I have a problem listening to preachers who talk about “running the race”. Inevitably, when I hear a sermon preached out of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, or perhaps Hebrews 12:1, they insert this phraseology of how our faith is a “marathon not a sprint”. I completely disagree with this statement. Let’s talk about why!
The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio are all but over. Everyone is buzzing about their favorite event to watch and who won what. I sadly missed one of my favorite events. No, not table tennis. I really like watching the track & field running events. Whether it’s the 100 m or the 10,000 m, I marvel at the dedication and perseverance of these athletes to achieve their Olympic level of speed and endurance. Not an ounce of body fat in sight, looks on their faces of iron grit; It’s incredible how far these athletes can push their bodies! However, the most exciting of these events is always the 100 m. Seeing insane Usain Bolt bolt at a top speed of 29.55 mph (Wikipedia) is just amazing to watch. Of course, in the animal kingdom, 29.55 mph is laughable. The African elephant’s top speed is just a little slower at 25 mph… wow. My point is, the most exciting version of running is the sprint, simply because it’s the fastest.
My first half-marathon… ok, my only half marathon, was definitely a learning experience. Having near zero athletic abilities or tendencies, this run was definitely one of my greatest feats (no pun intended). I bought the right shoes, ate better foods, had a training schedule, running partners, so on and so forth. Training for long distance runs is no walk in the park… though it is a lot of jogging in the park. In fact, to adequately train for longer distances I had to force myself to run slower than I was comfortable to make sure I’d conserve enough energy to “go the extra mile”. This is usually what preachers are trying to indicate in their sermons. Longevity in your Christian walk is of utmost importance. That we as humans need to recognize our limits and prevent ourselves from experiencing burn out in our faith. We need to run conservatively.
As a youngish minister, I can certainly appreciate the undeniable importance of protecting yourself from burn out. I’ve witnessed one too many fellow youth ministers who jump into a new ministry with great energy and enthusiasm who end up with a short tenure at their congregation, or even in their ministry career because they didn’t take the time to reserve some of that energy for themselves. I’m not trying to paint with broad strokes here, some youth ministers end up in unhealthy congregations or are unhealthy themselves to begin with. There are many factors and variables. The fact remains, however, that high energy and enthusiasm are sometimes stereotyped as “short-lived”. I think the truth is that any energy and enthusiasm used unwisely or without council is doomed to have a short lifespan. Still, we are familiar with these sayings that support this stereotype. For instance, “The flame that burns Twice as bright burns half as long.” How then are we to read Matthew 5:16? Should our light not shine quite as bright because we want it to last longer?
Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Here’s the crux of my beef with the idea of our spiritual “walk” being a marathon and not a sprint. The metaphor of physical running when compared to our spiritual walk breaks down with the term “physical”. In our present reality, we are partially but definitively physical beings. However, our faith hardly resides in that fact. Isaiah 40:31 speaks of those who wait on the Lord, put their hope in Him and commune with Him as defying our physical boundaries (metaphorically) in that we will run and not grow weary, we will walk and not grow faint. Our strength will be continually renewed. We tend to steer away from comparing our faith to a sprint because we know that our sprints end… In my case they end rather quickly and unceremoniously. But the point of Isaiah 40:31 is that when we truly know the Lord we are able to do more than what was possible before we knew Him. Philippians 4:13 isn’t saying we can bench press 1,000 lbs or run 100 mph, it’s saying we are infinitely more in Christ than we could ever be without Christ.
Below are two of my favorite verses in Scripture that I believe both pertain to what I’m trying to say.
Romans 12:11 “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
2 Timothy 1:7 “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
Both of these verses are indicators to me of the radical nature of our faith in Christ. We weren’t meant to put our toes in the waters of faith and slowly make our way into the pool. I think a realization of who Christ is and the decision to follow Him is much more akin to a cannonball! *Disclaimer: Alan Middleton is not advocating for cannonball baptisms.* Radical love and grace should inspire a radical discipleship.
What it comes down to for me is this, my sprint is faster than my jog. It requires more effort, it requires more energy, but there is no need to conserve energy when I serve the one who renews my energy everyday. I’m not condemning preachers who advocate we focus on the finish line or wisely make preparations for longevity in our walk with Christ. We should think of ourselves as lifelong Christians, however long this life is. I am saying that we can’t boast about tomorrow because we aren’t promised tomorrow. Do not hold back in your faith. Give Jesus 100% in this moment. Chances are you’ve already heard the starting pistol, your eyes have risen to see He who is risen. Now is the time to sprint!