I've been running regularly since the beginning of the summer. Those who know me know that this is no small feat. I've always disliked running, primarily because I was afraid of it. The idea of running brought back horrible memories of my pathetic attempts to run the required mile in high school P.E. I didn't. In fact, I didn't complete a mile without stopping until I was 24 years old. If I ever felt the slightest twinge of pain, or began to breathe hard, I would stop. I had no endurance and I didn't really care.
Fast forward a few years and in God's kind (and humorous) providence, I married a runner. And not just any runner. He is a trained runner. You know, the kind who runs marathons and likes them. They say that marriage changes you. Boy, has it changed me.
I'm a runner now.
It's not like I'm a really good runner or anything. I'm not fast by an stretch of the imagination. I don't have any aspirations of racing glory. And while my early days of running were painful and made me want to quit, I now find myself enjoying my daily morning runs more and more. Why? Because I've grown in endurance. As I run a little more each day my body is physically prepared to go farther and faster.
I always used to gloss over the passages in Scripture that talk about learning endurance and running the race well. I could apply them to my life, but usually that was because I had watched running races on television or stood at the finish line for a marathon. I actually had never finished any running race, or anything physical for that matter (unless you count the year that I was on a swim team. I finished last place every race). My entire life I have been a quitter. If it gets too hard, I quit. Often I didn't have the drive to keep going. Hardness and discomfort translated into not liking it, which meant I needed to find something else to do. I didn't understand that pushing through the pain or discomfort might actually make the activity more enjoyable in the long run.
Isn't that how it is in the Christian life as well? The race we have been given will most certainly be filled with extreme conditions: suffering, persecution, war with indwelling sin, sorrow, joy, pain, happiness, love, death. But only those who finish the race will receive the eternal joy promised at the end (1 Cor. 9:24; 2 Tim. 4:7-8). The race requires endurance, patience, and a strength that is outside of ourselves. Yes, we are responsible to run this race, but we are also carried along in this race by the one who promised to complete the work began in us (Phil. 1:6). He has already completed the race for us and is waiting at the finish line (Heb. 12:1-2).
What I never understood about endurance, I now see more clearly. For this habitual quitter, running is exactly what I needed to help me with discipline and learning patience. I like quick results and fast answers. That doesn't come in running and it doesn't come in the Christian life either. It's a slow race. It's a hard race. But I will finish it one day, because he who promises is faithful.