I don’t think Apostle Paul ever ran a road race but, since this is the guy who had been in prison, flogged, beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked (!!), adrift on the ocean, in danger from EVERYONE, gone without sleep, food, or water, and apparently endured a New England winter, I don’t think running a 5k would be any sweat for this guy. It’s like saying to the Tough Mudder/Ironman dude to go walk to the store. No sweat. I got this.
What Paul writes about races in the Bible are certainly meant to be allegorical. This Christian life is like a race. But what if Paul’s advice could actually be applied to running a legit 5k? I did just that when I ran my 5k last weekend. It’s like a God-breathed training manual. Here’s what I found:
“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.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24
So first, NO WAY was I going to run to get first place, my GOODNESS! Nope. No laurel wreath for this gal. But the BAA was going to give me a finisher’s medal and a t-shirt at the end, and that’s good enough. Actually, that medal served as a push for me and my friends to finish. (GIMME THAT MEDAL.) But that was just it: Focus on what you’ll achieve at the finish line – whether it be a medal, the sense of completion of a project, excitement in finding more strength in yourself than you thought – and press after 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.” – 1 Corinthians 9:25-27
This is great practical advice. Preparing for the 5k involved actually devising and working a plan to prep for it: I couldn’t eat whatever I wanted (I tried!), and I had to go do #lunchgym everyday to get up my endurance. And when it came to the race, I wasn’t running aimlessly. I had visualized the course in my head, and knew I wanted to run the first mile at a 1-3 breath-footfall pace, the second mile at a 1-2 pace, and the third mile whatever. I also knew that I wanted to run the entire thing, but I gave myself permission to walk through the water stations (which I didn’t really do). I also trained to hit a sub-40:00 5k, which I blew out of the water (34:38 OMG). So yeah, make a plan, work the plan, set your goals, run the race according to that plan, don’t deviate, and you’ll kill it. And then AFTER the 5k let your body loose and go have some ice cream! (And Eggs Benedict, and pancakes, and burger and fries, and tiramisu, and…)
“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.” – Philippians 3:13-14
Does Paul say, “Guys, you need to run this race to beat the people around you”? Does he say, “Focus on the pace of that skinny gal in front of you barely breaking a sweat,” or does he say, “Make sure you pass the walkers,” or does he say, “Be really self-conscious about what the other runners of thinking of your running, and don’t do anything to make them laugh at you”? No. He doesn’t. He actually doesn’t talk about comparing ourselves to other runners at all. Like in our Christian walk, we’re not to compare ourselves to anyone, but to run our own race. That’s a huge vulnerability with us runners, especially with us gal runners: We’re desperately concerned with what others think of us. We’re running the race for them instead of for ourselves. We’re so consumed with what they think of us that we cower from completing our own training (yup, I’ve been next to the skinny gal at the gym, and got so despairing and depressed I slammed off the treadmill and walked out). We need to run our race, set our goal, focus on our prize, and do it for our betterment alone. (There is one provision for others during race time. We’ll get to that in a second.)
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” – 2 Timothy 4:7-9
Finish the race. Who cares if you’re last. Who cares if you’re crawling over that finish line. Finish the race. But even though it is our race alone to run, we also must encourage those around us like Paul is doing here for Timothy, spurring them on towards the goal, helping them finish, and helping them finish well. Run your race. Finish your race. And help others do the same, like these four did: