How are you running today?
You may be saying that you’re not a runner and in the usual sense of that word, I am not either. I sometimes wish I had done that when I was younger, fitter, and stronger so I could be doing it now, but that didn’t happen, so I am a walker instead. But I am inspired by our daughter who didn’t start running until mid-life and diligently trained to develop that habit and skill.
The truth is that as believers we are all runners. We hear that in so many passages in Paul’s epistles and we hear it very clearly in Hebrews:
“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.”Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
This has always been a favorite verse of mine because it reminds me each day of the truth upon which I base my life. Each of us has a race marked out for us in this life. Mine likely does not look like yours nor yours look like mine, but it is a path set before each of us designed by God for our place in his Kingdom and our purpose within it. And clearly the race is important, or this verse and others wouldn’t be telling us there would be hindrances and things meant to tangle us up before we finish the race.
Within that race there are many parts and to finish the race well, each part of it will require something of us. The longer we run, the farther we are along on the field, the harder the race will feel. It can cause us to want to stop, give up the whole idea, and quit.
This year has been one where many of us have had more than a few hard places on the course set before us. We hoped as the year wound down that we would be near the end of this part of the course, but it isn’t clear just when this part of the course will end. Depending on our training, our endurance may be strained about this point.
I get that! But then I look at some of the other runners near me and I am reminded not to give in to fatigue or any other hindrances as I push forward each day. I look in one direction and I see our son who was diagnosed with cancer and whose path included rounds of chemo and a life upended from what was anticipated. In him we watched the faith he has nourished since childhood dig deep into the roots already there and sustain him along with those “running” with him to finish this part of the course set before him.
I look in another direction and I see our daughter managing multiple changes in the path before her this year for this part of her path and I see her grab hold of the faith founded on other seasons of challenge. I see her pick up the shield of faith and adjust her focus and keep moving forward.
The examples of people I can see on the course set before them are many and I see the challenge each faces, and I am reminded of that verse in Hebrews and the need for perseverance, endurance, to push forward. I am reminded of how the letters to each church noted in the early chapters of the book of Revelation speak of the rewards given to those who endure to the end.
I think of the words of Samwise Gamgee written by J.R.R. Tolkien in the first book of the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring as the film version draws to a close:
“It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring
One of the things I chose for my own physical health is to work with a personal trainer. I am not and have never been an athlete, but I am very aware that my aging body is not as strong as it once was, my posture is not as straight as it used to be, and my flexibility and endurance has suffered too. Working with weight training under the guidance of a trainer is not “fun” for me, but if I am going to steward this physical body it requires I add weight training to be able to finish the path set before me as strong as I can, and training is one of the routes to that.
Beyond that there is the significant training in the spirit realm that must go on daily to push back entanglements and hindrances that would slow me down, throw me off course or tempt me to stop. It means putting on the full armor of God Paul writes about in Ephesians 6 and taking every thought captive he writes in 2 Corinthians 5.
When do you notice the benefits of training? When you come to the tough places on the course, when you are in the final quarter of the game, and you’re exhausted and feel totally spent. Good players of sports know that well. They understand the words of Chris Fabry:
“…you have to play for the final quarter of the game and not halftime.”Chris Fabry in June Bug
This year as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States unlike many we might have celebrated, we need to remember we need to play the final quarter and the Lord’s strength in us will be there as we endure. Endurance will not be easy but have its rewards.
In our family there will be a long list of those in our own families and beyond. We see evidence of more than just one or two running with endurance the path before them whether victory lies in this life or the next. After all, as believers, life doesn’t end in this world.
“This is about life being ahead of you and you run at it! Because you never know how far you can run unless you run.”Penny Chenery in the movie, Secretariat