“…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1b)
I did something last month that I said I’d never do. I ran my very first half marathon. Though I’ve been a runner for about eight years, entering races has never seemed even remotely desirable. However, at some point this spring, during a momentary lapse of sanity, I agreed to run the Virginia Beach Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon. (I tell you, it was indeed insanity because who in her right mind would agree to run a race at the beach in August?!)
Anyway, as the summer got underway, so did my training. I, along with my dear friends Vicki and Mark, began building mileage each week until we were prepared to run all 13.1 miles of the race. The long-awaited day arrived. Amazingly, I felt great during the first few miles, considering I’m not a “morning runner.” I suppose the thrill of running in a crowd of 17,000 had my adrenaline at levels that masked any pain. I thought to myself, “This isn’t so bad!” At mile 6: “We’re almost halfway there!” By miles 8 and 9, the adrenaline was wearing off and the pain was pushing through. The race course took us through a military base which was ugly, boring, and HOT. I was whining and losing motivation. Then at mile 10, I found myself picking up the pace again. A neighborhood cheer group was blaring groovy music from a sound system, and I knew that our personal event “cheerleaders” (friend Aimee and my sister) were waiting on the other side of the bridge with some re-fueling and encouragement. This got me through mile 11. Then mile 12. Finally, I rounded the corner to begin the home stretch. And that’s when I thought, “No way.” The course finished along the boardwalk—glaring white concrete that was at least 100 degrees hotter than the rest of the course! I thought I’d rather lie down and die than keep running. And then I heard someone yell my name. I looked up, and to my surprise, there were my cheerleaders again! And then I began to notice all the spectators along the boardwalk, cheering on the runners and calling out how much farther we had to run: “A half mile… you can do it… three tenths… you’re almost there… just one more tenth to go!” And then the finish line… what an amazing feeling!!
So you may wonder why I’m giving you a race recap in this issue of RPM’s newsletter. I promise! There is a point, and it’s not to talk about me! The point is the close parallel I’ve found between this road race and the “race” of faith we are called to run daily. Using the metaphor of running a race, the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9 that we are to run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. If I had gotten off the course or stopped for an extended length of time, it’s doubtful I would’ve finished. Paul also tells us that to run the race of faith requires strict training. Just as I had to be diligent to build my base mileage, eat healthily, and rest well; so too with my race of faith, I must be diligent to meet with God daily through prayer, Bible study, and worship.
There are other similarities I see as well. Many of us start our journey with Jesus in the same way I began the race: with a burst of energy. We are amazed by His grace and astounded by the joy He places in our hearts. We see His fingerprints everywhere, and our faith grows by leaps and bounds. However, by “miles 8 and 9,” the “adrenaline” begins to wear off, and we find ourselves staring in the face of the struggles that Christ assured this life would bring (John 16:33). We’re tempted to quit, until we look around and find that there are others cheering us on. Knowing that our “perseverance must finish its work so that we may be mature and complete,” we continue to press on (James 1:4). But then there are those times when we hit “mile 13”: that place in life where, really, we’d rather just lie down and die. I’ve been there. This is where most of the clients who walk through the doors of Restoration Place are presently. Their “race” has led them to a place of feeling crushed and overwhelmed, convinced they will never live through it (2 Cor. 1:4, 8). My job is to run with them, encouraging them to not quit but to keep pressing in to Jesus and comforting them with the same comfort I’ve so mercifully been given. And by His grace, they are successfully making it through those “tough miles.”
While there are many parallels between these two types of races, there is one significant difference. In Virginia Beach, crossing the finish line was surely thrilling. Each finisher received a beautiful medal. However, as believers in Christ, we are running toward a heavenly reward, a prize that will not tarnish or fade away. If we persevere, we will be able to proclaim with Paul, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day!” Oh, to see our Savior face to face! Soon, very soon. Until then… Keep running for His glory!