However, in 2017, I decided to give running another try. I found a program that promised my being able to run for 21 minutes straight by the end of it – quite the lofty goal for someone like me. I’m pleased to share I’ve reached that goal. But my pace is slow, and I don’t ever consider running much longer than that.
When I first started out with the program, I was in the middle of a level that called for running one minute, walking two minutes, repeating seven times. On one particular day, I had my stopwatch set and felt like I was starting to get the hang of it. However, during one of my walking breaks, I happened upon three kids who were out and about, enjoying popsicles, and fascinated by an airplane overhead. Even though I was clearly trying to catch my breath and smelled far from fantastic, the group of kids started walking and talking with me. They asked if I saw the plane, if I’d ever been on a plane, if I liked popsicles, what my favorite flavor was, and if I could please help open a popsicle for one of the girls. Before I knew it, I was caught up in the conversation and my two-minute walking break passed by.
Time was up. If sticking to the program was the goal, then I needed to run. But something kept me walking. The conversation topic switched to ladybugs and I held a popsicle while one child tried to do a cartwheel in the grass. I glanced at my watch again. Five minutes had passed. My inner critic was not pleased. I was way off-track. But when I finally did start running again, I considered that maybe I hadn’t been off-track after all.
Throughout the New Testament, our faith is often compared to running a race.
Hebrews 12:1 reads, “…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.”
Or Philippians 3:14 reminds us to “press on toward the goal…”
And finally in 1 Corinthians 9, we are called to run in such a way as to get the prize, with clear aim.
A part of me struggles with this running metaphor because I struggle to be a runner, but I do get it. It speaks to the fact that our faith is not easy. It requires sacrifice, hard work, and endurance, and it might often seem easier to give up and bow out. But we are called to press on.
When I was running that day in 2017, I was tempted to be strict and regimented. I was tempted to keep perfect time with the program plan, totally fine passing those children by without interacting with them. I was tempted to stay caught up in MY time. MY schedule. MY achievement. I would have finished faster, but I also would have missed out on something bigger than my running plan.
I find that faith is often similar. It is easy to get caught up in my call, my plan, what God is doing in my heart and in my life. I need to make sure I don’t get distracted or derailed. I need to make sure I stay focused and in line.
I wholeheartedly believe investing in our personal faith is vital and important, but I also wholeheartedly believe our faith is not meant to simply be insular. It shouldn't stop there. If we stop there, we’re settling. If we stop there, we’re missing out. If we stop there, our belief is in vain. We are called to run the race well.
But maybe running the race well isn’t about how fast we can finish it.
Maybe the goal isn’t about achieving our own personal best.
Maybe the prize isn’t found at the finish line.
And maybe the race isn’t really about us anyway.
After the author of Hebrews encourages us to run the race with perseverance, we are then reminded in verse two to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” And I think that’s the key. Not focusing on the finish line. Not on the prize. Not on our own personal best. But on Jesus. On the example of His life, the significance and sacrifice of His death, and the hope and power of His resurrection. He is the goal.
When we run the race well, we seek to follow Jesus. And ironically, that often means twists and turns and stops along the way. We see examples of this rhythm all throughout Jesus’ ministry. I think of the bleeding woman in Mark 5, who Jesus stops for, heals, and speaks to, all while he is on his way to heal someone else. Or I think of Matthew 19 and the little children Jesus welcomes and blesses right when he is in the middle of teaching. Or the invalid in John 5 who Jesus heals - on the Sabbath - while attending a Jewish festival. And I could go on. Clearly, Jesus was not above interruptions and delays.
And clearly, Jesus knew following him would not be easy. In Luke 9:23, Jesus says to his disciples,
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Following Jesus also means intentionally entering into the world’s broken edges and not shying away from hardship and difficulty. It means laying ourselves down - our pride, our preferences, our privileges - for the sake of others and for the cause of Christ. It means following Jesus into the uncomfortable, the uncertain, and the inconvenient.
It’s noticing the unnoticed.
It’s bringing the outsider in.
It’s choosing to listen and learn.
It’s taking the time to get to know someone we wouldn’t normally associate with.
It’s encouraging and uplifting those running on empty.
It’s doing the work to address and fix broken systems and set ups for the sake of loving our neighbor.
It’s being light in the dark.
It’s making space and inviting others to join the race.
Ultimately, it’s all about following Jesus’ lead.
Today, if you are worn out by your own personal striving, remember, Jesus is the goal. Let him lead the way and set the pace as you seek to run the good race well.