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Running with the ultimate pace-setter: Jesus

What can marathon training teach us about running a life-long race with the Lord of all?

I love running. Growing up as a kid, if you wanted to get me to go somewhere you simply had to challenge me to a race and I’d be there in a flash. I’ve found that people’s reaction to running is quite similar to reactions to Marmite – people either love it or hate it.

With the London Marathon taking place in April, this time of year is when many people are embarking on marathon training; two members of my family got a place in the ballot and started their training at the start of January. This means embracing early morning runs in the dark (a good head torch is an essential piece of kit), setting aside a good chunk of time for your long run on a Sunday, and making sure you eat enough of the right sort of food and keep hydrated. All in all, running a marathon takes a lot of planning, commitment and hard work.

I’m not surprised that the apostle Paul uses running to help draw out elements of Christians’ life of faith. In 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 25 Paul encourages us to 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.”

I’ve found that running has been very helpful in teaching me about the importance of discipline, perseverance and hard work in my walk with Christ. The longer I remain as a disciple of Jesus, the more aware I become of my clear need to join in with the tax collector’s prayer: God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” My only hope is in the grace and mercy of the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ. And yet, this does not mean that I don’t need to put any effort into my life of faith. As Dallas Willard writes: Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.”[1]

The one and only time I’ve run the London Marathon, I didn’t put in enough training. Low and behold, the final six miles were the most challenging I have ever had to run. I was very close to giving up and dropping out of the race. Paul’s analogy with running and the need for strict training” is because he wants us to finish the race that has been set before us. What might this strict training look like? I would suggest it’s not dissimilar to the discipline required for running a marathon.

A good place to start is to follow the example of the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, Jesus, who while it was still dark…left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Something that has made long training runs on a Sunday much easier is doing them with a group of friends. In the same way, our discipleship is not a solitary task; it’s important to prioritise meeting together with fellow disciples of Jesus and encouraging one another as we each run the race marked out for us (Hebrews 10:25; 12:1).

As I mentioned, what you eat and drink during marathon training has a big impact. As disciples of Jesus, it’s also wise to heed Paul’s advice as to what we fill our minds with, to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

A few months ago, I ran a half-marathon with a friend who is an incredible runner. He’d agreed to be my pace setter and so I ran the race focused on keeping up with him. This made a huge difference because I knew he was only going to go at a pace I could cope with. It turned out to be one of the best runs I’ve ever done. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that as we run the race set out for us, to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. As the Spirit shapes us to be more who we were made to be, we can know and trust that the one who we follow is a kind and gracious friend, who will stretch us but will never push us beyond what He knows we can cope with.

[1] The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship

About the author

Rich currently works part time in the unity for mission team at the Evangelical Alliance. He recently began a PhD in theology at the London School of Theology. To relax, you’ll often find Rich and his wife, Kit, enjoying the outdoors – preferably up a mountain.

See more from Richard Powney

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