George A. Bowers Sr.: We must run with perseverance
Last weekend several athletes competed in the Old Dominion 100 mile run. Yes, you read that right. They ran for 100 miles. Most of us would never think of using those three words in the same sentence. We might tackle a 100-mile-drive or a 100-mile-flight, but never a 100-mile run. And yet, some 58 determined individuals left the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds at 4 a.m. on a grueling trek up and down our valley, across the Massanutten and then back again, eventually returning to the fairgrounds late that night or early the next morning.
Along the way, they crossed the Burnshire Bridge, conquered many forest roads and trails, traversed Veach and Edinburg gaps, visited Powell Mountain and made 14 significant climbs. Of those who started, 38 finished the punishing test of stamina within the 28-hour time limit. Olivier LeBlond, of Arlington, finished first, arriving in just under 17 hours at almost 9 p.m. Others trickled in over the next several hours, totally drained physically but filled with an enormous sense of accomplishment and personal victory.
It goes without saying that this is no race for wimps. Competitors must thoroughly prepare physically, mentally and emotionally, subjecting themselves to months and sometimes years of intense training. In addition, they often have fresh shoes at various pit stops as well as assistants to treat blisters and other health issues that may arise. Food and water are also provided to the runners as they press on through their pain. While I will never run in such a race, I have great respect for those who do, for their tenacity and perseverance demonstrate how each Christian should run our own races in life.
In the 12th chapter of Hebrews, the author encourages us to run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Such a statement indicates our spiritual journeys are much more like endurance runs over many years as opposed to quick sprints over a few months.
Not every course is identical, however. Some are steeper than others, some less so. Some are longer and some have more spectacular views, but God has marked out a unique “race” for each of us to run. And thankfully, we are not competing against each other, but are called to encourage and cheer our fellow brothers and sisters on. We are to assist other life runners who may stumble along the way and Jesus even tells us to share our own food, water and resources with them as well.
While the routes may vary, there will be many significant climbs in every believer’s life as we encounter personal challenges of disappointment, rejection, illness, loss of friends or family, or financial reverse. Like the distance runners, we must press on through the pain, sadness, or injury thinking of the eternal crown that awaits each finisher.
Hebrews also reminds us of the importance of discipline, which is vital to any endurance event. Discipline is doing what we don’t want to do in order to achieve what we want to achieve. It takes great personal discipline of mind, soul, and body to run 100 miles and our life races require no less. We find that the Apostle Paul disciplined himself to avoid being disqualified for the race prize. Learning to control our minds, bodies, and emotions are vital if we are to finish our races successfully.
Hebrews 12 also tells us the secret to finishing our Christian races well. We must fix our eyes on Jesus, who, for the joy set before him, endured the suffering of the cross. As we run our earthly race, it’s helpful to focus continually on Christ, realizing that his life was no walk in the park either. Following our example, we can press on toward the finish line, trusting and copying him every step of our way.
As we reflect on this local 100-mile run, may it remind us of our own spiritual races and may we one day say with Paul when crossing life’s finish line, “I have run the race, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” Run with perseverance the race marked out for you and may God bless you each step of your way!
In Jesus, George.
George Bowers Sr. is the pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of four books, including his latest book of poetry, “Wit and Wisdom of the Woods.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.