Living the Christian life is difficult. The Apostle Paul likens our struggle to training and running a race. The Bible gives us so much encouragement in how to train, what to do when the race gets hard, and how to finish strong. What does the Bible say about running the race?
I used to be a runner. I was notoriously horrible at it. There is not one athletic or competitive bone in my body. I did not like running when it’s a) hot, b) humid, c) cold, d) windy, or e) hilly. You probably get the picture.
But I did train and ran races with family members. I set goals. I finished. There was whining involved.
Running the race of faith also comes with many challenges. But Jesus does not leave us to run alone or figure out the best ways to run. And the last thing He would want is for us to get discouraged.
Running the Race of Faith
There are many more Bible verses than I thought about running. In fact, Solomon (the wise one) encourages us to run!
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe.”
God’s character, all that He stands for, is a strong tower for us to take refuge in. We are to run to Him and find rest under His love, mercy, strength, and understanding.
To run is obvious, it means to move quickly. I loved the synonyms for “run” in the dictionary: rush, hasten, hurry, bolt, fly, charge, hurtle, speed, and zoom. Do those apply to your race pace?
Or do we walk, shuffle, meander, saunter, plod, trudge, and ramble?
We should run to this powerful fortress who will protect us with safety and security. Telling us to run gives us a stronger sense of urgency in our relationship with him.
Pressing on Toward the Goal
Paul’s letter to the Philippians encouraged the faithful even as he sat in prison. He wants them to be grounded in Jesus Christ to bring the utmost joy to their lives.
Some race days bring success and some days things may not go well. We will never be perfect, but our goal is to know Jesus and be like Him.
“Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
He advises us to leave our failures behind and reach forward to what lies ahead. There is no turning back to the starting line!
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul has his eye on knowing Jesus with the single-mindedness of an athlete in a competitive race. He was determined to cross the finish line as a mature Christian. It was his only aim, his passionate pursuit as a follower of Christ.
Run to Win
Paul tells us we need to have the attitude of an athlete for this race. We must give it our all to win, to receive the prize in this race of life.
1Corinthians 9:24-25 is a great illustration of how to do just that:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate [disciplined] in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” NKJV.
Paul was using an example that was familiar to the Corinthians. Every other year, the people of Corinth hosted athletic games. These athletes and their strict training would be a familiar analogy.
Training for a race takes work and discipline. They had to build up their stamina. There was no aimless wandering. They had their eyes on the prize and worked hard to win it.
Concentrate totally on your ultimate goal and give it all you have to get to the very end.
Jesus has already won our prize-eternal life with Him. Our race is in living out our faith.
Training for a Race
Do we apply the same principles of discipline and determination to our prayer life, our time in God’s Word, and our worship? How is your training coming along?
Athletes can’t just walk up to the starting line and run a marathon. Like them, we need to be in training for the long run. If we put in the hard work, time and effort, we will get stronger and stronger.
Are you putting in the work and training, or watching from the sidelines? Are there some days that you just don’t feel like racing? Too busy to race?
We’re human, so of course, there will be setbacks in training.
Injuries set me back more than once. It’s frustrating to have to go back to a place you’ve felt you’ve already conquered. Rebuilding stamina is required if you want to keep running.
The same holds true for running our spiritual race. We will have good days and tough days. Consider what the author of Hebrews has to say:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”
Our faith is a gift from God and our Lord Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9). What does it mean that Jesus is the perfecter of faith? The Greek word “perfecter” means “finisher;” to bring something to a conclusion.
Jesus is going to care for and support our faith. He knows the race you are running and will help guide you each step along the way.
Run the Race with Perseverance
Like the writer of Hebrews says, “run with perseverance.” Our run for Jesus is like no other race. Even though the finish line is the same for all of us, each course is different. We can’t let discouragement, criticism, or our bad choices slow us down or make us quit.
Be persistent in your training (prayer, study, worship) and endure the hard parts of the path. Watch out for whatever causes you to stumble, and stay determined to finish the race strong.
This is a marathon, not a sprint!
James gives us encouragement for when the race becomes difficult and tells us to keep our eyes on the prize:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promises to those who love Him.”
Keep a positive outlook, knowing the hard times in our race teach us things we could never have learned otherwise.
Remember- we don’t run this race alone. We have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to live a life that glorifies Him.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches, he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”
Keep Your Eyes on Jesus
Instead of injuries or disruptions impeding our training schedule, what trips us up in the Christian race is our sin. If we take our eyes off Jesus, we stumble. (Hopefully to our knees!)
In that very first 5K, I had to get a drink of water. I didn’t want to stop running, so I slowed down to grab a paper cup from a volunteer.
Still running slowly, I took a big drink, choked on the water, spilled it all over myself, and coughed uncontrollably. Turns out there is a correct form for drinking and running (squeeze the paper cup in half so you can control the flow.)
We also need to be aware of the surrounding runners, the traffic that sometimes is present, debris on the road or path to trip you up, etc.
You get the idea. Think of your Christian race just like any other running race. Instead of keeping your eyes on the road though, keep your eyes on Jesus.
Our sin, just like people, traffic, and road debris, trips us up and causes us to lose our pace. We will trip and fall if we look away from Him.
Paul’s singular focus is on display in his words to some Ephesian elders who came to visit:
“But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of grace of God.”
Are we that single-minded as Paul about our life of faith and the task God has given us to do?
He called on the Christians in Galatia to stand against the false teachers and be strong in their faith-
“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”
They had started strong, but ran off course. It’s not enough to get a good start in the race.
He encourages them to identify who or what had led them off course and to get back on track.
What or who leads you off course?
In Paul’s last letter, he writes to Timothy to give him encouragement and last instructions.
2 Timothy 4:7-8:
“I have fought the good fight, 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.”
When Paul spoke of a crown, he might have meant the coveted laurel wreath, which was given to the winners in the Roman Olympic games. This was something his listeners would have been familiar with.
But He also looked forward to his heavenly reward- being with Christ in heaven, becoming a spiritual champion.
Some days we may only take small baby steps, but still we must continue and run with the sole purpose of bringing Him glory and honor in ALL we do. We can run our race filled with joy and peace, but we must commit to a life of absolute trust and run with perseverance!
One final thought- this “race” is not a competition. We’re not running to see who can get there first, or who has the best time. It’s your life and your relationship with God. Persevere, work hard, be determined, and run!
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary.” Isaiah 40:31.
All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.
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