I wanted to accomplish something difficult, that I had previously thought I never could. So, I started training for a half marathon with the goal of completing one before my birthday. Today, I reached that goal! There were certainly a few moments along the way to getting here that I questioned myself and felt that perhaps I might fail. But thankfully I have had a lot of encouragement from family and friends who have supported my efforts and cheered me on to today’s finish line.
I love running, not only for its numerous health benefits but also because it has taught me so many practical life lessons. There are countless parallels between running and life, especially the life of a believer. I firmly believe that is why Scripture uses the analogy of running a race to describe the Christian life. My years as a runner have allowed me to glean the truths of this description in a deeper way as well as simple life lessons. The last several months of training for this half marathon have solidified and strengthened those lessons in my heart and mind. I’d love to share some of them with you.
1. Success requires planning and preparation
When I first started running years ago, I quickly learned that if I wanted to do it and do it well, I needed a plan. Whether I want to run a certain distance or train for a race, without a strategy my chances for success are small. I cannot expect to make progress and reach a goal without first taking the time to plan and prepare.
Knowing what and how I will study, what study tools will I use, and what time of day will I set aside are all-important preparations that have set me up for greater success than if I began haphazardly. Scripture confirms this principle.
“Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.” Proverbs 13:16
Preparation and planning do not guarantee success, but they are necessary ingredients that can help us avoid the pitfalls that lead to failure.
2. Start strong, finish strong
I used to hear this phrase often when I was a novice runner. I originally confused “strong” for “fast.” However, I quickly found that beginning a run, especially a long one, too quickly leads to disaster. Rather than speed, the meaning of “strong” in this context carries the idea of determination and resolve. I cannot set out on a run with an attitude of “maybe I will; maybe I won’t.” If I do, I won’t run for very long. Running can hurt. Any time we challenge our bodies there will be at least some discomfort. So, a wavering spirit that says, “if it gets hard, I might stop” practically ensures that I will. I must be determined to do what I’ve set out to do.
A strong finish requires the same tenacity. I learned this in earnest training for my half marathon. In the last few miles, my body would beg for a break. However, I knew if I stopped, if even for a second, that would be it. As much as I would have liked to be done in those moments, I wanted to make it to the finish even more.
I’ve experienced this principle in other areas of my life, too. Whatever we do in life requires us to be determined from start to finish. God’s Word exhorts us in this truth.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” Ecclesiastes 9:10a
Encourage your heart that, by no mistake, God has brought you here for His perfect purposes. What’s more, He gives the strength you need to carry on with determination and resolve.
During my training, I had so much support from my family, especially my husband. He went out with me on countless early morning training runs and was a constant source of encouragement. However, in life, we may not always have such support or cheerleaders by our side. But in truth, we have something far better. We have God’s Word and the Holy Spirit. God has promised never to leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Because He is our source of strength, we can be strong, even in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The race is hard but we can finish strong if we keep our eyes on the greatest prize — knowing Christ and becoming more like Him.
3. Saying yes also means saying no
In this life, there seems to be a continual barrage of responsibilities, opportunities, and to-do’s that demand our time. However, every time we say “yes” to something, we are also at the same time saying “no” to many other things. As finite beings, we cannot take on an infinite amount of activities. If we try, we won’t do them well, and we will have to face some negative consequences.
When I began to consider the challenge of a half marathon, I knew I needed to assess my priorities. What were the things in my life that were non-negotiables and must remain? Of course, my responsibilities as a wife and mother are always primary. Additionally, I would not want to take on anything that would cause me to neglect time with the Lord and His Word. After setting those priorities as paramount, I began to streamline my time and tasks, until I was sure that I could reasonably take on training for my race.
This requires that we evaluate our time, responsibilities, and activities when presented with new opportunities. This is particularly hard when it comes to ministry. When my husband and I were first married we dove into service at our church with both feet, involving ourselves in multiple ministries. After several months, not only were we burning out but we realized we had become so busy with serving that we were rarely sitting in the service under the teaching of the Word. We had to make some difficult but necessary choices and prayerfully consider where God wanted us to concentrate our desire to serve.
We should never be stingy with our time, especially when it comes to service, but if we feel we must say “yes” to every opportunity, we aren’t able to give our best to what matters most. Sometimes that means saying “no” to good things. But saving our “yes” for the people and things that are most important frees us to devote ourselves in a way that displays excellence for God’s glory. Prayerfully consider what God wants you to devote your “yes” to and then give it your best.
4. Do hard things
Running is difficult. That is why when I tell people I run, the feedback I often get looks something like a scrunched up face and a response along the lines of, “That sounds too hard.” Yes, running is hard, but it is also very rewarding and can be a lot of fun.
Just like comfort is the pull that keeps us from strengthening our bodies or increasing our physical endurance, it also hampers us spiritually. It prevents us from:
Comfort is what keeps us from putting ourselves in the way of what will stretch and strengthen us. It beckons us to stay right where we are—safe, secure, and satisfied.
However, if we want to grow we need both sunshine and rain. If we want to make an impact, we have to step into the rushing waters and go against the current. Hard things draw us out of our comfort zone, and if we commit to seeing them through, we will be changed and strengthened, often beyond what we thought possible.
God calls us to do hard things. He has made us and equipped us to be pursuers and to persevere. The apostle Paul exhorts us in this way, “Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality” (Romans 12:11-13). This is a call to action. Believers are not called to live passively, but rather as eager and active doers. In Philippians, Paul emphasizes this yet again saying, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” God wants us to press, to strain, and to climb—all hard things. And there is great purpose, value, and worth in this call. Doing hard things to further God’s name and His kingdom is both an act of obedience and worship.
So, set goals and pursue difficult tasks in life. But even more so, be eager to take on hard things for God. Don’t allow the desire for comfort to deter you from a ministry, a person, or an opportunity. It may be hard, but it can be done because our God is faithful.
I am so very grateful that God brought running into my life. It has strengthened me in many ways and taught me countless lessons. Our God is incredibly kind to use the temporal things of this world to teach us, grow us, and point us to Himself! If you had told me a year ago that this is where I would be, I am sure I would not have believed you. But day by day and little by little, I got here and met my goal! And even now, my husband and I are planning out how we can do a full marathon together in the next several months! But more important than any earthly race, we desire to run the race of the Christian life in a way that honors our great God and the time, gifts, and abilities He’s granted to us. When we cross life’s finish line, may we be able to say like the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (1 Timothy 4:7).
If you're a runner, or athlete of any type, what have you learned from training?
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