Runner's World magazine comes to our home every month. In fact, the occasion of its arrival is usually greeted with guarded delight. Who is on the cover? I always turn to the last page to an article entitled, "I am a Runner." This page features different "celebrities" who run. One month featured Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of Homeland Security. Another month is was Jo Dee Messina, the country music singer. My favortie feature was Ruper Gee several months back. He is the own of "Hello Deli" in New York that has been made famous by David Letterman on "The Late Show."
I also like Runner's World when they feature their tests on the new line of runnig shoes for the season. I expertly peruse the pages thinking to myself, "Yes. Yes. That is the pair for me." Then images of me running (and winning!) the Boston Marathon flash through my mind!
I say this with some level of trepidation. I am a runner. In May, my beautiful bride Kathy and I are training to participate in the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon on May 18 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Now granted, it is very unlikely my photo will ever grace the cover of a running magazine. However, because I see Runner's World and the super atheletes along with the "normal" people who run, I am given the courage to shuffle out the door.
In this month's Runner's World, there is a wonderful article about British runner Paula Radcliffe. During the 2004 Athens Olympics, she was the HUGE favorite to win the womens marathon. However, under extreme conditions, Radcliffe actually sat down at the twenty-two mile mark and withdrew from the race. It sent shock waves through the running world since she had won the previous three marathons in which she competed.
"Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easitly entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scoring its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3) Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
Hebrews 12:1-3 (Holman Christian Standard)
In your walk with Christ, do you ever see other believers and wish and want and desire to be as "godly" as them? It is quite easy to compare ourselves to others and somehow feel less than adequate. This is especially true when our "race marked out for us" has become hard and challenging. It is frustrating when we feel like that we are not making any progress in our race with Jesus.
Running has taught me one thing. I can not compare myself and my running with an Olympic athlete or for that matter, my wife. Kathy has already completed a couple of half marthons, severl 10ks, 5ks and a triathlon. I must train and run my race. I can not bemoan what I have not done compared to other runners. However, the benefit of the running community envelopes me and other runners encourage me as I train to accomplish my goals.
Other Christians are not there for the purpose of us comparing ourselves. "Hey, I am not as godly as John but compared to Betty, I'm an apostle!" No. As the church, we walk together in order that we might encourage one another but many times, the specific path that we must run can be rather different. (I am particularly thinking about a precious brother and sister in Christ serving on mission in Eastern Europe as I remain serving in Georgia.)
The writer of Hebrews is writing to a group of Christians that are suffering and going through a difficult time because of their faith in Jesus Christ. The persecution is so hard that they may very well be close to giving up. The writer is wanting to encourage them that sometimes the road gets so hard that we want to stop running. I would say that sometimes our run becomes a walk and even occasionally, we need to sit down and rest. However, the point is that we do not give up because our Savior endured the road marked out for him. His race was death on the cross! As difficult and hard as it was, he pressed on with joy because he knew the prize to be wom by completing his race--his father's will being accomplished, people being redeemed and sitting down at the right hand of his father. Jesus was tempted to give up but he submitted himself to his race and much glory was found!
The writer of Hebrews is letting these Christians know that because Jesus did it, you can do it! In fact, verse one reminded them that many men and women of God completed their races with God and now sit in the enjoyment of being with him. "Come on Hebrew Christians! Jesus has done it! You CAN do it! Jesus has given the helper, his Holy Spirit, and will run the race through you! Go! Go! Go!"
The British press has a reputation for being extremely critical. That is exactly what happened to Paula Radcliffe when she returned home from Athens. How difficult to be considered a quitter. Yet in light of all that criticism and dashed hope, Paula got up and won the next marathone she entered and the next one and the next one and the New York marathon this past November!
So catch your breath. Sometimes I slow down during my run and walk a bit. In fact, for every three minutes I run, I walk one minute. I keep looking forward to crossing that finish line in Fredericksburg. YOU CAN PRESS ON! Yes, there are obstacles. Get rid of them! Yes, there is sin that tries to trap you. Confess. Repent. Receive forgiveness. Watch your blind spots. Get a "running" partner to encourage you. Drink some Gatorade. Get some nourishment...from the Word, from talking with the Father, from fellowshipping with other believers, worshipping Him...but get up off your tail and start running again. Follow the example of your savior. He knows how hard it is. He is running right there with you! He will be waiting at the finish line!
Two resources that might enourage you in your "race" with God is A Long Obedience in the Same Direction or Run with the Horses both by Eugene Peterson. Peterson is best known for his modern paraprhase of the Scriptures, The Message.