This post comes from Philip Jackson, a colleague and friend of mine from Macedonia. Phil serves as the field leader and church planting team leader in the city of Skopje. Phil also runs marathons, and his enthusiasm for running has inspired me to keep running, maybe not to run marathons but at least to keep physically fit. Phil’s love for God and transparency in his walk with the Lord has encouraged me many times in my pursuit of godliness.
I recently took some time to write down the lessons that God has been teaching and re-teaching me through running and particularly through running marathons.
John Ortberg in his book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, talks about “training versus trying” when it comes to spiritual disciplines. He uses the concept of running a marathon to illustrate the fact that you simply can’t just go out and run one by trying (without risking serious injury.) As Ortberg suggests, imagine the Olympic Committee coming to your door to tell you that you’ve been selected to represent your country by running the marathon in the next Olympic games. After careful research, they have determined that you have exactly what it takes to be the next BEST marathoner in the world. So you gladly accept! The next morning, however, you wake up, and it hits you that you couldn’t run a marathon if you tried. And that’s just the point.
Life is a marathon…and “trying” to prepare for and run a race that long just doesn’t work. There is a significant difference between getting up a few mornings a week to go jogging…and actually creating a training plan and following it in preparation for running 26.2 miles. Growing in Christ is much like training for a marathon, and the change of mindset and habits required to run it well is crucial.
After running a marathon in September, the Lord graciously allowed me to get sick for several weeks. During that time He reminded me that while I had trained hard for the marathon, I had reverted back to “trying” in my spiritual life. Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, said to his son in the faith, “…train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Tim 4:7-8) It is safe to infer, because of Paul’s understanding and use of race terminology, that he is comparing life to a challenging race when he makes the comparison between “godliness training” and “physical training.” In other words, to Paul, growing in Christ is serious stuff…it’s not a walk in the park, not even a jog…I would go so far as to say…it’s a marathon…so don’t just try! Train!May God bless your training plans for spiritual growth in 2013.