“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me…” Acts 20:24 NIV
I’m not a competitive person, at least not in the sense that most people look at competition. I’m not an athlete. I don’t climb the corporate ladder or measure my success based on someone else’s failure. And yet, there is something inside me that often refuses to check the box that says “satisfied” and thus be content to remain where I am. As I move through life, it seems that there is always something more just ahead and I feel compelled to go after it. I wonder why that is
I know I said I was not an athlete, but for a few brief years in my late thirties/early forties, I entered into the realm of the novice runner. It was never my intention to run; however, after chiding my 9th grade son when he complained about the difficulty of running a mile, I inadvertently set myself up to run.
“It is just a mile and you are only 14. How difficult can it be?”
“I don’t know Mom, can you run a mile?”
Good question. Could I run a mile? Now I was compelled to find the answer – it didn’t take long. No, in fact, I could not run a mile. Furthermore I could not run the perimeter of a city block, and if I were really honest I would admit that the half of a block I did “run” was not really running, but instead some hybrid of a fast walk and a slow jog. Surely I was too young to be out of breath this soon! And that’s all it took. I would not be satisfied until I could respectfully jog a mile.
If you have ever started a training program of any type, you know it comes in steps. My steps started with lampposts – yep, lampposts, because the distance between two lampposts was as far as I could go while keeping the pace of a respectable jog. I measured out a mile course in my neighborhood and proceeded to build my endurance by degrees, or lampposts. I alternated – walk-jog-walk-jog- until I could complete the course of a mile with out gasping for breath like a fish out of water. Once successful, I aimed higher – walk- jog-jog-walk-jog-jog – and so on. You get the picture. I was so excited when I reached the point where I could run a mile without having to walk at all. Victory! I could tell the 14 year old, no wait, now he was 15. Anyway, I could tell him that I could do it – a whole mile, without stopping, and I still had enough breath left at the end of the distance to carry on a conversation. Meanwhile, the 15 year old had moved on from the 1one mile run in gym class to the mid-distance run in track and the 5K in cross-country. Needless to say he was not impressed with my one mile, which left me wondering if I could go further.
Those without goals never remain where they are; they always lose ground. I could go on to tell you how, over time, I increased my distance from a mile to four miles. Or how I eventually competed in a 5k with the “14 year old” who was now a graduate – awful experience as a runner, great experience as a mother. Or how I stopped setting goals to go further and now I barely run at all.
But instead let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about the pace.
One of the things I enjoyed about running was the pace; when you come to that point where it no longer hurts to put one foot in front of the other, and you are not out of breath. The point when you feel machine-like and you just move at a steady, rhythmic pace. That was amazing!
Growing with God is kind of like that.
In the beginning you think it will be easy. Read my bible every day? No problem. Go to church once a week? Sure, I can do that.
Then you learn that you have to develop some stamina. Really? Walk in love instead of just talking about it? [Long pause] No problem. I can work on that. Give up something I want to do in favor of what you want me to do, God? [Gulp] Sure. I think I could try that.
Finally, you get to the point that you can keep pace with what He has been asking you to do. You no longer trip over your own feet. You handle the unexpected curves without losing your step. You even manage to leap over a few obstacles in the way. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself. And then… the pace changes.
He says, “Can you go just a little bit farther this time?” or “Could you move a little bit faster this time?” or “Keep your eyes open; there are more obstacles on this course and some of them are a bit larger than you’ve previously encountered.” Decision point; are you going to keep going and learn to change your pace, or will you fall back, stop facing challenges, and ultimately lose ground? If you’re wise, you move forward. I will assume you are wise.
Changing pace often feels like starting over. You find yourself once again gasping for breath. You’re back to tripping over your feet, losing your rhythm, and perhaps stumbling around a few of those curves. And if you’re honest, you probably face-planted while trying to leap over that obstacle you were so sure you could handle by yourself. But hey, at least you’re trying. And God will honor sincere effort. And He will even pick you up and dust you off after that face-plant you hope nobody saw but are pretty sure many did. Since you are wise enough not to quit, you eventually find your rhythm and you can once again keep pace. And you’re feeling pretty good about it too, because it took a lot of hard work and cost you a bit of skin and actually required more grace than you will likely know about this side of Heaven. And then it happens again… the pace changes.
Perhaps this time He is asking you to slow down.
“Slow down!” you think. “I just built up all this muscle, stamina and endurance. Why slow down now?!”
But if you are wise, and I will continue to assume you are, you will learn to slow down. Perhaps you have reached terrain in which precision in foot placement is more important than speed. Or maybe you are on a downhill slope where going fast would be fun, but that kind of speed would likely cause you to fall, incurring injury worse than any face-plant previously experienced.
The point is this: God knows the path ahead of you. He knows where He intends for you to end up. And He knows all the experiences – the good, the bad, the ugly- that you could possibly encounter on the way. If you listen to Him, the end result will be a well-run race, a life that has a positive impact for the kingdom of God, and one that represents your Father well. If you don’t listen, the result will be unnecessary injury to yourself and probably to others. Decision point: do you listen?
I believe God instilled within us that desire to keep moving, to never be satisfied. It should keep us looking for Him; following Him. It is the very thing that will force us off the couch and into our running gear – dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, many have chosen the things of this world to calm that dissatisfaction and have thus pulled themselves out of the race altogether. Decision point: sit out or suit up? If you’re wise… well, you’ll know what to do.
“’For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.’”
Jeremiah 29:11 NET