There are a lot of things that intrigue me about running.
For one thing, why do so many people enjoy doing it? It lacks all the fun and fellowship of team sports and can be a lonely pursuit.
Though running is often done alone, it can be quite competitive. If you don’t believe me, just get around some runners talking about their personal bests or posting their latest times and running routes on social media.
I took up running as a young man partly because I was pretty uncoordinated and not great at other sports. It was something I could do to get into shape. At one point, I ran quite a lot and was reasonably good for my age. Less so lately, though I haven’t given up!
But what really interests me is that the Bible says some significant things about running. Paul talks about forgetting what lies behind and stretching forward to what lies ahead. The whole context is about the Olympic races. The picture is a runner bent over almost horizontally in the single-minded pursuit to cross the finish line first. He presses on toward the goal, which is the marker placed along the route to make sure the athletes stayed on track. He aims for the prize of the upward call, which refers to the fact the winning athlete would mount the steps to the place where the judges sat in order to receive the prize.
A year before he wrote those words to the Philippians, he told the Corinthians to run the race in such a way they would win it. Two years or so later, facing prophesied imprisonment, he told the Ephesians his only desire was to finish the race. And a few years further on again, nearing the end of his life, he told his spiritual son Timothy that he had finished the race.
All the years I was running regularly, no matter how fast or how slow I went, one thing I never did was give up. I refused to stop - except on two occasions when I nearly passed out. Even then, I started up again.
I might have been stubborn or proud, but I wanted my running to reflect my approach to my walk with God. There were days when I felt like giving up, but I didn’t. My ability to finish the course was a slap in the devil’s face every time he tried to tell me I was finished in my walk with God or my ministry.
It may seem a little bit obvious but it’s worth saying again: life is a marathon, not a sprint. And it’s no accident it’s the original marathon race Paul draws his pictures from.
That’s why it’s so important to remember how God has helped you in the past. How many days have you thought you could never run the race? How often have you felt oppressed, depressed, deflated and dispirited? But how often has God met you in those times? How often has he helped you up at the very point you started to fall down?
Many times I went out running wondering if I could get a block down the street, let alone one, five or ten kilometres. But I always made it.
Many times I ran into the wind or up the hill, knowing that on the way back I would have the wind behind me and the valley before me.
That’s what it’s like in our life as Christians. The race is tough but it has to be run in order to be won.
Those who make the effort to try, no matter how inadequate or weak they may feel, will find God helping them and the wind of his Spirit at their back.
God will carry you across the finish line, if he has to, but you have to stay in the race for him to do that.
And the greatest news is that implicit in the command “run to win” is the fact that in this race, everyone can run and everyone can win.
See you (if not before) at the finish line!