My husband has told me several times that he thinks I would have made a “great” cross-country runner because he thinks I have the right build. I have always replied that I may have the build, but that doesn’t mean that I would be any good! I need to be stronger, have greater endurance, and more heart to push myself onward when I feel like I can’t.
I have never considered myself much of a runner. My runs are usually a little more than one mile, and my ‘long” runs never go much more than two miles. Besides Scott, other people have also thought that I should be a better runner than I actually am, even assuming that I could “easily run six miles’. I have to reply that I absolutely can not run six miles, much less three miles thank you very much!
Well, last Sunday, excited and a little nervous about how my body would respond, I decided to try a 3 mile run (I believe it was actually a little over three miles), because I knew they were right. I could run three miles, maybe even six with a well rested body and lots of adrenaline. It was time for me to stop being content with comfortable, and instead, push myself to start reaching my potential. Running the 3+ miles was hard work, and I had to give myself plenty of encouragement along the way, but I did it--with a little bit of help and encouragement from God too!
About two thirds of the way through the run I had an epiphany: as a Christian I am also supposed to be running a great race that requires perseverance. Hebrews 12:1 says “Therefore, 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.” What is necessary for perseverance? Suffering. Paul says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4). It is the same as a long run when you feel your body aching and fatigued asking you to quit, but you must press on and persevere. For by doing so, and not taking the easy way out and quitting, you do develop great character and strength and find that, yes, you can indeed do it. From this realization of course comes hope, and hope is a great and powerful thing. As I finished my last third of my run I told God that I was willing to run His race and follow His course and I knew that no matter what happened, God would not forsake me. “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Duet. 31:8)
As I told God that I trusted him and knew that he would provide for me whatever I need to get through the toughest times of the “race”, it started to sprinkle! Light, refreshing, cool drops of rain encouraged me onward, pushing me towards the finish. I rejoiced and praised God for this simple, but beautiful and perfect gift! I think this was God saying “Yes, Whitney, I will be here for you always and give you what you need, never fear.” In the same way he will give us exactly what we need when we need it, encouraging us until we reach the Finish and our eternal Home.
What is this “race”? It is throwing off anything that hinders us or causes us to sin; it is living a righteous life, striving after what is holy, and blameless and pure. It is choosing God’s plan over our own comfort. 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 says, “25Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Paul explains that he “beats his body” in order to discipline himself to do what is right. To overcome sin in our lives, especially habitual sin, we can’t play nice with it. Sin needs to be destroyed, and to do that we may need to continually remind and discipline ourselves to overcome those sins. This is not easy, and this may not come without pain. For me, I need to constantly reprimand myself for choosing my way over God’s way, for considering myself better than others, and for judging the very people that Jesus came to save (Luke 4:17-19), just to name a few.
We are not only called to run this race, but to win it. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Just as you can’t win a foot race by only running select parts of it and sauntering through others, you also can’t win our life race by choosing to only eliminate certain sins, or choosing to follow God only so far, but no further because “that’s just crazy” and “he might ask too much.” That’s a lie! He will never ask “too much,” he gave Moses what he needed to free the Israelites, he gave me the rain to finish my run, and he’ll give you what you need. (Matthew 6:30, 8:26, 14:30-32, 16:8-9)
If it is not fear that stops us from running the race then it is comfort. Many times we only “run the race” when we feel like it--which really isn’t being in a race at all! We use the same excuses as I did as to why I “couldn’t” go on a long run; we’re not strong enough, we don’t have the endurance, and we just plain lack the will. Running the race could get uncomfortable after all, and we like being comfortable! When God calls us to step out in faith and trust him and take a “risk”, we often recoil and tell him “no thanks, that would make me uncomfortable and I wouldn’t want me to be uncomfortable, would you?” Well, if making us uncomfortable forces us to trust him alone, focuses our attention on him, draws us closer to him, reveals his glory, refines us (thereby shaping us into a righteous man/woman after his own heart), and causes us to have greater faith as he provides in a way that only He can, then, yes, he might want to shake things up a bit in our lives.
So let us trust in God. He has great plans for us if we would only run the race to win it. Don’t let fellow man put you, or God, in a box. “ Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22). Why should man determine what you can and cannot do? After all, it is the Lord who reigns, not man, so let us trust in him only.
Just as in life when you push yourself to your limits physically, or in any other area of life, where you sacrifice, have to persevere, and break through limits, it is so rewarding when you finish the race. Your perseverance pays off and you are thrilled and proud because you actually did it! You pushed through and you accomplished something great. It is the same when you run your spiritual race. There will be hard times where you need to really push yourself to keep going and stay focused, but the end result is more than just a sense of accomplishment. Romans 8:18 says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” The race is tough yes, Jesus tells us it will be, but it is more rewarding to run it and run it full out knowing that you have done your best. So let us do it, make the decision, no more excuses, and no more fear.