I love to run. The other day I even went for two runs. One because I wanted to clear my head before work and the other because I was somewhat hyper after Friday cakes at work. Two slices of pavlova and two of cheesecake!
Sugar induced choices aside, running is honestly one of my favourite things to do. It stops me from going crazy.
Then again, you could argue that running has made me a different sort of crazy. My friends would definitely say so. For example, 2020 is the second year in a row that I have taken part in Longleat 10k. That’s 10 kilometres of hills, up and down, with only one or two that were along the flat. For various reasons, my time was worse than last year. Yeah, I need to get out on the hills more often.
However, not one to waste anything, I have thought through the race and what can be learnt from it.
Run the route. Don’t take shortcuts.
“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 12v1-2
Races, even Parkruns, have one major difference to a training or leisure run. The route is marked out. To complete the race, the racers have to take a specific route. There are no short cuts to take if you want to finish the race. Every single hill needs to be climbed up and sprinted down. All the flat roads need to be persevered at even when they bore you to walking pace.
Races aren’t the only thing where we can’t take shortcuts. As cheesy and cliched as it sounds, there are no shortcuts in life. We can try and find them, taking what looks like the wide and easy road (Matthew 7v13) but they rarely work out well. This becomes even more the case when you make the choice to follow Jesus. From that moment, you have entered through the narrow gate, to paraphrase Jesus, and the road you need to take is set out. Your race is set before you and all that is left is for you to run it.
Of course, that makes it all sound a little too easy. Like, sure, take this road, go through that gate, and just keep on running till you reach the end. But this isn’t Peter Pan; we’re not going to Neverland. This is why Paul tells us to run with endurance while looking to Jesus. Anyone who has raced can tell you that there are times when everyone wants to give up. To just stop and walk out the race. Yet we choose to endure and keep pushing forward. Life is the same only we have something better than a finish line to run towards. We have Jesus ‘the founder and perfecter of our faith’ who went to the cross and all that entailed for us.
You need a banana. God doesn’t.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?Isaiah 40v28-31
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
I don’t like bananas. However, I cannot deny their energy-filled benefits and various other traits so the day before a race I will hunt out two perfectly halfway between green and yellow bananas. One for before the race as breakfast and one as my recovery snack afterwards. Why? Because running 10k uses a lot of energy so if I’m going to make it round without being weary or faint I need food with lots of energy. Similarly, my body requires energy from food to recover afterwards.
If God were to run a 10k, we can probably assume with some certainty that He wouldn’t need a banana. Isaiah 40 tells us that God does not grow weary or faint. We, on the other hand, need external sources of energy and strength to keep us going. This isn’t just the case for our physical bodies either. The mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of being human all need external sources of energy and strength to keep going. When we start to go too low in those energy reserves, we start to see negative results like tiredness, sadness, and anger. God, in contrast, does not suffer from low energy in any way. “He does not faint or grow weary.”
You can probably see where I am going here. I’m trying my best not to use a “God is like a banana” metaphor. 1) God is not like a banana. 2) God is infinitely better and greater than a banana. However, it is God to whom we must turn when we find ourselves running low spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and even sometimes physically. As Isaiah says, it is the LORD who shall renew our strength, enable us to run without being weary and to walk without fainting. Just as I struggle to get around a race without my trusty banana, trying to get through life without God is… dare I say, impossible.
Better than a t-shirt and medal. Just got to finish first.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing.2 Timothy 4v7-8
There are two very important reasons why runners complete races. The medals and t-shirts. Yes, we are foolish enough to spend silly amounts of money and run for 10k or more in order to claim a decorated chunk of metal and a synthetic t-shirt. Think what you like about it but those medals and t-shirts are special to me. They are reminders of what I have done before and what I am capable of doing again.
Now, God does not promise us a free t-shirt or medal. No neon wicking fabric in heaven. Instead, Paul tells us how something infinitely more dear is waiting for the day we finish the race. God has a crown of righteousness – yes, a freakin’ crown – laid aside for each one of us. That is just how much He loves each of us and just how excited He is for us to finish this race. As I type this, my head is still struggling to get around the fact that God would give me something so precious and so dear.
There is just one catch. We have to run our race. To use Paul’s other metaphor, we have to finish the fight. It’s not going to be easy. If it was, we could take shortcuts and we wouldn’t need to rely on God. Yet, just as I have to put in the (banana-fuelled) energy to run the full course, we have to put in the time, effort, and resources that God has gifted us with. It’s the only way that we’re going to get to that finish line.
Will you reach the finish?
On the day that each of us reaches the finish line, it is going to be the most exciting and terrifying day of our lives. Not because we will have died to this current world but because we will be face to face with God, the LORD, Yahweh, the One who called Himself I AM WHO I AM.
But before that day, before we get to see our crowns, we have to put the work in here. Choose to run the whole race without shortcuts. Be intentional about relying on God’s strength instead of going it alone. There are only two who know whether you will finish the race: you and God.