More than once, the apostle Paul compares our walk of faith to a foot race. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, he says that all the runners in a race compete, but only one wins, and then he says we should run to win. And in 2 Timothy 4:7, he states that he has competed well, finishing the race and keeping the faith. Having run the New York City Marathon in 1993, I can relate to Paul’s analogy. Although it has been almost 25 years since I ran that race, there are many faith lessons that I can take from it. When I look back on that time of my life, I see three things that were important to completing the race – preparation, people, and perseverance.
To be able to finish a marathon, to endure 26.2 miles, I needed preparation. I had to prepare my body to run that long distance. To finish the race of faith as Paul did, we also need preparation. We need to prepare our souls. For a marathon, I needed to nourish and fuel my body by eating right. For the race of faith, we also need food – spiritual food – and that food is the Word of God. We need to feed our minds and souls with God’s Word, spending time reading it and meditating on it daily. In preparing for a marathon, I had to gradually build up my endurance with regular times of running, as well as regular times of rest. In our race of faith, there must be times of “doing,” of serving God and others, but there also must be times of rest, times spent in prayer and in God’s presence.
One of the most important lessons I learned in running the marathon was the need for people. Running long distances can be difficult and, at times, lonely. For that reason, it is important to have people who are there to encourage you. I remember that, as I ran the marathon, when there were crowds along the course cheering the runners on, shouting words of encouragement, it made the running a little easier. But, in the areas (like bridges) where there were no crowds, running became a little harder. In our race of faith, we need people around us to encourage us along the way. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says that we are to “encourage one another” and “build each other up.”
Finally, completing a marathon requires perseverance. 26.2 miles is a long distance. When I ran it in 1993, there were times that I wanted to give up. The day before I ran, I developed a small blister on my heel that got larger as I ran the marathon. I need to stop twice to have it attended to at first aid stations. But I kept on running. I persevered. When I reached 20 miles, I hit a “wall.” I felt like I could not continue. But I kept on running. I persevered. In our race of faith, there is an enemy who wants nothing more than to make us give up, to stop running the race. He will throw things at us, things like doubts, frustration, worry, fear, and other trials. But rather than giving up and turning from our faith, we need perseverance. We need to heed the words of James 1:2 and consider it joy when we face these trials. When we do, our faith will produce endurance (James 1:3).
I finished my marathon in 1993. Despite being tired and despite some pain, I ran across the finish line. As I did, I was handed a finisher’s medal which is now proudly displayed in my den. When we prepare well, surround ourselves with people who share our faith and will encourage us, and persevere through trials, we will run the race of faith with endurance and we will finish strong. And, when we do, we will hear those words that are more valuable than any medal, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”