Over the past three weeks we have been looking at the similarities between the 26.2-mile marathon race and the spiritual marathon of following Jesus. This series was inspired by someone in our family running the London marathon, and as ‘running the race’ is often quoted in the Bible, we decided to explore this as a church.
Hannah, our daughter, loves to take on big challenges. This year, Alpha was given one charity place in the London Marathon 2016 and she volunteered to run it. Alpha is a charity that helps people explore life’s big questions and the Christian faith. Hannah had only raced in half-marathons, and she knew how tough this challenge was going to be.
A few Sundays ago, we interviewed personal trainer, Patrick Pretorius (Ninja Warrior UK finalist 2016), on how to train for a marathon. He said, ‘the first question you have to ask yourself is Why? Why am I doing this?’ Everyone has heard of this so-called ‘wall’ in a marathon, where your body is completely depleted of energy and hurts and all you want to do is give up – it’s at this point that the battle begins in the mind, and you need to return to the ‘why’. You need to remind yourself why you are doing this to keep motivated to the end. Similarly, our Christian walks aren’t always easy. We were never promised an ‘easy walk in the park’. Sometimes we have to return to the ‘why’ in our faith. What is the purpose of the race? the motivation to keep going? Where do we fix our eyes to keep sight of the goal?
Personal trainer Patrick’s second question is ‘Where are you now?’ Before you start training for a marathon, you create a training plan and set realistic goals depending on your current fitness levels. Half way through a marathon training plan, you should be able to tell what is your average pace, what is an achievable time and have a lot better insight into how you run and what works for you. It’s a marathon not a sprint as the saying goes. We can’t become 2 hour 3 minute marathon runners overnight just like we can’t become international preachers overnight (not that we all want to be). Or better still, we can’t become perfectly patient or a prayer warrior overnight. Training for a marathon takes time, practise and dedication. But we start where we are and make decisions to increase our fitness levels from here.
Our life is a marathon. We go at a steady pace in order to be sustained for the entire race (rhyme not intended!). St Paul describes the race in Hebrews 12:1-2, ‘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 faith.’
Lots of coaches will tell runners, ‘run your own race’ and the same is true spiritually. We don’t need to look around to see how others are doing, we focus on Jesus. We run the race he has marked out for us individually. That’s where we find ultimate fulfillment. In His calling, in His race for us.
Patrick tells us ‘3 things are crucial to prepare to run a marathon.’ Diet, exercise, rest. What we eat is crucial to our wellbeing – spiritually we are healthy if we feed on the Word of God. Exercise- we have to be stretched to gain strength- spiritually we exercise by putting into practice in our daily lives what truths Jesus is teaching us and they often ‘hurt’ such as forgiveness. Resting in Him, spending time in His presence, enabling His power to be at work in us and not striving in our own strength. We go at the pace He determines and equips us to run at. Eyes always on Him.
It takes time. Just like those preparing to run a marathon, gradual, persistent training over a period of time prepares the runner well for the race of their lifetime. Spiritually, regular Bible reading, praying, and resting in God’s presence – are all vital for the individual races we’re all running. We will build up strength, and the character to keep going til the end. Keep your eyes on Him.
At the end of a marathon race, you get a medal in recognition of your achievement.
‘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. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.’ 1 Cor 9:24-27. This spiritual race, the prize for us lasts for eternity.
And finally, Hannah completed the London Marathon in 4 hrs 25 mins. She says that the last 5 miles were the most painful she had ever experienced, every part of her body screamed ‘stop! give up!’ but she persevered as she prayed for strength with each step until she crossed the finishing line. She was rewarded with a medal and a huge sense of achievement that she can remember for a lifetime.
We had a great time cheering her on and we are so proud! A wonderful achievement, praise God!