I’ve raced in a couple marathons, several halves and more 5Ks than I can count. I guess you could say running is in my blood. It’s part of my DNA.
I like running because it clears my mind and affords me time to pray, reflect, or just zone out. I also enjoy running because every day of training presents a new challenge. Each mile and each hill offer a new battle to overcome.
Some will argue that distance running is easy. These people have never run significant distance before. They will also try to convince you that soccer players and swimmers are not true athletes.
Distance running is not easy. In part, that’s what draws me to it.
You see, there comes a time in every race when I question my commitment to running. Questions begin to creep in like, “Why are you doing this to yourself? Is this actually worth it? Why do you spend so much time and energy training so hard?”
Usually these questions surface toward the end of the run, around mile 11 or 12 in a half marathon, and they often arise after running up a series of hills.
These questions are then followed by the temptation to quit. It’s the Enemy’s voice whispering in my ear. The Enemy does his best to slow me down and ultimately break me, both physically and mentally.
When this happens, I have a choice: Do I keep fighting, or allow the course to beat me? I continue to ponder while my legs take a pounding.
Then the prayer: “Lord, I need you. I’m weak. I can’t finish this race on my own. Help me to persevere.”
Maybe distance running can teach us something about faith, and about our call to persevere in ministry.
After all, some weeks it feels like following Jesus is like running uphill with no end in sight. Some days you will get discouraged and you’ll want to quit.
One Sunday morning a while back I picked up three high school students for church. These guys were not your typical “church kids.” They were usually disrespectful and always acted like they didn’t want to be there. But the funny thing was they actually did want to be there.
After the service, we headed to the Fellowship Hall for a potluck. There they sat at the corner table, throwing cherries at others in the congregation who were trying to enjoy a nice lunch. So I scolded them again. And the cycle continued.
The Enemy’s voice began to creep in. Then it got louder. “What have you created? You aren’t making any difference. There is no hope for these students. You might as well give up on them.”
I began questioning everything – my love for student ministry, my methods, my calling – all of it. I got so angry with them I genuinely wanted to quit.
Then I thought back to one of my races. I remembered how I felt at mile 12. I remembered wanting to give up. But I didn’t give up because the Lord sustained me.
More prayers: “Lord, change my heart toward these students. I want to be the one person in their life who doesn’t give up on them. Give me the strength.”
Our call as ministers of Jesus is a call to persevere. It’s a commitment to pursue cherry throwers and love them unconditionally, no matter what. Because that’s what Christ does for us. That’s the beauty of grace.
After all, I was once a cherry thrower too.