We have heard that cliche many times used before in the spiritual life…”running the race”….but I have always said it not really knowing what that entailed. Which is probably true of many cliches. They become cliches because there is truth in them, but after a while they lose any sense of the meaning, or are no longer taken seriously. But I feel like over the last couple of months I am becoming increasingly aware of what it means to “run the race” or to equate the Christian life with a race.
Should we even look at the Christian life this way? The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 9:24-27 says:
24, Do you know know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. 25, Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last forever. 26, Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27, No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
So yes, I think this is a beautiful metaphor for the Christian life. Why am I beginning to understand this more these days? Because I have commited myself to running the Chicago Marathon with my brother on October 22nd, which I have mentioned before. I have never done a marathon in my life. And up until this point the farthest I have ever raced was the 400 meters in high school and the longest I have ever run was about 4-5 miles during college. So what am I doing running 26.2 miles? And can I do it? That is my fear? Or at least that was my fear.
I was overwhelmed at what making that commitment meant for my life. More sleep at night, which means more discipline and less surfing the blogosphere and reading late. Better diet, which means all kinds of things, like cutting back on my weakness, Mexican food, and eating way more vegetables and fruits and pastas. Getting the right running shoes. Yeah, did you know you just can’t go out and run in any shoe? You actually have to go to a running store and have experts watch you run. Early morning runs. Ugh. It is a complete change in lifestyle, because everything you do is aimed at this one day. And I was overwhelmed. In fact, I wrestled for several days before making the commitment to run. And when I finally did make it I felt sick to my stomach.
I think this is the perfect metaphor for the Christian life. Paul drew an example from the Corinthians life and their experience of the Isthmus Games (think Olympics), and used it to help give them a fuller understanding of the Christian life. The metaphor hits home for me. Commiting to Christ is a life changer. Everything you do is about helping you achieve the goal. Everything you do is for the purpose of helping you become a disciple of Christ. Just as the importance of diet and exercise and sleep and shoes are important for running, so is prayer, reading God’s word, community, worship, important for the spiritual life. And it is overwhelming at times.
I think a lot of Christians commit to follow Christ, unaware of all that it entails. And don’t we often learn along the way anyways. And I think many people don’t commit to Christ because all that it does entail can become overwhelming as well.
But all I can say is that I am obsessed with running. I think, sleep, eat, drink, watch, envision, pray, listen…running. All of my training is aimed at running well on October 22. But first I had to make that commitment and that was the hardest part. Why is it that I sometimes don’t do this in my Christian faith? Why isn’t my life and training aimed at glorifying God and following Him? On October 22nd I will receive affirmation and some encouragement from my friends when I finish the race…and that will soon fade. But the Christian life according to Paul is for something imperishable.
In college, my roomate and I hung up a verse on our wall to remind us of this. Paul says in I Timothy 4:7-8, Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and life to come.
I love running. I am really enjoying it now, and each week I go out and run my long run on Friday, it is a new personal best for me as I break into new mileage territory. And it is running that has helped me shine a light onto my own spiritual life and what it means to train my spiritual life in such a way so that it is godly, so that it has purpose, so that it is glorifying to God. It means not only commiting myself to run, but to train my body, soul, mind, heart in such a way so that it is on track in becoming and being a disciple of Christ.
Stay tuned each Monday as I continue to reflect on this metaphor of the Christian life and how I am understanding more fully what it means.