Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
The other day my son convinced me to run in a cross country race, a 10K (6.2 miles). About a third of the way into the race I started thinking about how a cross country race is a lot like the Christian life.
Preparation is key
The night before the race I was dutifully eating my pasta (and some other very tasty food) when an older gentleman sat down behind me in the restaurant. “I’d like some plain pasta” he said to the waitress. She asked, “Would you like some sauce?” He quickly replied, “No.” Then she said, “How about some cheese?” He said, “No” again. She seemed puzzled, so again he reiterated, “Just plain pasta, please.” On they way out of the restaurant I noticed his shirt, it was from a previous cross country run. The next day as this man (who appeared to be 20 years older than me) passed by me I thought, “I should have laid off the cheese and sauce.” Though that would have been a good idea, it was more than a little cheese and sauce that was slowing me down. I suspect a little less cream in my coffee and Chick-fil-A sauce would have helped me out. The man who passed me probably had a few months of broccoli, kale, and salmon meals fueling him, not to mention a regular running regimen. I sensed this was just another race for him.
The Bible describes the Christian life as a race. The Christian life requires preparation. Just as a pasta meal the night before the race is not enough to sustain a runner, a hit and miss time with God is not effective preparation for the Christian life. Preparation for the Christian life involves time with God and His people preparing for the obstacles along the way so that we can run our race well.
Run Your Race
For me, the most difficult part of running a cross-country race is to run at my own pace. As the race begins I’m tempted to try to stay with the fastest runners. When I do this I run out of steam before the race ends. Sometimes, I see people just walking at a race and then I’m tempted to stop and walk with them. To run the race well, sometimes I have to block out the other runners and focus on my own race.
Similarly, in the Christian life we are often distracted by what others are doing. We see someone ministering in a certain way and think we should do it the same way. Often we forget that each of us have our own unique set of gifts, and unique race to run. The race you run may be different based upon the gifts you have been given as well as the stage of life you find yourself. For example, a young family trying to train their children to follow the Lord may run differently in terms of their involvement at church and with various activities than a couple who are “empty nesters.”
Enjoy the Race
One time when I was running (and feeling like I was about to die!) I thought, “What would I be doing if I were just walking through this area and not in a race?” I realized I would be admiring the river, taking in some of the beautiful architecture on the old buildings. I needed to enjoy the race to stay in the race. Similarly, in life it is easy to get caught up in the struggles and the hassles we encounter but to run well we will need to enjoy our race.
Part of enjoying life is to run lite. As I run the race and think about the Christian life I initially wish I had a pen to write these things down. Later though, I’m glad I don’t have a pen because every bit of weight bothers me. I wonder how many of the activities that we do actually slow us down and result in us being ineffective in the race of life. Is there something you need to lay aside to run a better race?
Inevitable, there are those who quit and do not finish a race. Others may not quit the race, but they stop running and just walk to the finish line. This too can be seen in the Christian life. Some can be going on well, only to later quit the faith; others have a start and stop mentality. In a race, this seems like the most difficult race to run. The starting and stopping seems difficult on the body, but at least they finish the race. Similarly, there are some who live the Christian life in a start and stop fashion. They too may finish their race, but it seems to be a life robbed of much joy because of the consequences of this kind of inconsistency upon themselves and those they love.
There is something to be said for running in a race. In my own running, I’ve noticed that I run faster when I am in a 5K race than when I run 5K after work. Why is this? There is value in remembering I am in a race. It leads me to concentrate more on my stride, breathing, and the pace I am keeping. Perhaps many of us have become ineffective in the Christian life because we do not consider our life as a race. We are not very intentional about the way we live our lives. We may not be thinking about the impact our decisions have upon the spiritual development of our friends, children, or how our behavior impedes our ability to point others toward Christ.
Run with Others
I am convinced that one reason I run a better in a race than when out for a neighborhood jog is the presence of others. When others are around I run faster. Sometimes it is the encouragement they give. At other times, other runners help me run at a faster pace and keep a consistent rhythm; serving as a model for how I can run. It is hard to run fast when I am alone.
Similarly, the Christian needs a solid church where they are with others who encourage them as they go up and down the valleys of life. It is also encouraging to see that one is not in this life alone, to see others dealing with job problems, child rearing issues, health problems and relationship issues that provide a model to emulate.
It seems the most difficult part of a race is in the middle and near the end of the race. In the middle, I’m tempted to quit. I often think, “You mean I’m only halfway through and I’m this tired.” Sometimes this is a difficulty because I expected to be further along than I am. Similarly, in the Christian life one may be disappointed as mid-life approaches and it doesn’t seem like things have gone as planned. One may be tempted to stop running thinking no one will ever know.
The end of a race is difficult as well. Often the race ends by going up a hill. Similarly, the end of the Christian life can be difficult. Often one is struggling with health difficulties, losing mobility and freedom. At times, there is the loss of ones spouse and a profound feeling of loneliness. As one older Christian once said to me, “The last years have been the most difficult years of my life.” And this was a man who endured the Great Depression and fought in World War II in his youth. And yet we fix our eyes and run on with endurance the race set before us.
When one finishes the race there is a feeling of accomplishment. I quickly want to see my time. If I did not try my best there is regret, when I did run my best I’m usually pleased no matter what my time may be. The Scripture tells us in heaven there is a cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we run our own race. Let’s remember we are on a course in the race of life. Let’s run well the race set before us, setting our eyes on Jesus and considering the race He has already run on our behalf.