arise in life. If we have learned anything this year, we have learned that hard times come and unexpected things will happen. When unexpected interruptions, unwelcome ones as well, come, the training I have implemented in my daily life will allow me to face them with grace. My go-to response will be to turn to Jesus in prayer rather than looking for assurance and security in the seen world around me. My faith becomes unshakable due to its daily conditioning. In life, we can build strong faith muscles by ensuring we complete our daily exercises, our training runs. Pray. Read God’s Word. Do what it says. Listen to the voice and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Be invested in godly fellowship and accountability. I have literally found myself praying on those difficult runs, “Jesus, please just help me through the next minute of this run.” When I feel like I cannot possibly take another step, He sustains me. Physically. Spiritually. Emotionally. Mentally. Be ready! Train!
- Every single time, running is worth it. Despite how each run begins, despite how difficult the run has been, despite the aches and pains, despite the weather, despite the moments when I did not think I could take one more step, I have never said, “man, I wish I didn’t run today!” Why? Because every single time, I am exhilarated and energized by the run. There is satisfaction in a goal accomplished and in not giving up or giving in. Oh how much more the same applies to Jesus. He is worth it every single time. He is worth every sacrifice. He is worth every moment of our time. He is so much more than worth it. We will never regret any day we live surrendered to His Spirit in our lives. May we approach our walks with Christ with a sense of urgency. May we be competitors. May we show up every single day for the race. Just like Jesus, “who, for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:2b).
Jesus is worth it, every single time. Jesus endured the cross for us. Let’s persevere and run the race of our lives for Him. Paul was nearing the end of his life when he penned the words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7–Paul fought the good fight. Paul finished the race. Paul kept the faith. I want to be like Paul, to be like Jesus. I want to finish my race strong. There will be no crawling across the finish line here. Let’s run to win the race–our prize, dear friend, is Jesus. He is waiting for us at the finish line. He is cheering us on every step of the way. He sent us His Spirit to guide us, to counsel us, and to comfort us. May He look into each of our eyes and say, “Well done!”