I've spent weeks training and preparing for something which does not come naturally to me.
Running a half-marathon.
I just ran my sixth half, and while the mental aspect of running 13.1 does get easier, the physical aspect is still challenging. Running this distance is hard for me and something I have to push myself to do. The process has taught me many things about perseverance and discipline. And I've come to realize that some of the same principles apply to my spiritual life as well.
The race last week was a challenging one for several reasons. It was cold. Like 28 degrees cold. And my running app decided not to work so I had no idea of my time and pace. My headphones were annoyingly silent. Several things that ruffled my running feathers. I spent the first half mile mentally beating myself up. Negative self talk that accomplishes nothing of value. I thankfully had my husband beside me the whole time. He is my biggest encourager and always pushes me to be better. He told me to shake it off and trust the training. So I did.
When your heart is beating and your feet are pounding the pavement and your body just. wants. to. quit, you have to remind yourself that you are running for a purpose.
Running for close to two hours with no distractions forced me to focus my thoughts. And what I found was that running half marathons has taught me several things I hadn't realized before.
I've learned is that there are many parallels from running that carry over to the spiritual race set before us as believers. Just as I need to be committed to the bodily training needed for completing the run, I must focus on training in godliness.
"for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way,
as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."
1 Timothy 4:8
Running takes dedication, accountability and purpose. Without all of these aspects in proper balance, you will fizzle out.
If you commit to nothing then you will be distracted by everything.
Isn't this true of so many things in life? A mind that isn't focused on something is so easily swayed. But once something is important to us then we make time for it. Running is a discipline that you must make time for. You won't increase your endurance or better your pace by not showing up.
Spiritually, we must prioritize growing in godliness. It is the work of God's grace in our lives but there is an aspect of striving on our part. I desperately need to train my heart, mind and soul after the things of Christ.
When I don't have someone to run with, or someone checking in on me, I usually won't show up. Either mentally or physically, I'll cut corners and make excuses. Running with others makes all the difference in tackling longer distances. The impossible in your mind becomes manageable.
The same is true among believers. God wired us for community. The encouragement that comes from being connected to a group of believers is amazing. We learn from others and witness the beauty of the body functioning together. We aren't meant to do this alone.
There is also a certain level of self-evalutation along the process. In running, you look back over your training. You check your mileage and compare your times from more recent runs to when you first began to train. Hopefully, you will see that you have come a lot further than you realized. Growth and progress is sometimes so gradual that we miss it if we aren't looking for it. There are ups and downs but don't judge yourself based on the extremes. A bad run doesn't define you. Look back you will see the gradual progress that you are going further and faster than you did before.
We also need to check in on our spiritual growth. Look back over your walk, see places of growth and realize you are progressing in your sanctification. Take time to reflect on the changes that God has made in your life by His grace and turn that into praise! I'm so thankful that God promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him.
When training for a longer race distance, the purpose of the training season is to present yourself at the starting line ready to tackle the distance. The goal is to finish strong. You will get out of it what you've put into it. You either trained well or you didn't. And it's going to show.
There is purpose in our spiritual life. We are meant to grow in godliness. Presenting ourselves mature in Christ. How much I display the fruits of the Spirit is a measure of my growth. It is the work of the Spirit in my life but I also need to be devoted to the Word, prayer, service and fellowship to cultivate godliness.
I need to remember that just as 13.1 miles doesn't come easily or naturally to me, growing in godliness doesn't either. Displaying humility, demonstrating forgiveness and patience, and having peace in the ups and downs of life only come from training my heart, soul and mind in godliness. Christ-like character comes from the 'training'. Have I been dedicated to studying God's Word? Am I being held accountable in the fellowship of other believers and being encouraged to turn my heart towards Him in worship? Am I realizing my purpose to grow more into the likeness of Christ realizing that I must depend on God's grace?
So I've learned a lot about myself and the physical aspects of running. I've also learned to keep my focus on His call in my life. To know that I am His and knowing Him and making Him known is my purpose.
Now "..let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Hebrews 12:1