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Monday, February 17, 2014

Run The Race With Endurance

I run. I run mostly to maintain a healthy living but also for other reasons. You can read about it here. On Saturday I did a trail half marathon. I have done a six mile trail run before but never one this long. After running four marathons before, I knew this one today would be difficult even if it was just half a marathon (13 miles). Let me share a bit about it. The first two miles where all uphill. The sun was shining and the wide road uphill just kept getting longer. I tried running but I soon gave up and decided to walk. Even walking was difficult. I thought about giving up thinking that I probably couldn't finish. Psychologically and physically, I was defeated but I persevered. The next few miles where through a narrow, cool path. I enjoyed this! I was praising God for this and felt confident. But then more hills came. They were narrow and very rocky. Again, I walked and hoped to make it till the end. I prayed to God to give me strength. This pattern continued as I was climbing up. I kept thinking how much longer I had to go. At times I complained about the planners of the event: "Why choose such a difficult course?," "Why didn't they have refreshments every mile like "real" marathons?"

People came along my path and we exchanged salutations and either I moved on or they did. With some, we had short conversations that focused on how difficult was the path. When I made it half way, two others joined me as we took water from plastic jugs that were left for us. We were relieved to have made it that far.

I finished the race (almost last but I did)

The next few miles were still difficult but I kept going. I walked one step at a time focusing on only what was before me trying not too look any farther. When I looked up and saw the trail going up I got discouraged. The two other runners and myself kept a close pace with each other. Finally, when I made it to mile 10 or so, there was a man waiting for us with water and snacks. He encouraged us to eat something and told us the the next 2.5 miles where all downhill. This gave us motivation to keep going. It was mostly downhill but not so easy. There was a time I thought I was close to the end and sped up but when I saw more trails uphill, I slowed down and started walking. I complained about this not been the end. Finally, I approached the end, I couldn't be happier to look ahead and see my family waiting for me. What a relieve to make it to the end.

As I was running and walking, I thought about our spiritual journey. Running is a perfect analogy for our spiritual journey (I also thought how appropriate it was for John Bunyan to use the journey of a Christian as a long journey through many hills). In the Bible, the Christian journey is compared to running in a stadium being watched by many other runners (witnesses) who have successfully completed the run:
"Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us" - Hebrews 12:1 (HCSB)

As Christians we are called to run the race of faith with endurance. Those words were brought to mind as I ran. The Christian race is challenging. The road ahead is not always easy. It is steep and at times we can barely move ahead. We get tired and discouraged. There are set backs. There are complaints to God (e.g. "Why couldn't you plan an easier path for me?")

As I was running a song by the late Rick Mullins reminded me of this:

And on this road to righteousness
Sometimes the climb can be so steep
I may falter in my steps
But never beyond Your reach
Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You
Oh God, You are my God
And I will ever praise You
I will seek You in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
And step by step You'll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days

The Christian race has many other challenges. There are difficulties, trials, suffering (steep hills and narrow roads), and at time it is very lonely. All of this affect us. At times you feel like giving up (read about my experience here). People come along our lives, some encourage us, some discourage us, some do neither. Yet, no one can run our race. It is our race. Ultimately, we have to finish it by ourselves.

How do we deal with all the challenges and finish it well? We need endurance. We just have to keep persevering, moving forward in spite of the challenges. It is one key element but not the only one.

We also need to rely on God's grace. God grace is sufficient when our weaknesses over whelm us. Grace is given to us in our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). Another song (Grace by Which I Stand) that I listened by one of my all-time favorite Christian "singers" Keith Green says:

But nothing lasts, except the grace of God
By which I stand, in Jesus
I'm sure that my whole life would waste away, except for grace
By which I'm saved

In Hebrews 12:2 it says, "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." (ESV)

It is in Jesus that we have to set our eyes, our expectations and our hope as we run our race: "For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls." - Hebrews 12:3 (ESV)

He is with us each step of the way (see Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5). He will encourage us (John 14:16), intercede for us (1 John 2:1), hold us (John 10:28), keep us from falling (Jude 1:24) and give us the strength to finish the race with endurance. He is cheering for us along with many other witnesses.

Our goal as we approach our end should be as the Apostle Paul said,

"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 4:7-8 (ESV)

The reward for us it's not a medal, nor a sense of accomplishment, nor anything else. It is an incorruptible crown (1 Corinthians 9:25), the crown of righteousness, the crown of life (Revelation 2:10) given by the Lord, and an inheritance in his kingdom (Hebrews 12:28). Imagine that! He gave all for us, and yet he will reward us when we end our race. He will give us our share in his kingdom. This should be enough to keep us running the race with endurance. Can you imagine who will see as we approach the finish line?

Let's run the race with endurance!


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