I have never really been much of an athlete. I never hit a home run in little league. I never caught a touchdown pass in high school. And yet, here I am in my mid 50’s and by God’s grace and strength, I recently ran my second marathon, 26.2 miles. Running has become my “empty nest” hobby.
The Apostle Paul talks a lot about running races in the New Testament. He notes the value of physical training but says that spiritual training is more important as it prepares us for the life we live in the full presence of Jesus for all eternity.
There are so many different stories to tell and analogies from my experience in running this recent race that parallel life.
Two are quick to come to mind.
The first is this: Nobody gets up and decides they are going to run a marathon today and does it. It takes time. It takes training. It takes discipline. There were many weeks during the winter when I had to get out there and run 20+ miles on a Saturday morning. And this particular winter was not kind to runners, even south Texas runners. Some of those Saturdays were very cold and rainy. But it didn’t matter. I ran the distance that my coach told me to run. Sometimes it was really fun! It was delightful, the wind at my back and not a care in the world. Other mornings it was wet and I bundled up and slogged through the miles. Somedays I carried specific and heavy burdens to the Lord in prayer with every mile. But it was all discipline… training… preparing my body for the grueling task of running for five hours on the first Saturday in April. And because I did three full months of training and stuck to the race day plan, I achieved my goal! I beat the five hour timer with six minutes to spare!
In life there are some seasons that may feel like training runs, where it’s cold and rainy, difficult or challenging. Finances are a mess. The marriage is rocky. Health is compromised. The job is stressful. Children are childish. In order to succeed we must keep getting out there, week after week after week… season after season. And by doing so, as you persevere, you become stronger.
Jamila Williams is from Las Cruces, New Mexico. She runs for Team Red White and Blue, an organization that honors our military veterans and wounded warriors. During my marathon she carried a four-foot-tall American Flag for the whole 26.2 miles! With the flag high above the runner’s heads, from the back of the pack I could easily see her for miles and miles. In fact, I chased her for 20 miles. When I finally caught up to Jamila, I thanked her for being an inspiration without knowing it. I told her how I kept seeing those Stars and Stripes ahead and how it egged me on to run faster and run harder. She told me she carries the flag for those who are no longer able to do so. I shared with her the verse in the Bible from Hebrews 12, where we are encouraged to “fix our eyes on Jesus.” I mentioned how when I fixed my eyes on her flag way out in front of me, I was also calling out to Jesus to give me strength for the next mile. We ran back and forth for about a mile. And, since I was following my training plan and drinking lots of water, I had to duck into the port-o-let at Mile 22. When I came out, she was out of reach again. She finished five minutes ahead of me.
Here’s that passage from Hebrews 12:
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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)
My point here is that I’m certain there are many who are just like Jamila Williams. You lift high the flag of Jesus, and of your churches, and of your schools, neighborhoods and of your families. You are such an inspiration to many and you don’t even know it. You serve and you love unconditionally and you keep doing so every single day. Even when it’s not easy. Like running a marathon, life is not a flat open course. You have had to run up some very long hills when you just didn’t have the energy to do so. You may have been weary eyed and physically spent. Because you are keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus, you are making it. And you are inspiring many!
And I’m here to tell you, when you are going through your rough struggles, make a plan, stick to it, keep trusting God and you will make it. How am I so sure? First of all, because I made it! The marathon I ran had a long, slow, uphill climb around Mile 23. And yes, by that time in the race, my running form did not look much like it did at Mile 3. It was grueling. But once I made it to the crest, those final miles were downhill and rewardingly easy.
I had trained well, so I finished well. I event sprinted the last 100 yards!
The other reason we all can run well? The Hebrews 12 text says it is because those who have gone before us are cheering us on. Parents, grandparents, friends… They have set the example for us. They have encouraged us to always keep the banner of our King Jesus raised high. And by their inspiration and supernatural presence, we can accomplish much. We can steadfastly accomplish the goal and the vision God has set before us!
So, my call to you: keep on running the race. Keep praying. Keep training. Keep listening to what Jesus has to say to you. Keep His vision set before you. And as He leads, be courageous and follow. Be obedient.
I believe the best part of this race is ahead of us. I also believe when you train and stick to the plan, and keep your eyes on Jesus, you will finish the race as I finished last Saturday’s marathon… with great strength, a fist pump or two, maybe even with tears running down your cheeks… and with great joy!