It was fun for me last year to win a medal for finishing the “Surf City” marathon in Huntington Beach, CA and to do this with my family watching me. I thank God that he helped me to run the 26.2 miles in under 4 hours. It was actually the 5th marathon that I’ve completed and it was my slowest one, but it might be the one I’m the most proud of because I did it at 46 years old. The other four I did in the physical prime of my life, between ages 17 and 21.
Training to Run with Jesus
You’re probably thinking to yourself: “I couldn’t run 26.2 miles!” Or maybe, “I wouldn’t want to run 26.2 miles!” Well, many of you, if you wanted to run a marathon you could do it – if you trained for it.
Every Saturday morning for a number of months I did a long run. I started with a four-mile run that goes alongside the two lakes near my home. Each week I went a little farther, building up to a 20 mile-long run in the hills. I also tried to do a shorter run or ride my bike each week. And I worked out with weights and the stair master two or three times a week.
My preparation enabled me to enjoy the race – until I hit “the wall” at mile 20! (I actually didn’t train enough for the race because I didn’t even decide to do it until a month-and-a-half beforehand.) Despite the pain and exhaustion of running — and walking! — the last six miles, my overall experience of the race was that it was wonderfully inspiring to run on paths lined with people cheering me on as I made my way through parks and along the ocean.
What a thrill it was to cross the finish line in under four hours with thousands of people – including my wife and three kids – cheering for me! The last time I had done that was as a young man twenty-five years earlier!
Run with Jesus into High Places
But what I enjoyed most about my race (and all the jogging I do) was to run with Jesus.
We read in the Gospels that Jesus went up into the hills to pray. And David said of the Lord: “You make my feet like the feet of a deer. You enable me to stand on the high places with you!” (Psalm 18:33, paraphrased). So I run out the door of my house to follow Jesus into the hills near my home! I love to be in Solitude and Silence with Jesus in the beauty of nature, meditating on Scripture and conversing with him about life in his kingdom. (I have friends who spend time with Jesus in the same way, but instead of running they walk by the lake or hike on a trail.)
Jesus is my “champion, rejoicing to run his course” (Psalm 19:5) in the Kingdom of the Heavens all around us. So as I run my life race I fix my eyes on Jesus. I listen to him. I keep in step with him. He is the author and perfecter of my faith (Hebrews 12:2).
Coached by Jesus
The Apostle Paul taught us that the only way to run a good life race is to go into training to run with Jesus. “Train yourself to be godly,” he urged Timothy and us too (1 Timothy 4:7). Spiritually, we need to get in shape! Paul challenges us:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 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 (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Going into training with Jesus is the only way you can succeed at being his disciple. You can’t do algebra until you learn decimals. You can’t minister healing love to people until you learn to pray as Jesus prayed. And you can’t do all you do in your daily life as Jesus’ disciple without using disciplines for the spiritual life to prepare yourself.
Practice Spiritual Disciplines
Disciplines, in any are of life, are planned activities that help us to develop new capacities, to become a different kind of person. We might think that disciplines aren’t fun, but they can be when we do them with Jesus in the right way. Even when a discipline is painful or difficult at first we can learn to be like Jesus and “endure the cross for the joy set before us” (Hebrews 12:2), the joy of greater intimacy with Jesus and fruitfulness for him.
Do you have a spiritual coach or soul friend? Someone who helps you to run with Jesus? We all need guidance and encouragement in how to use the Spiritual Disciplines that are best suited for us to be “means of grace” that help us run a good life race with Jesus.