I did a quick bit of research and found that, at least four times, Paul compares our Spiritual growth and journey to running the race. Check out the verses below:
Acts 20:24 says, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
Philippians 3:12-14 says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.“
2 Timothy 4:7 says “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
As you may remember from a previous post, I started running again after a six-year hiatus. As I’ve moved my feet down the word, I’ve spent time thinking of Paul’s words and the many similarities between physical running and spiritual running. So today I’m going to share five tips for growing in the greatest race of all.
Discipline Leads to Desire
When I started running last year, it seemed like every single moment of every second I ran was a mental battle. My internal voice kept saying, “why are you doing this? This is terrible! WHY!!?!?!” I needed peppy music to drown this voice out, I looked for excuses to skip my run, and I would often cut them short.
Now, however, I look forward to runs. I look for excuses to get out of the house and get the exercise, and I even sometimes decide to add a few minutes to the end of a run.
Although initially running required discipline, the more I did it, the more my body and mind began to appreciate the experience and health benefits. Discipline led to desire, and now I get disappointed when I can’t actually run.
In the same way, many people struggle to spend time in the Word or in Prayer. There is a reason Paul says “I discipline my body and keep it under control.” Time with God and Spiritual growth can be a challenge. It can feel tedious at times and seem much less fun than watching Netflix. And yet, the more we choose to spend time with God, the more we find ourselves wanting to spend time with him.
The initial discipline of dwelling in His presence leads to desire for Him. We begin to appreciate the experience and benefits more and more each day, and so we plan and actively seek for time with God.
Running Towards Something Good is Better than Running Away from Something Bad
One of the main reasons I started running again was weight loss. My thirties brought on a fresh 20 pounds of weight and I wanted to curb that growth before I had to buy another round of new clothes.
I’ve been to nutrition courses where they say weight loss/management is 70% nutrition, 20% physical activity, and 10% mental. I’m not sure I really believe these percentages (they were taught by nutrition people selling nutrition products), but there does seem to be consensus that eating healthy is definitely more important than physical exercise.
But here’s the problem: I really like cheeseburgers, and queso, and ice cream, and pizza, and everything else that doesn’t help with weight. Turning those things off would have approached impossible.
So instead I started to run. I figured if I ran enough I’d eventually burn the calories brought on by my eating habits. What I did not expect was this: The more I run, the healthier I actually want to eat.
I went traveling for work and met with some customers for breakfast at Waffle House (naturally I had the All Star Special), then I went to lunch at the Catfish Inn (all-you-can-eat fried catfish buffet), and for dinner I had some Auntie Anne’s pretzel dogs. The next day I went running and it was TERRIBLE. I can’t remember the last time I felt so bad.
Since I want to become a better runner, I want to eat better. I have a good excuse to turn things down (or at least eat them in much smaller portions) because I have a more appetizing alternative.
The same is true with our spiritual pursuit of God. If we focus on not sinning (or not eating unhealthy foods) it can be tough to grow spiritually and give up bad things. If we reject one sin, we know that there are countless other opportunities around the corner.
On the flipside, when we simply choose to run towards God, sin becomes much less appetizing. As Paul said, “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Notice how he focussed on one thing? Stop worrying about your sin and your past – forget about it! Instead, run towards God and you will naturally want to stop sinning. As you keep your focus on Him and He works in your heart, sin will become much less appetizing.
Consistency is Key
I mentioned my desire to lose weight. It took awhile, but so far I’ve lost 12 of the 20 pounds I gained over the last couple years. I really didn’t see any difference until I got consistent. I went from running one or two times per week to about four times a week and things really started to change.
The same is true with our spiritual race – we need consistency when we pursue God. Spending time with him shouldn’t be something we do once or twice a week at church or a weekly Bible study – it is something we need everyday.
If you want to see Spiritual growth, if you want to know God more, and if you want to produce the fruit of the Spirit then consistency is key. The daily act of seeking out God will cause you to change in great ways.
I think it’s important to remember here that something is better than nothing. There are days where I absolutely do not feel like running, but I know that a 15-20 minute slow jog is going to be much better for me than nothing. Sometimes I find that, when I go out, I quickly get over my sluggishness and run faster and longer than I had ever planned. Other days, it’s a struggle the whole way through – but I’m always glad I did it.
Again, the same is true spiritually. The short Psalm reading and prayer is better than nothing, and can sometimes lead to a richer and deeper time with God than you expect. Other times it may feel like a struggle, but when consistency is key you will be glad you spent time with God.
Accountability and Teamwork
I wrote about this in the post I already mentioned on the half-marathon so I’ll keep it short here. When running gets hard, it always helps to have someone come alongside you and encourage you. Someone who pushes you to do your best and keep going, even when you’re ready to quit.
We need people in our lives like this with our relationship with God. Christianity is about a personal relationship with God, but it isn’t meant to be solitary either. We need encouragement and accountability from others, we need people who push us towards God, even when we don’t want to.
Training is Never Over
I remember, several years ago, going on my first run in a long time. I decided to do about 3 miles. In High School I could run a 6 minute mile (which was not competitive on a high school track team). I knew I would be a bit slower from age and because of the longer distance, but I figured 24 minutes should be pretty easy (8 minutes is way slower than 6 minutes, right?)
Turns out, I needed more than 30 minutes to run the three miles and I almost passed out at the end. I was out of shape.
Running is simply not the kind of thing you can do for so long and then achieve perfection for the rest of your life. If you want to grow as a runner, even if you simply want to maintain, then you will need to do constant training. This need never goes away.
Paul explained a similar thing in our spiritual walk, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” We won’t achieve perfection in this life, but we should always be training. We should press on in our pursuit of God, looking forward to the day when we truly finish the race in His Kingdom.
As we get older, it may become tempting to think, “I’ve read the Bible, I’ve heard hundreds of sermons, I’ve done plenty of Bible studies, and I’ve got all this stuff figured out.” The truth is, there is far more to God than we could ever know in this lifetime.
Regardless of the number of years you’ve known God, we always need to seek him. If we don’t, not only do we stop growing, but we will produce less fruit and become more tempted by sin. And so we must remember, no matter how old or young we are, to press on and seek after God all the days of our life.
If you do that, then at the end of your life you’ll be able to identify with Paul and say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”