By Tammy Darling
Even those of us who aren’t avid in the sport of track and field still know the difference between a sprint and a marathon.
Christians tend to be spiritual sprinters—we start off with a burst of zeal and unbridled enthusiasm but fizzle out over the long haul. We live in a fast and furious society and tend to live our spiritual lives the same way. But we can’t possibly hope to run well if we are sprinting all the time. Instead of being spiritual sprinters, we need to develop a marathon mentality.
“The race that is set before us” is a life of holiness. God tells us to “be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Holy is not only what we are to be, it’s also how we are to live. Through Christ we are made holy so that we can live holy.
Holiness cannot be attained by running a sprint. It’s a lifelong marathon that’s full of long valleys and “heartbreak hills” as runners call them. That’s why we are told to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1).
A close look at this verse reveals that it’s not just sin that trips us up—even good things can prevent us from running the race well. And because we are running a race, it would be foolish to overlook the things that hinder our spiritual run.
Every serious runner sets goals to become the best runner he or she can be. Such runners do not run in excess but instead run wisely and with a specific goal in mind.
Runners will not burden themselves with unnecessary weight—yet how often do we do that in our spiritual run? This might include excessive possessions, work, media, technology, food, or more.
Just because something is “good” doesn’t mean it’s beneficial (see 1 Corinthians 6:12). Daily we have choices to make; daily we can choose to set aside those things that hinder the race we are running.
The writer of Hebrews drew upon the imagery of the Olympic games when writing this passage. In his day, the runners ran naked to ensure that nothing restricted them as they ran. They had a very strict diet, and outside influences were prohibited. No sacrifice was too great. Can we say the same?
While there are some things that hinder everyone, other things may hinder me but not you. The Holy Spirit will make us aware of our particular hindrances if we are serious about getting rid of them.
I remember in high school dreading when spring came and the gym teacher enthusiastically took us to the track for class. For those of us who were not avid runners, it was pure torture.
Especially agonizing were the hurdles. If you weren’t on the track team, trained and seasoned in using them, you could pretty much count on eating dirt. When we don’t train for the spiritual race we’re running, we can expect to fall as well.
Runners are very careful about the food they take in and how they spend their time. The best “food” for the Christian runner is the Bible. As we stay in God’s Word, we, like Jesus, can run with faith-energized strides, maintaining a consistent pace until we reach the finish line. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1, 2, New King James Version).
Every successful runner must overcome mental encumbrances. A runner who is thinking about something else or believes he will not run well will not do as well as he could if he were fully focused and thinking positively.
Scripture tells us that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Running the race that has been set before us requires focused determination.
Track coaches will often tell their runners to fix their eyes on the finish line and nothing else. Excellent advice. As we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, we will not become distracted. We will learn to be instead of just do. We will rediscover the joy of living.
A serious runner has a tremendous amount of self-control. She will discipline herself, not as a punishment, but as a prerequisite to reaching her goal.
While we tend to shy away from suffering and anything that reeks of discipline, we must remember that these are the very things that strengthen us. For those in the fitness industry, it’s called resistance training. Without it, we will never be as strong for the long haul as we could be.
We have an inward propensity to run our race the way we want. As long as we struggle over lordship, however, we will be constantly tripping as we go.
We not only want to avoid the enslaving sins that entangle us but also deal with any unconfessed sin. Any sin, great or small, will affect our spiritual growth and fruitfulness.
And it doesn’t matter where someone else is as we’re running our race. We’re not trying to outrun our spiritual neighbor; our ultimate purpose is to glorify the Lord.
Now that we understand that we’re to be running a marathon and not a sprint, we don’t want to make the mistake of running too slowly, thinking we have plenty of time. None of us know how much time we have on this earth, so we want to run well at all times, with patience and endurance.
The Lord has not left us alone in the race we are to run. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31).
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.
Scenes of Patience—and Impatience
These clips show how patience and impatience manifest themselves in daily life. Use them to help you think about your own patience.