… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
As I was running the other day, I was feeling the effects of a long winter with no running. At one point I told myself, for me, running is not about speed, but about endurance. The goal is to persevere and not give up until I had finished my run. It got me thinking about the difference between sprinters and long-distance runners.
There is a major difference between sprinters and long-distance runners. Sprinters are all about speed. Long-distance runners are all about endurance. A sprinter will dominate a long-distance runner in a short run. But a long-distance runner will keep going long after a sprinter has run out of gas.
We live in a society obsessed with speed. We want everything fast. The faster the better. For example, a particular sub sandwich place advertises that their delivery is freaky fast. Amazon will ship your package overnight, or even within hours, if you live in the right place. We have been programmed to be impatient. We do not like to wait. In a similar way, the Church has become obsessed with speed. We have become impatient with this spiritual journey. Things need to change and quickly. We are challenged to become spiritual sprinters.
In my experience in ministry, I have encountered many spiritual sprinters. They are full of energy and nothing seems to hold them back. Early on they appear to be spiritual rising stars, yet many of them flame out before they really get going. They are all about moving forward as fast as possible, yet they rarely think about what is sustainable for the long haul. Many young Christians fall into this trap. Their enthusiasm for they faith propels them forward at breakneck speed. Then they run out of gas and wonder what happened. Enthusiasm and idealism are great, but they are not enough to keep you going for the long haul.
One of the lessons I have learned from running is how to pace myself. When I am preparing to run a half-marathon, I determine in advance what my target time is for the race. Then I determine what pace I will have to maintain to achieve my goal. If I start out too fast, I will not have enough strength to finish the race. If I start too slow, I will miss my target.
Just as it is in running, so it is in the Christian life. As exciting as it is to move forward at speed, appropriate pacing is the key to a successful Christian life. When I was in college, someone put it this way. God does not want us to burn out, or rust out. He wants us to hold out until the end. The key to a truly successful Christian life is godly endurance.
James talks about this in James 1:2-4. Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
On this journey of faith, we will face all kinds of challenges. These challenges will put our faith to the test. James tells us that God uses these trials to refine our faith and to produce perseverance. The only way to become mature and complete in our faith is to develop spiritual endurance.
Perseverance and endurance are not dragging our feet and going as slowly and cautiously as we can. They are moving forward in the face of challenges with an intentional, sustainable pace. A long-distance runner runs as fast as he or she can at a pace that can be sustained until the end of the race. So it is with our journey of faith. We keep pressing forward at a pace that we can sustain.
Just as there are different runners, with different abilities, who run at different paces, not all believers will keep up the same pace. Some will move faster and some with progress slower. But all truly mature believers will persevere. Peter includes perseverance as an essential component of living a productive Christian life.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)
In the world of track and field, the glory goes to the sprinters. The highest goal is to be crowned the fastest runner in the world. Yet the greatest test of a runner’s abilities is the marathon. In many ways, the Church today has put its focus on the spiritual sprinters. We shower them with glory and honor. We hold them up as the model that everyone should emulate. But long after the spiritual sprinters have run out of gas and have faded to the sidelines, those who have developed endurance continue to steadily move forward toward the goal. Their ministry may not be as flashy or as cutting edge as the sprinter, but over the long-haul, they will accomplish far more for the Kingdom of God. The greatest test of a believers faith is their ability to endure to the end of the race.
The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. If we want to live a life worthy of our calling in Christ, then we need to learn to pace ourselves for the long-haul. It is those who have developed patience, perseverance, and endurance who, when they cross the finish line, will hear those words, well done good and faithful servant.
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:10-12)