On Sunday, February 27, 2017 I completed my sixth marathon. It was the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth. 26.2 miles. I completed my first in 1998.
I racewalk. Due to hip and knee issues, I can’t run very far without joint problems. But still it is challenging to go that far in under the time limit. Fortunately for me they upped the time limit from 6 hours to 7.5 hours. I finished in 6 hours 31 minutes.
I’ve learned some lessons in marathons that carry over to the Christian life.
First, you must train in order to be able to finish the race. It takes me four to six months of 20 to 40 miles per week to be able to complete a marathon.
As Christians, we need regular attendance in a solid Bible-teaching church combined with a personal longing for the pure milk of the Word. Without regular solid Bible teaching, we will not be prepared to finish the race which God has set before us.
Second, you must be prepared for adversity. I’ve experienced lots of that in marathons: blisters, low electrolytes, dizziness, muscle cramps, swelling in the hands, discouragement, despair, loneliness, cold, etc. I’ve learned to prepare with special ointment on my feet and special socks to prevent blisters, electrolyte medication, calf sleeves, arm sleeves, gloves, hat, shoes for men over 180 pounds, Vaseline for my armpits, sunblock, energy bars, etc.
As Christians, we experience discouragement, despair, persecution, disease, fatigue, temptation, distraction, financial trouble, family troubles, and much more. In order to finish the Christian race well, we need prayer, fellowship with other believers, encouragement, solid Bible teaching, as well as good nutrition, plenty of sleep, exercise, and rest. We need to be in the Christian race for the long haul, not just for a year or two.
Third, you must avoid comparing with others. Yesterday I finished 29th out of 32 men in the 60-64 age group. Overall I placed 714th of 742 runners/walkers. If I compared myself with others, I’d be very discouraged. But say I had won the entire marathon. It still wouldn’t be good to compare against others. I might get a big head. I might become complacent.
As Christians, we need to avoid comparing with other believers. They have their own unique sets of gifts and opportunities and challenges. We need to want the best for all our brothers and sisters in Christ. Unlike athletic competition, all believers can win (1 Cor 9:24-27). The more we help each other, the better we all do.
Fourth, do not stop. A Korean college students once told me this Korean Proverb: He who stops does not win and he who wins does not stop. In yesterday’s marathon I was hurting from mile 10 onward. I struggled a bit from miles 10 to 20, but then things got harder. I was dizzy and light headed. My legs felt dead.
I remember thinking, “Just put one leg in front of another. One step at a time.”
Typically believers do not suddenly drop out of the Christian race. Most often those who quit do so gradually. It may start with hanging out with people who are not living for the Lord. Church attendance begins to suffer. Daily prayer and Bible reading suffers too. Within six months or a year, without really intending to quit, the believer no longer prays, goes to church, or reads his Bible. He is no longer seeking to please the Lord in what he does.
As Christians, we need to walk in the light of God’s Word day by day (1 John 1:7). We need to confess the sins which God brings to our attention (1 John 1:9). Regular church attendance is not optional for us. We need to hear God’s Word taught. We need ongoing fellowship with people who are praying for us and who love us.
I’m not sure how many more marathons, if any, I will attempt. During the second half of the race yesterday I was not optimistic about doing another. Today I’m thinking I could do another one in a few months if I had better nutrition and training.
I long to be like Paul who at the end of his life could say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim 4:7-8).