I remember the pain, the burn, the euphoria, feeling as though I could run forever, knowing that my pain was taking me closer to my goal, looking forward — pushing forward to that moment of extreme satisfaction when I would cross the finish line knowing I had given everything, and then falling into the arms of my father.
It has been at least a decade since I trained and ran competitively. In those years of training, I learned some valuable lessons about living out the Christian life.
1. You don’t get stronger without pain. In the process of building muscle, your muscles break down and become weaker before they get stronger. You experience pain, but the pain means you are getting stronger.
We generally do everything we can to avoid pain; we think that pain = bad. However, James 1:2 tells us to consider it all joy when we experience trials (pain) because those trials, if we persevere, can help us to grow spiritually stronger.
2. Your body can take more than you are willing to give it. This was one of my dad’s favorite sayings. What we are willing to endure is often much less than what we are able to endure.
There have been plenty of secular studies done about “mind over matter.” In spiritual terms, this could be referred to as “Spirit over flesh”. It is not fun to be uncomfortable. Most of the time, when we are uncomfortable, our desire is to retreat rather than to push forward and see what we are really capable of, physically and spiritually. Matthew 26:41
3. We perform at the level of our competition. Athletes tend to perform at the level of their competition. If the runners as a whole are faster, you will be faster. If the group is slower, your time will actually slow down, even if you are ahead.
God calls us to “spur one another on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). The word, spur, has the idea of poking one another with a sharp stick. We are to push one another on to greater love and good deeds and be wary of companions who pull us away from the things of God.
4. Seeing someone ahead motivates you to keep going. Knowing that others have run the race and finished gives you confidence that you, too, can finish. Seeing someone ahead of you gives you a point with which to direct your energy.
Hebrews 12:1-3 tells us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith”. Jesus was the first person to live out the faith. He was the first one to finish the race. We can set our focus on him and receive through him the energy we need to keep living out this life.
5. If you get lost on the course, you have to find your way back and keep going – you don’t get to make your own course and you don’t win if you cheat (II Timothy 2:5).
In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus, in describing the kingdom, says, “the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life.”
6. Running with a purpose is more powerful than running without one. My enjoyment of running drastically decreased without the desire to compete and improve. It is hard to run well without a purpose.
In I Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul compares living out the gospel to a runner who is running a race with an end goal in mind.
7. The second best feeling is stumbling across the finish line, barely able (or completely unable) to stand, knowing you gave everything you have. There is a satisfaction that comes from knowing you’ve done your best. How much greater will the joy be when we finish this life, knowing we’ve followed our Lord to the best of our ability, with all the strength He gave us; how much more should we desire to say, as Paul did, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” (II Timothy 4:7)
8. The best feeling was seeing my dad at the finish line, picking me up, telling me good job and saying how proud he was of me. We all desire the approval of our earthly father, how much more the desire for approval from our Heavenly Father. How much more can we look forward and be motivated to live in such a way that when we cross the finish line of this life, we can fall into the arms of our Father and hear Him say, “Well done.”