…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…
Hebrews 12:1b New International Version (NIV)
I used to be a runner. Or I used to pretend to be a runner? It wasn’t because I liked it, but more because my friends were all in track and I was trying to stay in shape. I joined track hoping to be a sprinter. Sprinters get to wear spikes and set up blocks. They get to hear the words, “Starters to your marks. Set…” then pow! People can literally sit on the edge of their seats watching sprinters race. When a distance race starts it’s not even exciting because they start off pretty slow. What’s the hurry when you have a million laps to run? But alas, my coach said I tended to bound more like a deer and I “lacked the appropriate fast-twitch muscle strength” while someone else told me bluntly and without hesitation, “Lis your butt isn’t big enough to be a sprinter.” So me and my tiny butt and skinny doe legs were forced to run distance. At track meets I was stuck running the 800 m, the 1600 m, the 3200 m and much to my team’s detriment, I was the slowest leg of the 4x800m relay. After the meets I always felt like I had accomplished something, but I also always felt completely exhausted.
At my very first track meet my freshmen year, by the time we got to the end of the day I still had the 3200 m (2 miles) race to go. Unfortunately for me it was always the last event of the meet. Which means everyone else was done, relaxing, eating whatever they wanted, some had even changed out of their uniforms, while I supposed to be stretching and warming up. For the fourth time. When we were about to start I kept thinking, Eight laps around? Oh man, please God just let me finish. Seriously, placing never even crossed my mind. I was just hoping I didn’t pass out or quit. And at the moment I wasn’t liking my friends too much for choosing track instead of softball. (Yup you can call me a blame shifter.) Running bases? How easy is that? I could have been running bases. The gun went off and so did we. I foolishly started out trying to keep up with other girls instead of knowing my own pace. The pack hadn’t even made it past the first 100 and I stepped on the girl in front of me and fell. I didn’t get up fast enough to miss the dirty look she gave me, nor was it fast enough to rejoin the group. I was now dead last. I was humiliated. And now I was thinking, Oh great I have to pass the stands eight more times before I can go die of embarrassment, in addition to the please God just let me finish. Well to make a long, over fourteen minute story short, (yup sad) I finished. I didn’t pass out, I didn’t quit, and much to someone else’s embarrassment even after falling, I wasn’t last. I probably had one of the worst times in history, but what mattered to me was that I was able to finish. What I was able to appreciate later was that having such a rotten time the first go around made my improvement of 1 min and 46 seconds at the next meet seem like I was Wonder Woman. 🙂 Or, you know, close.
The Bible compares our spiritual walk to a race. When I think about it, my own journey with God is much like that very first 3200 meter race I ran. Walking with God takes effort. Sometimes I wonder if I fall more than I run. When I compare myself to others (which I know I’m not supposed to do) I’m pretty sure I’m being “lapped” because my own progress seems so slow. If I want to feel like I’ve accomplished something, I have to put my all into it. Many times I don’t feel like I can wait around for God to show up, but I have to chase after Him or the things He expects from me. Chances are, once I have actually done something worth doing, I’m going to feel completely exhausted.
When Paul writes to the church of Timothy he first describes “many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9) and tells the church to:
11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.
1 Timothy 6:11 New International Version (NIV)
After reading this verse it made me realize that we aren’t just running a race, but we are to be running from somethings and running towards others. We as Christians should be actively fleeing certain things while chasing others, rather than just taking things as they come. I’ve been doing this wrong for a long time. I think I’ve taken the attitude of, I don’t want to be that kind of person so I’m not going to do this rather than I want to be like Jesus so I’m going to start doing these things. I need to pursue the characteristics of Jesus not just hope I stumble into them.
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, 2 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.3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV
As I run then, according to Hebrews, I should be focused on Jesus. That way I’m not worried about me and how terrible I am at all things spiritual (or at sprinting) and I’m not “competing” with others. I bet God put us all on different tracks anyway. When I taught in California I had to take my class out for PE and teach them myself. Which explains my supreme jealousy of teachers that receive prep time while their class actually goes to a PE teacher. 🙂 I always had my students run a lap first and as they finished they formed a line behind me. We held out our hands and high-fived the other kids as they came in, sometimes shouting to the stragglers “You can do it!” The idea was to encourage teamwork rather than boasting. In 2 Timothy 8 that’s kinda what I picture. As we near the finish line as Christians we don’t have to worry about who made it there before us, because they’ll have received their crowns too and they’ll be waiting to help cheer us home.
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:7,8 NIV
Another day, another sunrise
I wake up again on the track
Praying to forget yesterday’s failures
I can’t move forward if I’m looking back.
I’m lacing up my running shoes
I know which direction to go
But it’s so hard to be confident
When my progress seems so slow.
It wouldn’t be so hard
If I wasn’t constantly stumbling.
And it wouldn’t seem so far
If I could see how far I was going.
I’m running from the world
And chasing after You.
Fleeing from selfish ambition
And running toward what’s true.
I’m sprinting toward righteousness
Keeping love in my sight
Racing against the temptations
That insist I give up the fight.
I’m running toward the finish line.
I’m running homeward bound.
I don’t want a medal from the judges.
I want to see the Father holding my crown.