On Sunday, I ran in a race. I wasn’t in Sunday morning worship because I was finishing a 10 Miler race over at Disney World. I can assure you though that I was worshipping, especially when I crossed that finished line. I have been training for this race for about 6 months and I am happy to report that I finished it under my goal time of 2.5 hours.
As I have stated in other devotions, I wouldn’t call myself a “runner” or even an athlete, but I do like to set goals and stick to them. I have run in several longer distanced races over the years, and I have always enjoyed Disney races because of the experience. I signed up and paid for this race before I was pregnant but really, that new development in my personal life just spurred me on toward more choices to be healthy and strong. As I trained and practiced and prepared, it allowed me to have moments of digging deep into my own faith journey because when we look at the journey of faith like a race and not like an all-out sprint, we can see God’s faithfulness over time.
When the Apostle Paul was writing his letters of correspondence to the churches in the Ancient Near East, he used a lot of athletic metaphors to drive the point home. Take this example from Hebrews 12: 1-2; 7-11
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
7 Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? 8 If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. 9 Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. 11 Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
I love that the Apostle Paul calls us to run the race with perseverance, not perfection. Ultimately, we are to run the race of our faith by looking toward the one that is perfect and to keep going. When I was telling my children about the race I was getting ready to run this last weekend, Charlie asked me if I was going to win. You see, everything is a competition in his almost 4-year old mind right now. But I looked him in his eyes and told him that it wasn’t my hope to win, but it was my hope to finish.
We all have a race we are hoping to finish. Maybe you have been training for this race since you were baptized as a baby or Confirmed as a teenager. Maybe you have been training in this race since joining a ministry in college or maybe you came to faith later in life. Just like in running, you can work towards a relationship with Jesus at any point in life; God’s arms are always open. But along this race we call faith, there are hurtles and obstacles to work through. There will be winding paths of beauty and interest to keep you occupied and content and then there will be long stretches of path that seem to provide no end in sight. There will be others that run this race with us, but some will go faster and others slower. There will be hills and narrow pathways and moments when your knees hurt and you feel like you just can’t go on.
And so I ask, what helps you train and gives you endurance in moments like those? Yes, worshipping with a body of believers on Sundays can help give you endurance, of course and maybe a devotional life. But what else are you doing to fix your eyes on the pioneer and perfector of our faith? How are you leaning on the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before you to cheer you on and pave the way forward? For instance, are you meeting with believers that have a different way of reading Scripture or have been raised in a different tradition? Are you reading different theologians that push you to see another way of practicing your faith? Are you meeting with people young and old and listening to the way that God is at work in their lives? Are you lacing up your shoes every day and giving this race your best effort?
Remember, in the end it is about perseverance, not perfection. May God, through the work of others build you up strong and continue to lead you on.
Ready, Set, GO!