I’ve never wanted to run in my life. It’s held no interest for me whatever. In fact, if anything, running comes with emotional baggage for me, as it was “the mile” run we were required to do every Friday in junior high PE that made me want nothing to do with physical fitness. For the life of me, I never understood why anyone would be disciplined to run regularly, much less enjoy it and “live for it.” What is this thing called “the endorphin high,” anyway?
When my friend asked me repeatedly over time “Why don’t you run a 5k with us?” I consistently responded with a perfectly guilt-free “Thanks, no.” It’s not that I’m a total couch potato or even that I’m not physically fit. Neither is true of me. It’s just that the thought of making my legs run for even minutes at a time (much less an hour or more), all the while gasping for breath, seemed less appealing to me than say, … oh, I don’t know, wood-chucking.
So naturally I began to question my judgment and blood oxygen levels when one day I responded to another of my friend’s race invitations with, “Ok, I’m in.” She was surprised, but delighted. More than just the sheer notion of participating in any organized “run,” however, I ratcheted up the stakes by insisting that I do the 10k, as opposed to the 5k. “Maybe you should start with the 5k, since you’ve never done one before,” my friend discretely suggested to me not long after I signed up. “Go big or go home,” I uttered—much to my own horror. What had gotten into me? What was I even thinking? How in the world, in fact, would I complete a 6.2-mile race? Oh, right … Google would know. So I took to the Internet to begin planning my strategy.
I would need to run at least three times in a week, and ideally would need to work up to 5.5 miles or so before the big day. Exactly two months before the race, I ventured out on my first jog. To my amazement, I jogged two miles without a break. Winning! Hmmm. Maybe I had overestimated the physical difficulty of this endeavor. Of course, my feelings of self-pride were largely deflated by the next day, when I could hardly move my legs.
Over the ensuing weeks, the training really didn’t get much easier. I did well to maintain a healthy body, a primary goal for race day. A pesky blister here, annoying leg cramps there. Nothing too major. But the biggest challenge was forcing myself to get on the shoes, stretch, and amble out the door each time knowing what lay ahead. The challenge was almost more mental than anything. The shift came not long after I began my training. Heading into my training season, I had gone “all in” by paying better attention to my diet and hydration habits. Instead of my usual fast-food-like diet, I was rounding out my nutrition with such things as protein shakes, lean meats and salads.
After hustling in one day from a run, however, instead of heading for my protein shake, I decided I deserved a pass from the healthy side and could indulge guilt-free in a generous helping of my favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor. After all, I’d just run more than three miles. If that doesn’t warrant reward eating, I don’t know what does. It tasted especially rich and satisfying that night, I’m sure because I knew I’d earned it. From that point on, I looked at my runs differently. Although they were a challenge to get up for, I began to look at each run as my license to enjoy my favorite treat without the constant guilt that usually accompanied such indulgence. Voila. I had discovered a valuable secret to “staying in the race”: focusing on the reward that goes with it.
That same notion is applicable as much in spiritual things as physical fitness. The world in which we live has in the last several decades gotten smaller while at the same time more spiritually desolate than perhaps ever before. It’s tempting at times to look at things in the natural and become disheartened in faith matters. It’s easy to feel burdened by the weight of spiritual darkness all around us. Indeed, the scriptures even tell us that, “darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.” (Isaiah 60:2(a)) But we are also told, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you,” and “the Lord will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:1, 2(b), 3)
Jesus has given us everything we need to overcome the challenges and tribulations of this world. That is to say, He’s given us Himself—and He Himself overcame every last thing that would exalt itself above the Father. Jesus told His disciples (and still tells us today), “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33(b)) John, the Apostle, wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (1 John 5:4) Friends, we can be assured victory if we put our faith wholly in Christ! We are not running this race in vain. Christ has gone before us, and has sent to us the Holy Spirit to empower us each and every step of the way.
If you are feeling vulnerable to the weight of the race in your life, remember to fix your eyes on Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith..."
If you are feeling vulnerable to the weight of the race in your life, remember to fix your eyes on Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) It is He who “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy.” (Jude 24) As you fix your eyes on Him, remember the great promise penned by the Apostle Paul, that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) Our eternal reward as followers of Christ will far outweigh the struggles of this race!