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Run to Win!

Eight months ago, I ran the Akron Marathon in just over 4 ½ hours. That’s not record pace by anyone’s standards (I would need to shave off over an hour to qualify for Boston), but I finished!

Running down King James Way, heading into Canal Park Stadium, crossing that finish line and receiving a medal around my neck was quite an experience. I’m not embarrassed to say that it was a bit emotional. That race was more than just making my way through the 26.2 miles through the streets of Akron. It was the culmination of 9 months of training.

See, crossing that finish line was only possible because of the over 1200 miles I’d run throughout the year leading up to race day. Some of those miles were over ice and snow. Some were in wind and rain. Some of the hardest were on the treadmill in my basement! I went through 5 pairs of running shoes in those 9 months. Sometimes those runs finished with euphoric feelings of a faster pace or a personal best… Other runs ended hunched over the toilet bowl, feeling the agony of defeat and wondering if all of this was worth it. Finishing that marathon wasn’t just about that final moment, but the marathon journey leading up to that final moment.

I’ve had a few months to reflect on that experience. As I do, I’m struck with the concept of training. I never could have finished that race without putting in the miles, usually over 30 per week. And I never would have known how to train without using a plan others had prepared before me. It took discipline and sacrifice, day in and day out. On this side of the race, I know it was worth it. In the middle of the training, and at about mile 22 of the race, I wasn’t so sure.

The Bible uses running imagery several times to describe our spiritual lives. Back in those days, track and field was about all there was for sports. There were no medals, just wreaths made out of branches that would wither in a couple days. And everyone didn’t get a wreath – just the first few finishers.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul likens his spiritual life to running a race. He specifically zeroes in on the disciplined training that is involved…

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NLT) “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step… I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”

Run to win!

In thinking about my running, I think there are a couple things that keep me going. The first is to visualize the prize. When I first started running to get back into shape, it was pretty hit and miss. I’d run some days, and others I’d let it slide. Then one day Rebecca suggested that I sign up for a race. I looked at the calendar, registered for a 5K a few months down the road, and I was off! I can count on 1 hand in the last 6 years how many scheduled runs I’ve missed as part of training regimens, and half of those were because I was sick! I’m sure this says something about my retentive nature, but something switched in my head and, if I am visualizing the prize, the win, the finish line, I’m going to do the training.

Another thing that comes with that visualization is to make training a priority. That takes some effort and attention, creative use of time and scheduling ahead. I map out a whole training regimen and get it on the calendar. Then I make adjustments based on previous commitments. I’m also in communication with Rebecca and our family calendar, making sure it all fits. Because it’s a priority, I take the time to make the time for it.

So, if I’m bringing the analogy over to our spiritual lives, what does it mean to visualize the prize? You might say that our prize, spiritually, is heaven, and you’re not wrong. But I’d say the prize is even more than that. Our goal, spiritually, is a close, vibrant relationship with God! It’s abundant life, not only in heaven, but even now! So if I can visualize and even experience that abundant life, I’ll do what it takes to keep that relationship close – spiritual training.

And because of our desire for that relationship, we’ll make it a priority. Take the time to make the time in your life for investing in your relationship with God. We call them spiritual disciplines for a reason – they take effort! Prayer, reading and studying Scripture, worship, fasting, solitude, meditation and other disciplines all take intentionality…but you won’t experience abundant life without them. Schedule it. Map it out. Make it a priority. Run to win!

Right now I’m a month into a new season of training as I tackle the “Akron Marathon Race Series” this summer, including an 8K, a half marathon, and the full marathon in the fall. I have days when I’m excited about that. I have others days when I wonder why I registered. It’s going to be a challenge. But anything worthwhile is.

And maintaining your relationship with God can be a challenge too. So many things fight against it. So visualize the prize, make it priority, and run to win!

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