The Eastern Sierras are a magnet for many sports enthusiasts, including runners. It is home to the Badwater Ultramarathon which is known as the “world’s toughest race.” This race begins at the lowest point in the contiguous United States and ends at the trailhead of the highest point, Mount Whitney. Whether one is running the Badwater or their local 5K, proper form, consistent training, diet, breathing, cadence, and mental fortitude are all important factors in racing. Within running circles some are satisfied with running for the love of it and some race only to win. The reader may wonder when this talk about running will be over with, because running sounds horrid!
Yet whether a Christian likes it or not, God has told us we are in a race. And anyone running a race understands there is an end and a prize to be won. As a Christian our goal is, “for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). After listing the great men and women of faith in Hebrews 11, the Holy Spirit says their common focus was their knowledge that this world was not their home, but “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.” Therefore, before we attempt to run this race, we acknowledge that our goal is to become like Christ with the ultimate finish line awaiting us in heaven.
After establishing the goal and end comes the fleshing out of our race to become like Christ in this world. While life on earth in light of eternity is like a 100 yard dash, in the midst it can feel like an ultramarathon. This race requires endurance, and endurance is the result of proper training. This will include long runs, tempo runs, interval runs, fartlek runs (think random “speed play”), hill repeats, flat terrain… a runner in training will run it all. In our own life it seems that sometimes these workouts are pre-chosen for us. Yet each “workout” the Lord sends our way in life is a chance for us to get our heads in the game. How’s my form and breathing? What will I eat to maximize my run? Am I running at the appropriate pace? Spiritually speaking, we should be asking the same questions of ourselves daily, if not moment by moment.
The author of Hebrews also instructs us to lay aside every encumbrance or weight. As any runner will attest to, even the smallest extra weight can become burdensome and distracting over time. Likewise, in our spiritual walk we can let small encumbrances into our life which become increasingly detrimental to the race we’re running. They take our eyes off heaven and make our run more difficult than it needs to be. While we continue laying aside every weight, we also lay aside every “sin which so easily entangles us.” We deceive ourselves when we believe we can run this race and grow in Christ-likeness while continuing in sin.
However, there is confidence that whatever part of the race we find ourselves in, God has equipped us for it. With self-control and discipline as our training, His Holy Spirit as our breath, His Word as our diet, and His Son and heaven as our focus, these will allow us to endure persecution and temptation. When our souls feel like lead, like a marathoner’s legs feel when they’ve hit the wall, be encouraged and fix your 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 (Hebrews 12:2).”