The Epistles of the Apostle Paul are filled with comparisons of the life of a Believer to athletics.
1 Corinthians 9:24 says; “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”
Hebrews 12:1 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.”
There are many others.
Last Monday evening, I was among almost 1,000 people from Israel and around the world to participate in the 5 kilometer segment of the “Jerusalem Night Run” which was part of the 20th Macabbiah Games, aka the “Jewish Olympics,” which take place every four years here in Israel. Many more people participated in the 10K and half-marathon races.
I’d like to tell you that these passages of Scripture cited above passed through my mind as I was getting warmed up for, running and finishing the race, but I’m afraid that wouldn’t be true.
Let me tell you what DID happen.
The assembly point for those who would be participating in the races was the Jaffa Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City, and a half hour before the race was to start, they opened a path and let us stroll down to the starting line. I tried to use that time to stretch and warm up, but mostly I just wanted the race to start. It was the first time I’d ever run in a long-distance event like this, and I was uncomfortable and nervous.
I didn’t feel very sleek or athletic looking in the Spandex Dri-fit T-shirt that was provided to runners, despite getting the biggest size they had. I imagined that if I started running and got a cramp, or if I started huffing and puffing, gasping and wheezing etc.like the upper-middle-aged man I undeniably am, people watching the race would probably laugh at me and I might even end up on someone’s youtube channel as an object of ridicule.
To mix metaphors, at that point I had a pretty bad case of stage fright and second thoughts about whether this had been a good idea and I just wanted to get it over with, whatever “it” was going to be.
When the bell sounded for the running to start, there was a few people ahead of me in the starting area so I just started to walk forward, but soon there was a clear path so I could start to jog. Before I reached the marker which told me I’d completed the first kilometer, I was passing people who had already stopped running and were walking instead. A few minutes later, I reached the half-way point at an intersection on Hebron Road and turned around to start heading back towards the finish line.
At every moment, I expected my body to send a signal to my brain that I needed to stop running and start walking, but before I knew it, I saw the marker on the side of the road (next to a place I’ve eaten pizza on many occasions) which said I’d reached the 4K mark. I was 80% done with the race and I was feeling just fine.
Then, I could see the finish line up ahead. I put my head down and tried my best to finish strong, coming through the finish line with immense satisfaction after seeing the clock on the side displaying a finishing time WAY ahead of my most deliriously optimistic hopes.
A step or two later, I saw my wife and sons waving at me from the side and I made what I thought was a smooth transition from the easy running pace I’d maintained throughout the race to an easy walk…and my legs almost collapsed under me.
Somehow, while I’d stayed in motion, they’d been fine, but all of a sudden they felt like they were made out of jelly and I had to fight with them to carry me the last few steps to where my family waited to greet me.
As I hugged my wife and accepted my eldest son’s enthusiastic congratulations, a non-Scriptural-but-still-good thought finally did make it into my head.
It was something I heard once in a sermon, or a podcast maybe, or something, and it went like this.
“The life of a follower of Jesus Christ isn’t like a sprint, it’s like a marathon.”
Some of you are probably thinking that a 5 kilometer race isn’t a real marathon, and technically you’re right. But it was close enough for me, and this whole experience prompted the following takeaways, which I hope bless someone out there who might be reading this.
First of all, I signed up for this race months ago and started training immediately. I got up early in the morning and did an hour of training every single day except Saturday for almost four months. That’s what our spiritual lives require as well. We should get up early every morning to read the Bible and pray for at least an hour. That way, when the tests come, we’ll be ready.
Second, it’s not what’s on the outside that counts, but what’s on the inside, just like the Bible says in Samuel 16:7; But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
My heart and lungs were in the shape they needed to be in to carry me through that 5K race, even though I DID look kind of chubby in a Spandex race T-shirt.
Finally, as we move forward on the path that the Lord has set for us, we need to keep up a steady pace. Don’t try to do too much too quickly. There will be times when that’s needed, but for most of us, most of the time, what’s called for is a steady pace, moving forward every day, day in and day out. The important thing is to keep moving forward. If we stop (or even slow down too much) before the finish line, we might not get to the finish line.
So that’s what I’ve got for you brothers and sisters. Like I said, I hope this blessed someone out there.
One other thing. If you pray, pray for my legs. They’ll probably still be sore by the time you read this.