This past weekend was the Mankato Marathon. Around 4000 runners participated in the various races offered. Having run the Mankato Half Marathon last year, I know what those runners were experiencing. Before the race began they experienced a mixture of excitement, nervousness and apprehension. Their desire to run was strong, but there was also a few nagging doubts about how well they would perform. Once the gun went off, all of those emotions were replaced by a rush of adrenaline. For the first couple of miles they were pulled along by the surge of the crowd and the excitement that they were on their way. About half way through the race excitement changed to determination to keep going and finish the race. The final several yards of the race were pure adrenaline again as they saw the finish line, heard the crowd cheering, and gave everything that they had left. Then came after the race.
Most of us do not prepare for after the race. We prepare for the race itself, but we are often surprised and sometimes overwhelmed by what happens after the race. After the euphoria of crossing the finish line and being congratulated, comes the letdown. I have experienced it after every race that I have run. Sometimes it is the letdown of, I could have done better. Often it is the letdown of, it’s over. I planned, training, dreamed about the race for months, then in a matter of hours it is over. There is an incredible letdown that occurs after the race.
We experience this same letdown spiritually after some planned event or profound experience. The excitement going into the experience just seems to evaporate. It is replaced by either second guessing or a wish for more. That is why runners are always signing up for the next race. I experienced this letdown on Sunday afternoon. I was already disappointed that I was unable to run in the half marathon. I had preached at our Saturday night runners’ service and then again at all three services on Sunday. But in addition, I had also led worship at the 8:30 and 11:00 services; something that I enjoy doing. I was excited about Sunday morning, but when I walked out the door at 12:15, I felt drained and a little down. It was a very similar feeling to what I felt going home after the race last year.
This emotional letdown “after the race” is a double edged sword. We are extremely vulnerable spiritually. Our emotional letdown can either lead us into discouragement or motivate us to get ready for the next race. Satan is going to do whatever he can to instill the seeds of discouragement. He is very good at exploiting our vulnerability. We need to be on our guard not to let him get the upper hand. Peter encourages us to be ready for Satan’s inevitable attack. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 1 Peter 5:8-9
God wants to use our emotional letdown to motivate us to prepare for the next race. The day after a race I have the overwhelming desire to go for a run. There is something inside of me that says, you have worked so hard to get to this point, don’t stop now. I start looking forward to the next race. That is the attitude that God wants us to have in the race of life. As we evaluate and reflect upon the spiritual event that we have just experienced, God wants to use that to motivate us to prepare for the next one. This is a critical moment for us, because it is too easy to give into the temptation to just coast for a while. Instead, God wants us to get right back into training for the next race that He has marked out for us. The writer to the Hebrews puts it far better than I ever could. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3
We need to remember that the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. We will not finish the race until we cross the line from here to eternity. Until that day, we need to run this race with joy, excitement, and perseverance, for the glory of God.