1985, at age 45, I stood at the starting line of the St. Louis Marathon
ready to run 26.2 miles. I was a seasoned, trained runner, but would I
be able to pull off this one?
Christians and runners have a lot in common. Hebrews 12:1 compares overcoming with running and says we should run with “perseverance” (NIV) the race marked out for us. The Greek word is referring to “endurance.”
There are two types of runners: sprint runners and distance runners. The former run in short races and go all out for speed. The latter do not run fast, but like the EnergizerTM bunny, “just keep going.”
I have seen runners who start out with great speed in a distance race and get all the attention. But they couldn't sustain that pace and had to drop out. I remember Christians who got great attention and were looked to as examples who are not in the race anymore.
To finish a marathon, you must run within your means. You must not go beyond your normal pace which may be a 9 or 10 minute mile. If you run too fast, you will burn out and not finish. Some runners are influenced by those around them and unwisely pick up their own pace. That works against them. Christians who compare themselves with other Christians are also unwise. (II Corinthians 10:12)
I have been in dozens of distance races (but only one marathon) and always ran in the middle of the pack. All of those runners were in the race just to finish and were not ashamed of their lack of speed. A great camaraderie develops among runners. We talked to one another as we jogged along. We all had something in common and felt a kinship even though we'd never met before. Christians also feel a kinship for one another because we are all in the race together.
I have seen runners drop back to run with a slower runner who seemed to be getting discouraged. It helped; both finished. Christians should encourage one another, too.
In a long race like a 26 mile marathon every runner will “hit the wall.” This is the point where you have burned out all your stored carbohydrates from recently digested food. Before that point running is very pleasant and enjoyable. This may seem strange to non-runners but it is so. But when you “hit the wall” something is very different. In my 1985 marathon, it happened to me at about the 16 mile mark. My legs now felt like logs and didn't want to move anymore. But I still had another ten miles to run! This is a critical point in a runner's race. Christians come to places like this too. How can we continue when we have burned out our reserves?
In my marathon, I was at a transition point with about 10 miles to go. At this point the body begins burning nearly all its energy from fat in the body. You can keep going in spite of how you feel. Just a small amount of fat can provide enormous energy and even the leanest person has plenty. Just draw on that source and don't quit. In my case, there were motivations that kept me in the race. I didn't come this far to quit. I could visualize that finish line and knew I’d reach it if I just kept going, even at my slow pace. Fat stores would provide the energy. I had the encouragement of other runners who were going through the same thing. We kept encouraging one another. I had trained my body before this race. It was conditioned to make it.
Jesus faced this “wall” on the night before he died. He didn't have the strength to go through what was set before him. He prayed fervently. An angel encouraged him. He continued to pray. At the end of the three hours of prayer, we find a strengthened Jesus who was now both willing and able to go through the ordeal before him. There is no sign of him faltering after that.
What if we don't feel like fighting on anymore even though we know we should? An overcomer can only go so far on his own power. At some point, a Christian needs to draw on another source of power. “Let us come boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 KJV) Jesus did just that.
We can ask God for the desire to overcome. He supplies that too. “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13 KJV)
When I crossed the finish line at 4 hours and 4 minutes after starting, a medal was placed around my neck as it was on all finishers. We had all fought the good fight and we were all winners.
Ask for the will to keep running this Christian race and the strength to continue. Christ will supply it.
Editors note: This essay was originally run in Vol. V Issue 1
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