When Millie was a few months old I took up running in the vain hope that it would enable me to keep up with her when she started crawling. To say that I enjoyed it would be a new use of the word enjoy that I am not 100% comfortable with, however to my surprise I have found that I have not hated it as much as I had expected. I have lost weight, I have found myself feeling healthier and I have learnt a lot about my faith. I’d like to share 3 things that I have learnt with you now.
Eyes on the prize
This was actually my third attempt at becoming a runner. It is however the first time that my attempt has lasted longer than a week. The main reason that I have managed to keep to it this time is that when I started running I signed up to run a 10K race in May 2012. I spent the 12 months leading up to the race following a training plan which is building up to me running the race I signed up for.
When I really didn’t want to go out for a run, or when I really wanted to stop and walk during a run, remembering that I had paid £20 to enter a race and remembering that I had told everyone I know that I was running it, gave me the motivation to keep going.
In the same way that it can be hard to make yourself go out for a run on a cold, dark February evening, sometimes it can be hard to have the spiritual discipline to consistently make time to read my Bible and pray.
When I was at university I had a patch where I was really struggling to find the discipline to have my daily quiet time. To combat this I set myself the challenge of reading the whole Bible, cover to cover before the end of the academic year. This revolutionised my Bible reading. That was 10 years ago (gulp!), but even to this day my personal bible reading is never better than when I have given myself a reading ‘challenge’ of some description.
You may not be as immature as me and you may not need to have ‘games’ and ‘challenges’ to keep your spiritual life fresh, but there will still be times which are spiritually hard and remembering our goals are an important way to keep our spiritual displine. We all may have different earthly goals, however there is one goal that all Christians share and that is to hear those wonderful words at the end of your life ‘well done good and faithful servant’.
Paul makes this point in his first letter to the Corinthians.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? 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. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. (1 Corinthians 9:24-26)
Track your Progress
When I first started running my training programme was to run for 90 seconds and then walk for 60 seconds 4 times. That may not sound hard, but it was (in fact to illustrate how hard it was I have included with this article a picture of me running. Please note that I take no pleasure in showing you this photo and politely request that you never speak of this photo in my presence).
When I entered the race last year I was able to run for over an hour without stopping.
Seeing how far I have come in my running gives me the incentive to keep going out for training and practise on those cold winter nights when staying inside in the warm seems like a much nicer option. Similarly when I go through a spiritually dry patch looking back at the things which God has done in my life and remembering how he has changed me gives me the strength to carry on.
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to remember our past when the present gets hard.
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. (Hebrews 10: 32 & 33)
As a measure of how far I had come I entered a 5K race in September 2011. The race is run every Saturday and staffed by a wonderful set of volunteers who cheer the runners round each week and take photos. Taking part in 5k run with 200 other people every few weeks gives me a fun thing to look forward to as I build towards my 10K race. It also encourages me to keep going as it shows me that there are other people who want to drag their bodies round a muddy lake.
Similarly regularly meeting with other Christians to share our struggles and problems can give us the strength to carry on through them. This is an instruction which is clear throughout the Bible, nowhere more so than in Hewbrews.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10 :24 &25)