Running our Race

I hate running.

I am currently writing this article in Spring, and it seems that it is officially “running season”. Marathons, half-marathons, 5ks, color runs, mud runs, warrior races and fun runs seem to be going on everywhere. It is very much a thing in our world to run for fun.

I do not understand this.

I have never understood the concept of running for fun. It does not compute in my mind. “Fun” and “running” are opposite ideas to me. I think that the last time I ran for fun was when I was 12 and played tag at recess. Even at the time, I don’t think I particularly enjoyed it. I understand the benefits of running. I understand why someone would run to get in shape. Getting in shape requires work. Running is work. That makes sense. But running for fun?

It wouldn’t be shocking to you, based on the attitude I have just displayed, that I am in need of exercise. Recently, I have been trying to get into better shape. To accomplish this, I started running again. I don’t do it because I enjoy it. I run because it requires work to get in shape.

It has been during this rediscovery of running, specifically on a treadmill, that I had an epiphany: 5 minutes on a treadmill is not like any other 5 minutes on this earth. Usually, before I get on the treadmill, I say to myself, “I’m going to run for half an hour”. Then, sometime around the 20-minute mark, I start bargaining with myself, “20 minutes isn’t so bad…” Most of the time I can avoid the temptation to stop. But still, those last 5 minutes always seem to be the worst. The one and only thought in my head during those last 5 minutes is “STOP. . . RUNNING!” These 5 minutes are not like any other period of 5 minutes. It isn’t the same as 5 minutes watching TV, or 5 minutes in traffic, or even 5 minutes cleaning. 5 minutes spent running is longer. It’s 300 seconds anyway you slice it, but when you are running it does not feel like it.

This idea of running or running a race is very similar to what it is like to live life as a believer. This concept is used repeatedly in the Bible. The Apostle Paul describes our lives as Christians on this earth as running a race.

1 Corinthians 9:24  2Do 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 obtain it.      

Paul equates living in this world to running in a race. When you run in a race, you want to finish first, and thus win a prize. This is not a “fun run” that we are talking about here. This is running for a purpose, a very specific one. You are not running for the sake of running. You are running to finish!

This is a very suitable way to describe what we Christians go through in this world. We are all running! We already know the one thing which is needful in this life, the one thing that will not be taken away from us; Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We know that Jesus went to the cross to pay for the sins of the world, which includes your sins and my sins. We know that He rose from the dead and sealed the victory over sin and death. We know that He ascended into heaven and He will one day return in the same manner in which He left. So, what are we Christians to do in the meantime?  

We are to live our lives, to run our race if you will. But the Christian life is not a walk in the park, it’s not a fun run, it’s not a joy ride. It is a serious race that must be run with purpose. Like Paul mentions, we need to run in a way that receives the prize! We need to keep our eye on the prize of eternal salvation.

Why is the picture of running such an apt description for Christian living? It’s hard! Matthew 7:14   Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.  It is hard to run, it is hard to not slow down or give up completely. When it comes to running, there are all kinds of reasons that would make you stop. Yet typically, the reason someone stops running is that they get tired. Like I said, whenever I run, the idea that is constantly racing through my mind is “stop running”. That idea is always going through our spiritual minds as well. Although it is very hard, it is also very wonderful to run this race. Psalm 119:32 I will run the course of Your commandments, For You shall enlarge my heart. What a privilege it is to be able to run with God.

When it comes to us running our spiritual races, there are many different temptations used by our enemies to try to get us to stop. The World tries to distract us with different secular attractions. Satan will try to throw any and every obstacle in your path that he can. Our own flesh also hinders us from our race. The flesh constantly tells us to slow it down, to stop and smell the roses of this world, to “STOP…RUNNING!”     

Yes, it is hard to run the Christian race. There will always be temptations to hinder us from running effectively. Our spiritual enemies will throw all kinds of temptations, distractions, and obstacles at us to stop our run. They will do everything to make you like they are; stagnant in sin and lethargic in death. Life as a Christian is hard. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. In fact, most things worth doing in life are difficult. So is being a Christian! It is so hard that there is no way we can do it alone. Truly, running this race is not something you can do by yourself! We need help. Where are we to look?

Hebrews 12:1-2  Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  2looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

I don’t know much about running technique. I do remember learning in PE that when you run, you should run with your head up. If you are looking down at your feet, that’s not ideal for your breathing. The same thing applies to looking up into the sky. We breathe the most efficiently when we have straight posture and keep our heads at normal eye level. Also, keeping your head up is just a generally good idea. If you are running, and you are looking at your feet, you can easily run into something or someone.

Where are we to look when we run our Christian race? We look to Jesus! It can be easy to look down, to focus on the particular things in our life. But that is not ideal for our race running. Keep your head up! Look at the race that Jesus ran. He truly set a course record that can never be bested! He lived a perfect life, He ran a race that no one else could. Jesus ran that race to its completion, and because He did so, we have eternal life promised to us! He is the “author and finisher of our faith”. He is the reason we have faith in our hearts. He is the reason that faith finishes the race. It is faith in Jesus that gains us the victory.  

Since Jesus has already given us the victory, let us live like it! In that Hebrews passage, the previous chapter pointed out all kinds of different heroes of faith. People like Abraham, Jacob, and Moses all ran their races, and they did it by faith. They now are part of the “cloud of witnesses”. There have been many saints before us who ran their races faithfully. These saints were just like us, sinful people who struggled here on this earth with sin. But they no longer struggle. Their race is over, they overcame the world in Jesus, they have received the crown of life! How did they overcome? By faith in Christ!

Have you found yourself at a spiritual standstill? Has sin entangled you? Have you given in to the temptation to stop running? This has happened to us all. We can never be removed from sin in this world because we carry around this sinful flesh everywhere we go. We struggle with sin, we often give in to the temptation, we often don’t run like we should. But we know that Jesus has forgiven us. We confess these sins, and He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins. We have been forgiven and we press on and resume the race! If you’re in a standstill, snap out of it! Open up your Bible, read the Word that God Himself wrote down! Has sin entangled you? Untangle it, with the help of Jesus, and resume running. Have you given in to the temptation to cease from living like a Christian? Then renew your faith by going to church and receiving the Gospel in Word and Sacrament! This is running by faith! Look to Jesus and run with endurance and purpose!

Running is not fun. Running is hard. Running is often a struggle. So is being a Christian. It’s not going to be fun. It will be a hard race to run. There will be plenty of temptations to stop doing it. But thanks be to God that we don’t have to run it alone. We have help. Our help is Jesus, who ran the best race. Because He overcame His race, by faith in Him we will also overcome our race! Therefore, let us each run our race. Let us do it with endurance and purpose. Let us lay aside anything that would weigh us down and run! Look unto Jesus, and you will run and overcome! 1 John 5:4-5  For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.  5Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?