Confession: ten years ago I was a couch potato. I enjoyed occasional activity, but for the most part after a long day at the office, I preferred to lay around and veg. I remember prior to getting married, Candace was concerned that it was like pulling teeth to get me to take a walk with her!
Then I got one of the greatest gifts I have ever received: my father called me and asked me to run a race with him. There was going to be a 10K race (6.4 miles) in my home town, and my dad wanted to run it with his kids. He got two bites: my wife Candace and me. Training was hard, but as I pressed in, endurance began to grow. More and more, I was actually enjoying running.
On race day, we were up early preparing, stretching, not sure what to expect. The race was challenging for a beginner, running a section of the course uphill against a North Dakota wind, but I pushed through. Even though both my dad and Candace beat me to the finish line, finishing the race was one of the most life-changing moments of my life. I was now a runner—a slower runner, but a runner nonetheless. Training for the next year began almost immediately.
It was then that running became not just physical but profoundly spiritual for me. My father asked me to run a race in the natural; my Heavenly Father has asked me to run the race of faith. Both require training, endurance and pushing through when the going gets tough.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. —Hebrews 12:1-2a
Since my first race, I have mined some precious spiritual realities from running:
I encounter God when I run. He speaks to me. Often times I will see Jesus running along side of me, encouraging me on. I have found that Jesus is the ultimate trainer. For me, it is a great illustration: at those moments when running feels hard or I want to quit, I draw strength from seeing Jesus running with me.
What’s true for the body is often true for the soul. When my spiritual life becomes difficult, I must do as the writer of Hebrews counsels us and “look unto Jesus.” He is not passive in His dealings with us. He is with us, always working toward His goal of finishing the good work He began in us.
I remember one year on race day as I looked at the sky, there were rain clouds on the horizon heading our way. I was concerned that we were going to get rained out. Then the strangest thing happened. The clouds seemed to remain in place except for one lone thunderhead extending from the bank of the clouds. The race began. As I came around the corner, I was running straight for this lone thunderhead extending towards me. I looked up at the thunderhead, and as I did, two loud peals of thunder burst from the clouds. Then the clouds retreated and the sky was as clear as a bell. Revelation 4:5 says, From His throne proceed lightnings, thunderings, and voices (NKJV). I knew the Father was with me cheering me on!
I break through when I run. I have found running to be my biggest asset in the natural in spiritual warfare.
When under attack from the enemy, our fleshly inclination is passivity. The enemy wants us to feel intimidated and weak in his presence. Many times, we let oppression hang around instead of standing in our authority and fighting.
Running is my way of breaking out of said passivity. I need to get into my body and get aggressive. There is something about doing this in the natural that helps me connect with the deeper spiritual reality. In the body, I am running and praying warfare prayers; in the spirit I am warring against powers and principalities. I echo King David’s words in Psalm 18:29, For by You I can run against a troop, by my God I can leap over a wall.
I long for the finish line when I run. I have continued to run the race with my dad every year since. In fact, it has become a family event every July. My favorite part of the race is just before I get to the finish line. As I come around the corner, my children and all of my nieces and nephews are waiting to run with me the last several hundred feet. Everyone is cheering! It is a moment of great joy.
I like to imagine a similar scene before I cross the ultimate finish line. The great cloud of witnesses is there cheering me on, some ready to run with me the last bit of distance. Those who have gone before me are waiting with great joy. At the finish line my Prize is waiting—the most joyful of them all—JESUS, my eternal reward. Therefore, I heed the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it (1 Corinthians 9:24).
I have an earthly father; I have a Heavenly Father. Both have invited me to run a race. To both I have said, “Yes!” with all my heart. I am eternally grateful to both for the invitation—to my dad for giving me the gift of health and the greatest asset to my spiritual walk, and to my God for giving me the gift of faith and the opportunity to practice my faith on this race toward the eternal finish line. Now that I am a father myself, I will be inviting my children in the same manner as I have been invited. Just like my earthly father and my Heavenly Father, I want to run this race with my kids.
In running in the natural and in the spiritual, I find great joy. Yeah, it’s not always easy. But I have much to be thankful for—starting with two legs that can run!