Monday, January 21, 2013

To Run the Race Set Before Us

I took P.E. during my ninth and tenth grade years to get that requirement out of the way.  As a teenager, the idea of sweating for fun, well...wasn't.  The only thing I did like about P.E. was the huge fan the coach plugged in at the end of almost every class.  With a steady hum loud enough to muffle a murder, this big box on wheels towered above my 5'2" frame as its blades blew hurricane force gusts at a group of sweaty girls trying to cool off so their make-up wouldn't run.

In south Louisiana with 90 degree days even in December and an open-air gymnasium, sweating was a given.  Yet, amidst units on gymnastics, rollicking games of dodge ball, volleyball, and flag football, one of the worst had to be the unit on running.

Unlike the other sports where we got points just for dressing out and taking the field, this sport had requirements.  To earn an 'A,' I had to run a mile in under 15 minutes.  Every thirty seconds under 15 would earn me 10 bonus points.  

Every morning for weeks, I would double knot my tennis shoes and make four laps around the cushioned black oval.  I was motivated to earn that A (and those bonus points), so I sweated, ran until I had side stitches and thought my lungs would burst, then walked until I could run again.

It was horrible.  In the end, I did make an A and earned some bonus points, but I learned nothing about the benefits of pacing myself.

After that day, I didn't run again unless it was after/towards one of my runaway, screaming, bleeding children. I walked. Everywhere.  Sure, I walked brisk 14-minute miles, but still, it was walking.

Then came the opportunity to raise my three children with a different attitude about running by entering them into the Louisiana Kid's Marathon.  Even as I typed my name into the application, I was terrified, not that they couldn't do it but that I couldn't.  I routinely walked 8-10 miles a week, but that was walking.  This was running.

In Scripture, Paul speaks several times about running a race.  Honestly?  I've always hated those verses about racing because they've always made me feel like a loser, me, the woman who doesn't run.

Yet, after nine weeks of training, I have realized that running a physical race isn't really that much different than running a spiritual one...and that kind of spiritual running?  I do every day whether I call it running or not. 

In  Hebrews, Paul says, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb. 12:1-3).

To the Corinthians, Paul writes, "Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

In both these Scriptures, Paul reveals several characteristics of physical running that apply equally to our walk (or run) on the narrow path to becoming more and more like Christ.

1.  There's Always an Excuse to Stop Running.  It's too cold, I have a scratchy throat, my feet hurt, supper will be on the table late, the laundry won't get folded. 

These same excuses can interfere with our prayer-life, our Bible reading, our commitment to any particular ministry.  And before we know it, we are encumbered, entangled by our excuses so that we stop running the spiritual race to become more Christlike, to deepen our relationship with the Father.  We must ask the Spirit to help us recognize the excuses for what they are and lay them aside so our focus is on Christ and Christ alone.

2.  Fix Your Eyes on Jesus.  My daughter learned this the hard way.  She would turn to see if her brother was catching up to her or would look down an extra second at a brightly colored leaf or interesting rock...and in that second when she took her eyes off the road ahead, she would trip and fall flat on her face.  

The same is true of our spiritual pilgrimage.  It is all too easy to allow our eyes to drop down to the troubling circumstances of life.  If we focus there on ourselves, it is all too easy to fall flat.  How will we make ends meet? What if the kids get sick again? How will I find another job?  No matter how difficult the path may seem, looking down at ourselves won't keep our feet moving.  It will only make us fall faster.  We need to fix our eyes on Jesus so He can help us put one foot in front of the other.

3.  Consider Your Goal or You Will Grow Weary and Lose Heart. 
When my children grew weary, I would remind them of the medal to come at the end of their 26th mile.  I would talk about how it would sparkle, about how they could show it to everyone.  In the midst of colds, viruses, and the stomach flu, this goal kept them going.  

As Christians, we, too, must strive to keep the state of the world or our circumstances from discouraging us.  We must keep up the pace, remembering that our goal is found not just here in material wealth or success in this life but in eternity to come.  On this side of the veil, our goal is to become more like Jesus not have a cushy 401K and retirement plan; to grow closer to Him with each passing season so that one day, we will achieve our ultimate goal of life in eternity with Him. 

4.  Discipline yourself with self control.
The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak--oh how I understand this.  I've caught myself thinking, "Just one day of not reading my Bible.  It won't matter.  I can just make up for it tomorrow by reading both lessons."  Or maybe it's more like, "I feel too tired to go to church this morning.  Surely they can find someone else to help with the children's lesson."  Or perhaps you've thought, "It's too cold to prayer walk today.  Those tracts probably wouldn't do any good anyway."  This goes back up to #1--our  minds can find an excuse for anything.  

The key is apply techniques learned in physical racing, such as pacing and disciplining ourselves.  Pacing ourselves means we need to not take on too much just for the sake of doing; we need to discern where God would have us do His kingdom's work and plug ourselves in there versus spreading ourselves thin doing everything and anything.  Likewise, disciplining  ourselves means making Bible study, prayer, and any other kind of ministry God has called us to, a routine.  

Sure, anything done just for the sake of doing it won't profit a person.  Yet, I have found that my heart and spirit are willing even when my flesh is weak.  Pacing and disciplining myself in the routine of spiritual disciplines helps my spirit overcome my flesh.

 My children are already asking when we're running our next kid's marathon.  And I?  I've caught myself considering a 5K in the future. 

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, even if you're a couch potato, you have been set on the narrow path to run the race that has been set before you.  

Let us discipline ourselves, keep our focus, and not grow weary.  Let us run that race well to the glory of God the Father. 

Image: Husband and my youngest son--champions!  For the complete story and photos of our family's racing journey, read here and here

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