Have you seen the meme that says, “If I’m running, you better run too, because it means something is chasing me”? I feel like whoever thought that up first would be someone I’d get along with really well!
I’ve never been a runner, even at my fittest. I must breathe really weirdly or something, because I’ve never been able to run more than a couple of minutes without feeling like I’m going to die.
I guess that’s partly why the references in Scripture to running a race have never really struck a chord with me. I understood the picture they were painting, and felt like I could apply the imagery to my spiritual journey well enough without being a runner.
Recently, however, I was listening to a Bible teacher who was, in fact, a runner. Tempted to check out till he got back to something I thought mattered, I couldn’t help but find myself wrapped up in his portrayal of this thing I felt so ambivalent about. As he described the mental game required of him to run a physical race, I began to sense there was more God wanted me to glean from these running passages than I had really ever allowed myself.
Over the years, God has been incredibly gracious to show me the critical importance of a well played mental game. At times, that mental game has felt more like a marathon than any physical race ever could, even for this non-runner! I’ve experienced the freedom that comes from replacing lies with God’s Truth in many seasons, but it has never come without mental and emotional exertion.
As I listened to this man describe the thoughts he needed to conquer throughout the various legs of a race, I found myself fighting back tears. In a season of my own race where the mental game was proving to be more than I could seem to win, I was keenly aware of the endurance required to run in the way Paul and others so often described. Endurance that seemed to elude me the same way physical endurance has always eluded me in running.
I forget the particulars the teacher shared in that lesson, but what stuck was a draw toward those passages I had for so long neglected. Passages like,
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” 1 Corinthians 9:24
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to 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 12:1-2
I think I’ve always read that last passage through a particular lens. Perhaps not a completely faulty lens, but an incomplete one to be sure. I’ve focused on the ‘to-do’ list of the passage. Which makes sense, given my propensity for boiling complex things down to nice neat lists I can check off and feel a sense of accomplishment over. My list looked something like this…
-lay aside every weight
-and every sin
-run with endurance
-look to Jesus as an example along the way
Trouble was, I was not getting many things checked off my list. Any sense of accomplishment seemed to be standing on the sidelines of my race taunting me. Heckling me. Mocking me. It shouted, “why bother running if you can’t do it well?”. A familiar sentiment.
As I spent some time letting the passage marinate, I decided to do an image search. Perhaps I would be inspired to run better. (a sarcasm font would be helpful here)
As I scrolled through page after page, something struck me. Images of steam rising off the hot pavement filled my screen. There was an occasional shot of the starting or finish line. Most of the pictures, however, were artistic shots of the runners themselves.
Intense faces, gaze fixed on the finish line.
Muscular calves, flexed mid-sprint.
Trendy running clothes and shoes, which clearly were what set these people apart as athletes.
Those same tears that threatened while listening to the teacher describe his mental battle during a race, returned as I stared at my screen.
These images were such a stunning representation of my flimsy ‘to-do’ list.
If I were just stronger, I could run better.
If I weren’t hindered by distractions and discomforts, I could be a stellar athlete.
If my own laziness didn’t get the better of me, nothing could keep my gaze from that finish line.
My eyes tend to fix themselves on all the ways I should be improving my spiritual running game, and all the ways I fall short.
But the author of Hebrews instructed us to look in one direction…Jesus.
Jesus, the founder of my faith. And “He who began a good work in me, will be faithful to complete it”. (Philippians 1:6)
Jesus, the perfecter of my faith. That somehow “we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2)
Jesus, who has promised me the same joy that was set before Him once He endured the cross. This joy promised to “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17)
Jesus, who despised the shame of the cross and cast it aside as powerless in light of that joy set before Him. Who calls me to despise my own mocking shame, and trust that He is “making all things new”. (Revelation 21:5)
And finally, Jesus, who is seated at the right hand of God and has promised no one can pluck me from that hand. (John 10:28-29)
Sometimes, the thoughts I need to capture and replace are not just the blatant lies. Sometimes they are the seemingly admirable thoughts of bettering myself and running well.
The far better place to look is to the One who has already finished perfectly.