It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
You probably would have heard believers say this about our Christian faith. But do we truly know what that means?
Indeed, this was one of the questions that came to mind when I was running a half marathon recently.
I had never run any marathons or long races prior to this half marathon, nor had I been very interested in such races. I signed up for this half-marathon simply because a close friend asked me to join him.
As I ran the half marathon, however, I soon realised it was very different from any other run I had ever done. It felt ridiculously long and never-ending!
Perhaps something similar can be said about our journey through life and walk with God; many of us probably still have decades to go before we reach our last breath.
In such a case, how do we run our race well and make sure that we finish the race? I wanted to answer that question, so here are five reflections:
It would be dumb if I had taken part in the half marathon without any training.
I simply wouldn’t be able to finish the race: I wouldn’t know what’s a good pace to keep to, how much I could push myself and when I should take a break.
But do we see the journey of our faith in the same manner?
“Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25)
While preparing for a marathon includes knowing our limits, pushing them and strengthening our stamina, “training” in this race of faith can look like knowing our pitfalls, looking into potential blind spots and growing ourselves in godliness (1 Timothy 4:8).
For instance, do you know what are some potential pitfalls in your walk with God? What are you doing to address them?
Some of these weaknesses may seem like they are not detrimental or that pressing.
But if we really want to stay on course and finish the race, we need to get rid of any stumbling block that could potentially disqualify us.
It is important that we build strongly our foundation and character now, so that they may serve us well as we continue to follow God for the rest of our life.
A few weeks prior to the half marathon, I received an email from the organiser regarding the locations of the hydration points.
At the time, I didn’t understand how necessary pitstops were. And so, I didn’t pay much attention to them.
It was only until I was running in the race itself that I realised the purpose of those hydration points.
They were intentionally planned and placed at strategic locations so that the runners could have a quick rest and rehydrate themselves. They help to ensure that the runners do not overexert themselves.
In our long walk of faith, it is crucial that we have pitstops where we can pause, take stock of our journey and recalibrate before we go again.
These breaks are necessary in our journey because they prevent us from running ceaselessly and ending up in a burnout.
If we are not intentional in making time and protecting our rest, we can start to treat this race like a sprint.
We join all the ministries and take up every available responsibility… yet fail to rest and set any boundaries. And sooner or later, we find ourselves feeling tired and burnt out. And then we will find it extremely hard to recover and get back to the race.
When was the last time that you honoured the Sabbath or had a “pitstop” for yourself? Are you having sufficient physical, mental and spiritual rest in your life? We must be intentional about getting that and resting in the Lord.
A marathon is always more enjoyable when you get to run with your friends. They encourage you when you start to slow down, they cheer you on when the race feels too long, and they chat with you and accompany you when the long journey gets boring.
During the marathon, I got to run with different people at different points. Some had small conversations with me, some allowed me to run beside them and follow their pace, while some gave me encouragement when I felt tempted to stop and give up.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
The Bible warns us about the risk of running this race alone and also speaks about the beauty of having people who can run alongside us.
When it comes to our life and faith, this means that we need to move beyond convenient friendships, and invest in creating long-term biblical friendships that will spur us on for the rest of the race.
Do you have friends who can run this race with you? Do you have friends in your life who can help you up when you fall down? And are you someone who does these things for your friends?
It is never too late to start investing time and effort into growing such friendships!
In any race or journey, it is also important that we enjoy the process and not miss out on the scenery along the way.
When my half marathon first started, I was entirely focused on my pace and breathing. My mind was only thinking about how I could finish the 21.1km.
But as the sun began to rise, I suddenly thought to myself, “Have I been so caught up with the race that I forgot to enjoy the journey?”
What is one thing that you can give thanks for in your journey thus far?
If all our attention is on running and finishing the race, we can start to feel bored, tired and frustrated at some point.
But if we would take some time to enjoy the process – the relationships that God has blessed us with along the way; the opportunities and providence we’ve received; the lessons that God has brought us through — we can begin to appreciate the journey and find renewed motivation for the race ahead.
What is one thing that you can give thanks for in your journey thus far?
At around the 10km mark, I realised that I was starting to get blisters on the back of my foot.
The more I continued to run, the more painful they got. I eventually stopped and took a look at the blisters, which was when I realised that they had already started bleeding.
I had always run in this pair of shoes, and I had no clue that they could cause blisters.
But at that point, I couldn’t do anything about them. I did not have any plasters or tissues with me, and needless to say, I did not have another pair of shoes to change into.
The thought of dropping out came to my mind. But then I thought to myself that I had paid for the marathon, and I was already halfway done. I simply had to continue running!
To my surprise, the blisters started hurting less and less. Soon, they no longer bothered me — the adrenaline had probably kicked in.
Sometimes in our journey, there are pains and struggles that may distract us and cause us to want to drop out of the race.
But if we fix our eyes on the Prize, we can endure pain and make it to the end. Nothing can stop us from persevering till the end of the race.
“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1b-3)
When you feel tempted to give in to your pain and admit defeat, remember that Jesus is closer to you than ever.
Fix your eyes on Him, rely on Him and remember what He has done for you, so that you will find the strength to endure and persevere till you see Him face to face.
A little more running advice from my friend, Rev Stanley Ow
At the end of the day, despite how much I had trained or strategised, finishing the marathon was far from easy.
I was struggling as I ran out of strength and had lost track of my friends in the last few kilometres.
It really is the same picture for our journey as Christ’s followers – it is not without hardships and struggles.
Yet, when I asked what kept him in the faith for close to 60 years, Rev Stanley Ow shared that it is often through the trials and tests in life that his faith is stretched, strengthened and solidified.
“Because it is in these moments that I see how His grace is really sufficient. And it is true that when I’m weak, then I’m strong,” he added.
There were so many moments during the race when I grumbled and regretted. I even jokingly told my friend that I hated him for getting me into this half marathon!
But when I finally crossed the finishing line, the joy and relief were indescribable. I almost wanted to cry.
Could you imagine how much greater that joy will be when we finish the race of our faith?
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
I pray that all of us will be able to say this at the end of our lives, so see you at the finish line.
- Think of your faith as a race. How’s your run coming along?
- What might God be saying to you through this article?