This past Saturday I did the Soweto Energizer Race. Don’t get too excited, I only did the 5km, although it ended up being 7km. Seeing all the runners and thinking about things I overhear my many super-zealous runner friends say, I can’t help but see parallels to the Christian life. Scripture compares the Christian life to a race in Hebrews 12:1-7. I can see why the writer did that. Running has many neat pictures of certain enduring Christian principals. In short, here is what running can teach you about the Christian life. So read on. Then lace up your shoes and see what you can learn!
Running partners, just like a spotter at gym drastically increases your output. A good friend of mine recently beat his personal best time. When he spoke about it afterward, he said that he would never have done it if his running partner (also a good friend) hadn’t been pushing him- especially near the end. 1+1=3 is the result. Runners know you are far more effective working with others than alone. If you have been a runner long, you most likely gravitate towards a running community of some sought. You can pass a runner on the road, or find out someone is a runner, and instantly share a connection that warrants getting up at the crack of dawn to meet a total stranger and put takkie to tar together.
The Christian faith is the same. Christians support each other. They push each other. They unite over Christ together. You find you get closer to Jesus when you are surrounded by the sound of other feet forging onward in the Christian life next to you. This is why Christians gather into churches. With a good church family at your heels, you will clock the Ks. The mountains become doable, and you suddenly discover that you are moving faster than you ever thought possible. This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (10:25)
2. Your spirit is able to do more than you ever thought.
When you begin running, you never dream that you will run farther than the few km’s you managed to do. When you first run 5km and finish panting and sweating, you can’t imagine getting better! Later, you complete a half marathon and then a marathon!
When you achieve something big like that you realize that endurance running isn’t something only obtainable by those born to run. Regardless of genetics, any healthy person can become a distance runner as long as they put in the proper training time. Your body can do truly impressive feats when given the right training and nutrition.
The same is true spiritually. When you are a spiritual infant, all you hear are the theological concepts, and you fight against sin, and struggle to read your bible. But with persistence, eventually you find your understanding of the Word growing; you grasp ideas and engage more in discussion on Theology. Before you know it you are arguing about supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism (ok, maybe that is pushing it, but you get the idea).
Sure, it’s great to pass other runners. I am sure you enjoy getting a good time at an event, coming in the top 50 or whatever. But, the real war is inside. It’s that voice that tells you its too dark and cold to get out of your exceptionally soft, comfy bed and go for an early morning run. If you do manage to overpower that siren of sleepiness and make it out the door, it’s that whine niggling your mind the entire run that you’re going to be so stiff tomorrow if you don’t stop and go home. If you want to become a serious runner, you have to learn to defeat the enemy in your head or your feet will never take you very far.
And the same is true spiritually. Sure the world and Satan are teaming up against you, but the most powerful enemy is within you, it’s your old sin nature, your flesh. It tells you there is no time to pray and read the Bible. The voice that says you need to cut your spiritual disciples short for the sake of the ‘important stuff’. It’s the voice that says it’s too dark and cold to get out of your exceptionally soft, comfy bed and go worship in the house of the Lord on a Sunday morning.
But you have been made alive! You have been raised with Christ and you have the Holy Spirit within you, God is working in you to WILL and to do His good pleasure (Phil 2:13). It then becomes easy to discover that you can push past the pain to the impossible. There’s a war inside, but because of Christ, you are winning!
4. You are what you eat!
When you are seriously working to get fit, you think about every meal as it relates to your sport. Running is just the same. You think, “Are my food choices helping me or hindering me?” You see, some things you eat will help you become a better runner. Other foods will slow you down. Running relates directly to your daily eating habits.
The same is true in the spiritual race. What you put in is often what you will get out. Now I am not fundamentalist when it comes to the arts, I even think horror has its place for Christians. But if you are constantly exposing yourself to things which tempt you and lead you to sin, you will definitely feel a slowdown in your Christian race. It could be something sinister and evil like porn, or something less obvious, something that other Christians seem to enjoy without it affecting them, but you feel wounded in your soul, or driven to discontent. Avoid consuming that, and strive to consume those things which help you grasp the glory of God and the truth of God’s world better. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.(Phil 4:8)”
5. A little grit is required.
If you want to get better at running, you need to push your body. In order for your muscles to get stronger, they first must be slightly broken through effort. Then, your body builds the muscle fibres up stronger to handle the tougher work. The damaged muscles are what cause you to feel sore after a good workout.
This is the same as what Christ talks about, “rather pluck out your eye or cut off your hand, if it causes you to sin.” Or the writer of Hebrews when he says, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:4). Jesus also said “strive to enter the narrow gate, for few there are who find it”. That word ‘strive’ has the idea of exerting all your muscles.
The Christian life is not about being carried to heaven on a bed of roses. It’s about striving after Christlikeness. It’s about killing sin. It’s about hungering and thirsting after holiness. It’s about sacrifice. None of these things in order to be saved, but all of them because you have been saved.
6. People who are better than you should motivate you, not intimidate you.
When you are training you need a partner, as we already said. But you want someone who can push you, someone who can encourage and drive you on. It helps push you to catch up to them. Emulating someone who has reached higher levels helps keep you excited about improving.
It’s the same spiritually. You are either moving backward or forward. No one is stagnant. When you see other parents, doing a wonderful job of raising their children, it should motivate you to be a godly parent, and you seek to emulate them. When you see another husband, loving his wife as Christ does the Church, you seek to emulate that, and learn from him. Same for wives and children, and business owners and employee etc. Paul writes and says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1). Who are you imitating?
7. You begin to see potential in everyone.
Fitness is attainable to everyone, no matter what your waist size or body fat percentage. When you see an unfit person sweating and slogging through a walk / run workout on the road, you know if they keep at it in a few months, they will be transformed into a different person. A good runner is being carved out from their exhausted effort to move with each shaky step.
How do you know this? Because you completed that transformation a few times. The great thing about running is that you don’t have to be amazingly talented, just focused.
And, honestly, isn’t that how we should view everyone? Are you discipling really young Christians? How do you view them? Are you counselling a really difficult person? Are your children just not grasping obedience, or the beauty of Christ? You know they can grow in the Lord. You know that if they attend to the means of grace and keep their eyes fixed on Christ they can be mighty instruments for the sake of the kingdom. So you can be an encourager. Your own testimony shows what their testimony can be like one day. We all sat there at one point not knowing where Hezekiah is in the Bible right?! Now you not only know it’s not a book in the Bible, but you know why the apocrypha shouldn’t be in the Bible (or maybe not just yet, but you are getting there right?).