I am scheduled to run in my first marathon this Sunday morning. Lord willing, and the cramps in my leg don't get too bad, I'll run 26.2 miles in somewhere around five hours. I'm a little bit excited, a little bit nervous, and quite a bit scared.
Preparing for the marathon, I've thought a lot about the verses in the book of Hebrews that mention running. They are Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 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. 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, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
There are several similarities between distance running and living a life of Christian faith. Consider:
1) The cloud of witnesses. Running is a lot easier when it is done with others. There are a lot of 5:30 runs I would have skipped this summer if I hadn't known my running partner was out there waiting for me. In the same way, a life of faith is easier when there are others living their faith with you and encouraging you on. A loving church, a supportive family, and--in the context of the passage--the legacy of Christians who have gone before us can all spur us on to live for Jesus.
2) Throw off everything that hinders. Running is not easily done in a three-piece suit. A lightweight shirt, running shorts, and running shoes are all a part of a runner's wardrobe. In the same way, a life of faith is easier to live when we shed the old ways of life and the sins that would entangle us and keep us from Jesus. Sometimes we need to cut some things out of our lives in order to be faithful to Him.
3) Perseverance. Running long distances takes discipline. A lot of training goes into preparing for a marathon. In theory, I'm in better shape than I've ever been and all the hard work has been done that will allow me to run all 26 miles. The same kind of discipline helps us follow Jesus. Daily practices of prayer, Bible reading, and worship prepare us for the long haul of faith.
4) The race marked out for us. Distance running requires pacing. I could run the first mile in about six minutes (not terribly fast, but I'm proud of it). But if I hope to run the next 25, I'll have to run that first mile about three minutes slower. It's about finding the right pace to complete the race you are in. In the same way, the Christian life is not a sprint. It requires pacing yourself. Not all of the things you would like to accomplish for Jesus can be done in a year. But with proper balance, you'll be surprised how much can be done over the course of many years.
5) Fix our eyes. Running requires a goal. I don't run for the simple joy of running (truth be told, it kind of hurts); I run for the pay-off at the end. The challenge of completing a marathon. The good health that follows exercise. The knowledge that I can eat more fair food because I've burned so many calories. These are the goals that keep me going.
In the same way, the life of faith is best lived when you are aware of the goal at the end. And for the Christian, that's Jesus. Knowing that Jesus has already completed the race, that Jesus is cheering you on, and that Jesus will welcome you forever into His heavenly home is motivation to hold fast to faith to the very end.