Running sucks sometimes. I mean, I know it’s supposed to help you out in the long-haul, but as for right now, it kind of sucks. I’ve been running periodically throughout the last month or so in a small attempt to prepare my body for next year’s Eugene marathon. Chances are I probably won’t run, but right now I like the idea of it all. And it certainly gives me something to do over the summer.
Today’s 3.4 mile run was tough, though. I hadn’t run for about five days prior to today and that run was just under two miles. This run involved quite a few more hills and required me to maintain a steady pace that lasted a little longer than a 2-mile pace. Right about halfway through the third mile is when I really hit the wall. My route starts from the intersection of Kinsrow Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. From there I take a turn onto Leo Harris Parkway and run up to the Mill Race Bridge, then cross over it towards the Autzen footbridge. After I cross the Autzen footbridge, I follow a bike path that leads to the EWEB building and then I follow Coburg Road back to MLK Blvd. and then head home. And that final stretch is exhausting.
Usually the wind is at your back, so you don’t have much resistance for that near-mile-long stretch. But today the wind was in my face and although it was kind of refreshing for my body, it really made me work. And it dried out my mouth and throat pretty badly. As I was pumping my legs for all they were worth, I suddenly thought of Philippians 3:14; “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
There are many areas in life where physical challenges often represent spiritual challenges. Like how I’ve been training for the Eugene marathon (though kind of pathetically), I find it necessary to train for the marathon God has got us running for the rest of our lives. And just like my run today, there are going to be many moments that are difficult. I remember as I was passing Autzen Stadium on MLK that I got the overwhelming urge to just stop. In fact there was one brief moment where my legs just stopped kicking. For a split second I actually thought about just walking the rest of the way, but then I remembered why I was running and I forced myself to keep going.
I find it critical, even essential, to remind myself why I believe in Jesus, why I choose to follow Him though the river of the world is surging in the opposite direction. Walking back through the memories of life-altering moments is good and even recalling my testimony is helpful. But what I’ve found to be the most helpful in recalling why I strain to follow Jesus is to picture what life might be like without Him. Trying to picture life without my Christian friends – my brothers and sisters in the Spirit, without Calvary Fellowship, without Cross Training or even without my Bibles and Christian books is difficult. Even at the mere point of changing my lifestyle, dropping this whole Christian thing would be devastating. But I think there’s something deeper.
I’ve been a believer for about eight years now and for a while I never truly understood why. I knew that going to church on a regular basis might keep me out of trouble, at least for a while, and I knew that reading the Bible on a regular basis might teach me something about life. But beyond all that, I didn’t see much of a pull. As I grew older and as I met new people, experienced new parts of life (like college), and suffered a few more heartaches, I began to see and understand why I do what I do. It’s not just because it’ll keep me out of trouble or because most of my friends are Christian. It’s because I have felt Jesus’ presence within this world, within my life, and within my heart.
This is where I’m going to stop making sense to some people. Why? Well, I believe in the Trinity – the Godhead three in one, where Jesus is both God and the Holy Spirit. Basically I believe that Jesus = God = Holy Spirit or however you want to arrange the names. I’m not sure about the science of it all and I don’t think I have to be. But I believe that when the Spirit touches our hearts, God and Jesus are also there. This means that Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 2:11-13;
For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
talk about Jesus, too. There is a fire within my heart that I didn’t put there and that I didn’t ask for, but was freely given to me so that I may truly decide whether or not I want to live a life of mystery, but of peace also, or continue on with the life of depression and hopelessness, to just go with the flow of the world’s river.
To this day I do not know why I’ve been pulled into this life with Jesus, but I know one thing: I can’t turn back. The life I lived eight years ago is no longer a life that I can truly live with any kind of true joy. Perhaps if I gave myself over to every sinful desire and allowed myself to become complacent to my heart’s pain, then maybe I might be able to live a life entirely apart from Christ. But I doubt it. Why? Because there will be some lonely nights in that lifestyle. And in those lonely nights certain painful memories will return and as I’ve already experienced, I can’t handle those on my own. The healing and life that Christ has brought has given me strength to handle the painful and haunting memories. Without Him, I don’t know how long I’d last.
Because of Jesus, I will never be the same. No matter where I go or what I do and no matter how hard I may try to run from Him, He will always pop into my mind, even if it’s just a fond memory of Him. And like the prodigal son suddenly thinking of how good things were with his father before he ran away, I’d have to think that I’ll return if only to be His slave.
If walking with God is like walking against the flow of a river, then the best thing for me to do is dig my heels in and get ready. If walking with God is like running a marathon, then the best thing for me to do is to keep my legs pumping, no matter what. And if walking with God is like walking through a desert for forty years, then the key to surviving spiritual fatigue is leaning on the brothers and sisters out there with me. If my feet slip in the river, if my legs stop running, or if I stray from the pack in the desert, my soul will be forfeit and no matter how pleasurable this world may be, it won’t have the meaning that my life with Christ has had.
I just can’t turn around.