Saturday, 25 October 2014
Tomorrow is the big day! Over 15000 runners will be participating in the Frankfurt Marathon. The place will be mobbed with people, buzzing with excitement and teaming with spectators. 42,195 kilometres is written in a second but will take quite a lot longer to run tomorrow. The fastest will try and crack the world record just over 2 hours whilst I am going to try and not crack anything. I am looking to make it in 4 hours and 20 minutes but just making it would also be just fine.
This will be my first marathon. When I turned 45 last year I decided to go for it. Why? Well, there are several reasons. I am not having a mid-life crisis. I was fed up being overweight and never knowing what feeling fit is really like. I suddenly realised I am getting on. I am not having a mid-life crisis. The apostle Paul often compares one's spiritual walk with running a race. I felt God wanted me to learn some things on the way. Here are some of the things I have learned during this past year that I believe also apply to my spiritual walk.
My decision to run a marathon was not a flippant idea. I knew it would mean hard work and entering something new and unfamiliar. Once I had counted the cost, I made an unconditional commitment to pull it through, come rain or shine. Only then could I let other people know what I was embarking on.
Following Jesus is the same. It costs us our lives. It is not a decision one can make flippantly. It's an unconditional commitent to follow Jesus despite any circumstances. Only then will one be willing to tell others about one's journey with God.
I have to say that having someone at my side, supporting me, encouraging me and believing in me has helped me immensely not to give up. Frances, my wife, has been right behind me all the time. She has gone out of her way to make room for me to succeed. I am not alone.
The Holy Spirit believes in us. Jesus has not left us alone. The Holy Spirit runs alongside us, supporting, encouraging and believing in us. Jesus went out of His way to make room for us to succeed. We are not alone!
Once I made up my mind to go for it, I bought books on the subject, gear for running and kept my eyes on the goal. I monitored my running, kept a log of my runs and kept studying ways to improve. I have been extremely focused.
Focus is so important in our walk with God. The apostle Paul repeatedly tells us to keep our minds on things above to ensure that we stay focused on the things of God and our journey with Him. The way we do that is to train ourselves in God-consciousness by spending time in prayer, reading the Bible and meditating on God's truth. When I lose focus I become spiritually lazy!
Without discipline I wouldn't be able to overcome my natural tendency to want to remain comfortable. Discipline is a matter of the will that has decided to submit to something outside oneself. I made the decision to run at least 3 times a week regardless of whether I felt like it or not. There were times I would hover in the living room with my running gear on and have to tell myself to get on with it. My running spirit had to overcome my lazy body!
We cannot expect to grow in our relationship with God without discipline. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak! Getting up early to spend time with God requires discipline. Going to church every Sunday requires discipline. Serving God when you would rather sit at home on the sofa requires discipline. It is a matter of submitting one's will to something outside ourselves - the Spirit of God.
Part of my training involved doing some really long runs of up to 30 kilometres. I built up the length of my runs gradually over the year until I felt my body could handle increasingly longer distances. However, after a while I realised that I needed to decide to run a certain distance regardless of whether I felt up to it before or during the run. If I decided to run 25 kilometres, for example, that is what I would do. Easier said than done! After 20 kilometres the body says, "Stop!" and the mind says, "Keep going" and the will is like a spectator at wimbledon. At this point one is confronted with the meaning of perseverance: continuing regardless!
I am sure most believers have times in their run with God where God seems to be absent, joy has left, circumstances are bleak and one wonders, "What is the point?!" Perseverance continues regardless. Perseverance pushes through the difficult times and overcomes the voice of discouragement and unbelief. The apostle Paul says perseverance produces character. I think that means that as we overcome difficult times and push past our natural selves, we develop a strength that takes us deeper into God and makes us stronger to face even greater challenges!
After pushing through the initial challenges of being unfit and the body stops complaining, sort of, there comes a time during one's training when running is actually a lot of fun. One feels good, alive and strong and begins to appreciate the gift of life and health. The enjoyment of a warm shower and being allowed to stuff your face without a bad conscience after a good run is a lot of fun. I love it. Maybe I run just so I can eat. In any case, there is even greater joy when one beats one's best time or simply finishes a run after having forced oneself to go and realising how much better one feels after the run.
"Consider it pure joy when you face all kinds of trials," says James. Joy comes when we are suffering for a good cause. As a believer, I live to fulfill God's call for my life. I am called heavenward in Christ Jesus. As I journey with God, I can rejoice in my relationship with Him and also enjoy pushing through and overcomig temptation and any obstacle the enemy throws at me. The sense of achievement and victory having overcome gives great joy. I rejoice in the ability to overcome in the Spirit's power and shower in Christ's righteousness! Overcoming increases my capacity for more of Christ.
On the bottled water we buy, there used to be a picture of one of the fastest German long distance runners, Jan Fitschen. Every time I took a swig from the bottle, I saw his picture and was inspired to go for it - run the marathon! Staying motivated is important. I would read blogs about others who trained for their first marathon and made it. I would remind myself that all my small victories will produce an even larger victory on the day. At times when I really did not feel like it at all, Frances would encourage me. If I was really struggling I would choose to do an easier route and inevitably find that once I was on the road, I felt like doing more after all. Motivation is the encouragement that stirs us to action.
Jesus is my model of one who persevered until the end. He did not give up. His testimony and the testimonies of those God commends in Hebrews chapter 11, motivate me to keep going. The Bible is full of testimonies of normal people not giving up because they saw Him who is invisible. I am motivated to believe until the end when I read the stories of people in the past and today who were and are willing to lay down their lives for their faith. We also need one another to encourage one another to keep going until the end.
I have mixed feelings about tomorrow's marathon. Excitement to be part of the event but also respect for what will happen after 30 kilometres. I have trained and worked hard but I still don't really know how I will do. I am qualified to paticipate and I will do my best. Isn't that what God wants of us? He qualifies us with Christ's righteousness and simply wants us to do our best. After all we are His workmanship, created in Chrst Jesus to do good works (Eph 2:10). I am running the race to complete it and I look forward to receiving my medal at the end. I am going to feel 10 years younger (I am not going through a mid-lfe crisis) and stuff my face with delight. Sounds like heaven to me!