Admittedly, I don’t know much about running, but I remember listening to an online sermon in which an important distinction was made between runners and Runners. The preacher made that point that runners enjoy going out for a jog now and then, perhaps even a few days per week, but if the weather or an unexpected change of schedule keeps them from running, it’s not a big deal.
Runners, on the other hand, don’t take such a laidback approach. These athletes do not merely run, they train and they race. Each time they head out they have determined a precise course with specific mileage and a plan of action that will enable them to address and fine tune an aspect of their running. One training run might be devoted to endurance, another to increasing speed, while others may concentrate on negative splits, hydration, fueling, stride cadence, even recovery. Runners do not run aimlessly; he or she runs intentionally, with purpose and with a goal in view.
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, the Apostle Paul talks about running aimlessly, and, he exhorts us: don’t do it!
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….
Paul is telling Christians, “This isn’t a just-for-the-fun-of-it run; this is a serious race. Be a Runner – run to win!” He further emphasizes his point in his letter to the Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. . . ~ Hebrews 12:1
Clearly, we are in a race, and Paul says what is set before us is our own individual endeavor. We do not compete against other Christians. Rather, God has given to each one of us a specific race – a unique course and distance – that we are to complete. Even though this race is our own, Paul tells us to look to those saints who have already finished and learn from their example, both good and bad. In so doing, we can determine how to not run aimlessly the race God has put before us.
In a modern example of literally running aimlessly, Runners were extremely frustrated with the Chicago Lakeshore Marathon. Unlike the world-famous Chicago Marathon, the Lakeshore Marathon had a brief lifespan of just four years. Though the event was popular, the organizers struggled to attract sponsors and race day volunteers. Participants complained about nonexistent mile markers, depleted and deserted water and aid stations, and a poorly marked race path that caused some half marathon runners to miss the turnaround point and run aimlessly until they encountered other runners who helped them get back on course.
Many competitors were given medals for the wrong distance and more than a few runners never even received their prize. But the cruelest blow occurred in 2005, the final year of the event, when every marathon finisher ran 27.2 miles, not 26.2. The course planner made a critical error and the marathon course was a mile too long. Runners, who had spent months training for the marathon distance, physically and mentally ran out of steam as they struggled to cover the unexpected extra mile.
Every Christian who submits to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is on a race course. But unlike the 2005 Lakeshore Marathon, this race course is clearly marked with boundaries and guideposts that will keep us on the right path – if we diligently look for them. On the course that God has set before us, He provides the support, encouragement, and strength we need to run, persevere, and endure until the finish – if we continue to seek Him. And finally, at the end of the race, when we cross the finish line, there awaits a lasting and priceless prize for each Christian – if we will hold fast to our goal and stay the course.
Paul goes into great detail about both the race and the magnificent prize in Philippians 3:8-13. In this passage, Paul tells us that the reason he diligently runs the Christian race is for the “excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…” Anything beyond that is “rubbish.” He is determined to “gain Christ and be found in Him” and to keep running toward “the goal for the prize is the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s focus – and what he wants us to focus on as well – is knowing Jesus and enjoying eternal life with Him.
While the Philippians passage gives us Paul’s motivation for running, we need to return to the passages from 1 Corinthians 9 and Hebrew 12 to recall his how-to: his exhortation to not run aimlessly, but to run to win. To that end, Paul encourages us to stay in the race, to exercise self-control and not wander off course. Not running aimlessly means not becoming distracted by worldly pursuits or seductive lies and amusements. Resist these temptations! Do not head down their dark and dangerous trails where thistles and thorns reach out to wound or ensnare.
Thankfully, we have the Word of God which not only identifies the boundaries, but also illuminates the path we should take:
Your Word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. ~ Psalm 119:105
At times it might seem the race we are running is all about us and solely for our benefit. But Jesus corrects that wrong thinking, much as He silenced the Pharisees when he summed up the entirety of Old Testament law and prophecy in the first and second great commandments:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ~ Matthew 22:27, 29
These lofty requirements – the habits, traits, virtues, and focus needed to stay on course – do not come naturally to us. In fact, they are impossible to develop without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But if God is working in our lives to produce and nurture these fruits of the Spirit, we cannot help but grow our love toward Him and others. This is the motivating factor for the staff and board of directors at IFI. We want to run this race as intentionally and purposefully as we are able.
Hear again Paul’s exhortation – “do not run aimlessly…” – and consider these questions:
- Are you a runner, content with running aimlessly, jogging along when it suits you?
- Or are you a Runner, a physical and spiritual athlete, committed to racing to win?
The race that Christians are called to run is contested on a clearly-marked course with many well-stocked and aid stations (staffed by the Holy Spirit) and a definite finish line. It also rewards an amazing prize, one which our finite minds cannot fully grasp, yet, we long for it.
We must not run aimlessly, but instead race with perseverance and endurance, impelled by the overwhelming desire to “gain Christ and be found in Him.” Pursuing the goal of the unimaginably glorious prize set before us – keeping our eyes on Jesus – may we run with purpose and race to win!
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