Saturday, 3 January 2009

I'm baaaaack

Today I ran 10 miles in under 80 minutes... the first time since October 2007. A good feeling - this is the level at which I'm getting a bit fitter, more in control of the running so that huffing, puffing and chugging increasingly become a thing of the past (except on the really long ones!). It's high, hot and hilly here; it was hilly back in Derbyshire too, but I think the altitude of 7,000 feet here must count for something... the IAAF has an international high altitude training centre in this town! (I don't think I'm invited until I get 10 miles under 50 minutes...). Today wasn't so hot - it was overcast, even with a gentle breeze, which made it a bit easier. My best time for 10 miles is something like 73:45, so there's a way to go still!

The Bible and particularly the apostle Paul several times uses the metaphor of athletics, and in particular running, for the Christian life. This, for one thing, shows that the idea that sports are inherently sinful, too trivial or otherwise unworthy for Christians to be involved in is dead wrong. True, the treatment of modern professional sports often crosses the line between legitimacy and idolatry, but I think so did the Greek athletics of New Testament times. All created things are good (1 Timothy 4:4) and to be received with thanksgiving; the devil doesn't get to steal for his exclusive use any part of God's good world. There's an encouragement in the Scriptures for us to use such things as illustrations when they help us to get a better grip on understanding the Christian life, so here goes:
  • It's a marathon, not a sprint. I also set out to attempt 10 miles in under 80 minutes on Monday... but I did the first 2 miles at the required pace and that was suicidal, especially as the first had a big uphill. By 6 miles my legs were jelly, and I didn't finish. How you finish in the Christian race is the only thing that ultimately matters. Are you running as someone who's aiming to finish, not just to have a quick blast?

  • It requires consistency. The only thing that ultimately counts in a marathon is the overall average per mile. If you want to do a sub 4-hour marathon, you've got to go 9:09 or better per mile, not a second more. It doesn't matter if you had a blinding five mile stretch somewhere in the middle... only the final score counts. Christ is looking for a life of consistent fruitfulness, maintained over years and decades.

  • It's easier to start than to finish.... once I got to 19 miles in the marathon I started to see people stopping and walking which I hadn't seen any of until then. 3/4 of the way - but now it was all going to pot and some won't have finished at all. The righteous man stumbles seven times, but picks himself up again - there'll be many bad moments, nasty hills, stomach cramps, thirsty periods in between drinks, etcetera. You can't give up because of these if you want to get the medal at the end.

  • Discipline is the key. Turn up on the day for the race without the months of painful training, and you'll not get very far - or if you do, it'll really hurt. Well, it really hurts even with the training, so what I mean is it'll really really hurt. If your Christian life is not disciplined, don't expect to be finding much joy in the Lord from day to day.

  • Focus is another key. No sane marathon runner runs aimlessly. He's got to know how many miles have gone and how many are to come. He can't just run whatever speed feels good right now - he has to know how much he's got under his belt and how much to keep in reserve and monitor his own progress. Do you examine yourself, and know when challenges are coming, and prepare yourself to deal with them? Why should people aiming for temporal goals - sports, career, etc. - dedicate all their energies to them, and Christians think they can get to heaven whilst floundering around without an aim?

  • Fads don't work. There may be some training techniques that are better than others. But at the end of the day, a great marathon is ultimately the result of lots of hard training, not because you wore Uncle John's Miracle Running Vest on race day. So many Christians are running around after fads - the worship style in this place makes me feel great, that festival is awesome, that preacher has such wonderful charisma, this practice/visit to this place really gave me a boost up the arm! Nope... the race is won by self denial, repentance, love to Christ, and painful obedience to his commandments.

  • And... it's great to finish. Oh yes. Finishing is the whole reason why we start the race, and go through all the training beforehand. The Lord will soon be revealed from heaven with a shout, and the dead in Christ shall rise, and we shall all be caught up together into the air, and so shall we be forever with the Lord. The crown of righteousness awaits for those who finish well. The words, "well done, good and faithful servant" are about to be spoken to each one who perseveres to the end. The new heavens and the new earth, and seeing our beloved face to face await. That's what you've got to keep your eyes on - and when you get there after the long, painful slog, it'll be indescribably better than you ever dreamed of.
Next goal: 79 minutes!


jonathan said...

> and Christians think they
> can get to heaven whilst
> floundering around without an aim?

This sounds remarkably like works-based theology! We reach the new heavens and the new earth because Christ has done all the running for us, surely!

David Anderson said...

Hello Jonathan,

Thanks for dropping by. Yes and no. There are two things to distinguish. As concerns the meritorious basis of our salvation, it is 100% Christ and 100% grace, received entirely by faith. And yet, as Luther said, whilst justification is by faith alone, yet faith is never alone! Where there are in the last analysis no fruits that also means there were no roots. The fruits are not the roots, and my post was not about the roots, but insisting on the fruits, which presuppose the roots... whew!

Our theology must allow us to whole-heartedly exclaim New Testament statements, such as those in James 2:21-26, or 1 Corinthians 9:26 (or indeed the athletics-based exhortations themselves!). There is no Biblical contradiction between affirming both that our salvation is entirely gracious, and also that if we do not persevere to the end, maintaining watchfulness, diligence and fruitfulness, we cannot be saved. Paul shows the harmony of these two things in Philippians 2:12-13:

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."