Twenty-five miles down. My legs were tired but still carrying me. The crowd had grown. The cheers were louder and the cowbells increased in number. Every sign, including my watch, indicated I was close to the finish. I looked ahead and the pavement was rising. A hill? Ugh, okay, I can make it up that.
I make it to the top. I have hit the point that if I stop there is no return, these legs will not fire back on and I’ll have to walk the rest. I look up again. Wait! This hill keeps going?
Worn out, but determined to cross that finish line strong, I kick it into gear. I am sure I look ridiculous to the crowd, but to me I am using every last ounce of strength my legs will allow to get to the top of that hill and finish this marathon.
This was my finish at the Marine Corps Marathon years ago. When I got to the top of the hill, real life heroes, marines in uniform, were waiting for me with a medal to place on my neck as we stood in the shadow of the Marine Corps War Memorial.
It was a brutal way to end a marathon, but it was also the most beautiful. Six months of training had brought me to this point and I had made it across the finish line. But I would be foolish to think I had done this all alone. Much like our faith journeys, it took the support of community, a lot of discipline, and focus on the end goal.
When I had decided to run this marathon, I knew from past experience that there was no way I was going to be successful if I didn’t have a friend or running group to do this with. When it’s a rainy, dreary Saturday after a very long and tiring week, the last thing you want to do is tie up those shoe laces, lather on the body glide, fill up that water bottle belt, and hit the pavement. Running 15 miles alone was not something I was interested in back then—my view on running that many miles alone might be a little different now after a year of COVID and so much family time *wink, wink.*
And so it is the same in our faith journey. It’s not meant to be a solo effort. All the way back to Genesis God said, “it is not good for man to be alone.” So even though this single human could dwell in the garden with his maker, God said you need a companion. We see throughout all of Scripture the strength in community and accountability. Look at David and Jonathan, their friendship was sincere, honest, and they were accountable to one another.
I think of the passage in Luke 10 when Jesus sends out the 72. He sends them in pairs! There is purpose in that—we are stronger together, we are wiser together, and we are more discerning together.
Perhaps the greatest indication of this need for community is in the Trinity. Our mysterious God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three-in-one. If our Creator is in community, how much more do we need the same?
I didn’t just hop up on race day and decide I would run 26.2 miles. It took months of discipline and focus. Even on days when I didn’t feel like running I laced up because Saturday’s long run with my friend was coming. If I didn’t get my weekday runs in I might slow her down. Now don’t get me wrong, we each had times when life happened and our weekday runs were sidelined and we had grace for one another, of course! But I sure did do my best to maintain a disciplined effort to stay on track. I had a training plan that helped me track the distance I needed to run and the pace I needed to keep for each run.
Our journeys with Jesus are similar. We can’t grow in our faith without daily time with him. Thankfully, in this day and time there are plenty of Bible reading plans and books on prayer to help guide us in this journey. Faith requires discipline and thankfully, God has given us just that!
1 Timothy 7 says, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”
There are times when this life of faith is hard, even painful. But as we stay disciplined and maintain connection with the Father, a harvest does come—and not just in the life to come, but in the here and now on Earth.
Take the eternal view
Taking the long view when you are only two weeks into a six-month training program can be tough when your body doesn’t seem to have the same ambitions as your mind. You set out for a five-mile run and it feels like 15—how in the world will I ever run 21.2 more miles without dying?!?! Trust me, I have been here and it is daunting. But this is one of the many reasons the training program is so long. It accounts for good days and bad days. It considers that crossing the finish line of a 26.2 mile race takes building endurance. I have to keep my mind set on the 26.2 finish line, knowing the miles will increase incrementally before I ever get there.
Hebrews 12:1b says, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
In the same way we cannot lose sight of the 26.2 mile goal, we cannot run this race of faith without fixing our eyes on Jesus and taking the eternal view. Just like Paul says, “these light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory.” If our view is fixed on the temporal and momentary, we will become consumed with the here and the now. It is a balance, that is for certain. We aren’t meant to go through this life only concerned about the next, we are here to co-labor with our Creator as He builds His Kingdom on Earth, pursuing justice, peace, and love. But if we don’t take the eternal view, the one in which we know all things will be made right, we become consumed with the hard things, the things that try to distract us from our eternal purposes.
There are plenty of finish lines we will cross before we finish the ultimate race. Some will feel like the Marine Corps marathon—just when you don’t think you can give anymore, you face another hill. Others will bring “smooth sailing from here on out” to life. No matter the finish, to make it there, we need community, discipline, and to keep our eyes fixed on the Author and Perfecter of our faith. And one day, when we cross the final finish, Lord willing we will hear, “well done.”