Running has become a significant aspect of my life in the last 18 months. Part of the appeal is how effortlessly I can will myself to run, and I do. No one is ever chasing me, and my legs don’t usually turn to lead running knee-deep through mud like they do in some of my night dreams. On really good days, I even feel weightless as I propel down the street and I begin to imagine what it would be like to fly, my feet no longer pounding on pavement.
But there are these ridiculous long runs I signed up to do in preparation for a half marathon in December. A 30-minute run on a weekday morning is no big deal. I’m home for breakfast before I start to think about giving up. But running for 60 minutes, then 90 minutes, and so on, is another story. Sometimes it feels like I am running in place like in those night dreams I dread. I’m finding that I can’t do my long runs alone.
Every Saturday morning, I join a group of women training for the same half marathon. We break off into compatible pace groups, and then we log the mounting miles together. Last weekend it looked like I was going to be alone in my pace group and I was certain I couldn’t muster the strength or the motivation to run 8 miles solo. But one of the women came along beside me and said, “You can do this. I’m going to run with you.” I would have finished early and gone home well before reaching the goal if it wasn’t for her support.
References to running in the Bible have become especially meaningful to my spiritual health as I pursue running for physical health. When I read of the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12, I think about my Saturday morning running group as well as all the cheering friends and family who crowded the street a mile before the finish line at my first half marathon this spring.
After running so many miles, my legs were heavy and my feet so tired. My mind was sinking in despair—I have how much further to go?! WHY am I doing this?! But with the blessed support of friends and strangers both, some cheering from the sidelines and some running beside me, I pounded out the miles and reached that daunting goal of 13.1 miles.
Our real lives can be so doggedly hard, like running a half marathon. We get flat out tired and bogged down. It seems like we are running with lead legs, knee-deep in mud. Our circumstances pound at our peace and joy, and our own shortcomings result in one failure after another. Disappointments and surprises crash against us. People break trust and our hearts can hurt so deeply. But we don’t have to face any of this alone or without hope.
Paul writes in Hebrews 12:1-3:
“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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
I love how there is a crowd of onlookers in this passage—they are ahead of us, as described in the amazing “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11, and they are next to us and behind us. Some have finished the race, others are right there with us, and still others are taking up the rear and following in our steps.
We all take part in cheering each other on in this life of faith. I think about the community that gathers at Grace Bible Church every week, and I am grateful for the support I find there. We have the opportunity to love and carry each other when we think we can’t take another step in life. We are all in this together and we don’t have to face life alone.
But beautifully central to this race is the Lead Runner. He is ahead of the pack, he has already busted out the miles, and he shows us how it is done. We don’t stop running, though our legs and lungs and everything between defies us to continue. We glue our eyes to his back and we keep going—he is Jesus, the very one who gave birth to our first trust in him and the one who cultivates our dependence upon him. He is the mark we can set our minds and hearts on because once and finally, he fixed his own eyes on the joy of sitting at the right hand of his Father and the prize of winning his children—and in so doing, he won it all!
Sometimes, life is effortless. But more often, we are tired, sweaty, and thirsty; our knees start to ache and we wonder when it will all end. But our Jesus has already run and won this race for us! We don’t grow weary and lose heart, even though the race looks so ridiculously long and hard from here.
I want to let myself be supported in this life by the people God brings me, but most of all, I want to keep near to Jesus, hot on his tail in the midst of whatever is happening in my life. I want him to fill my vision, not my own struggles or the circumstances that send me soaring and the ones that weigh me down. With my sight set on him, I will think less and less about myself and all the running I am doing. The relentless grace of God I find when I look at the goodness of Jesus is the part in my running where I begin to feel weightless and fly—I can run with no burden to finish first, or to finish with glory, or to finish period. There is only Jesus ahead of me who already said it is finished. The ultimate race has been won!
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…he has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them!
(Psalm 68:19, 1 Peter 1:3, Eph 1:3, Luke 1:68)
May you experience God’s love for you in the people he graces your life with this week, and most of all, may you keep near to Jesus, running your race with perseverance and resting in the freedom that Jesus has done it all for you.