How do you run a marathon? What is the key to success? How can we remain faithful in this journey towards Christ and keep the faith until the end?
I have always wanted to run a marathon.
And as I have tried to prepare, I approached several of my friends who have successfully run marathons in the past, as well as those who have been on track teams in college. I asked them, “What is it that I need to know before I start training?” The most important piece of advice they could give me regarding marathons was this: find and set a sustainable pace.
There is an old saying that has been used and rebranded hundreds of times, and yet it still remains powerful; “Life isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.” Sprints are about running fast, not about running for long periods of time. It’s all about getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Whereas, marathons are about energy preservation. The focus is about crossing the finishing line, not the time in which it took us to get there.
As I consider keeping the pace of life, I can’t help but think of Paul.
Paul is arguably one of the most recognizable followers of Jesus that we read about in the bible. And we see him, in the passage above, writing to a young protégé of his, named Timothy. Paul had been given a very large task, to bring the gospel to as many people as he could, and his primary focus was on the Gentile people, who before the resurrection of Jesus, were the religious outcasts in the Jewish world.
Paul was a revolutionary man. He was a well educated Roman citizen, which meant he had privilege beyond a good majority of people in that day. He was a tent maker, which was a lucrative business at that time. We also know he had been a Pharisee, which was one of the religious powerhouses of that day. Paul would also go on to write a vast majority of the books that we now look to as the New Testament. He went on three missionary journeys throughout the middle east, converting many people. He had many successes in his life, and if the story stopped there, it seems like things are going quite well.
Although, that does not account for the many low points in Paul’s life. He was beaten, jailed many times, shipwrecked, mocked, tortured, and a long list of other unsightly things. And yet even through the difficulties in his life, we see Paul keep his bearing. Paul keeps his focus on the finish line and says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Paul is nearing the end of his life, and after years of service to God, looks back on his life and admits that even through the ups and downs of his journey he had remained faithful. He had kept the pace of faith and he had finished the marathon of life. Like life, faith is not a sprint. It’s a marathon which requires us to set a sustainable pace.
We too, as followers of Jesus, are called to remain faithful in the journey of life. To find a pace of faith that is sustainable. And one of the best ways to do this is to make space for God in our lives. Because faith requires time. It requires space to develop and grow. And all too often, when we get busy in life, the first thing to go is our time with God.
The first thing that we lose is the time when we pray, read our bibles, listen for the voice of God, and just ponder the beauty of creation. When we get busy, we lose track of God, because there is so much that needs to get done, and so little time to do it all.
So what does all of this mean? If I asked you to get coffee on Friday, but we never set a time or picked a place, do you think we’re going to get coffee? Probably not. There were no specifics. The plan seems tentative. There is ultimately nothing anchoring us to the plan, and so when something “better” comes along, we skip getting coffee altogether. “There’s always next time,” We think. The sad reality is that this is how we often treat our own individual discipleship, and our time with God.
The most effective advice I was ever given in regard to my personal spiritual development was this, “Set a time and place to meet with God, every day. Put it into your schedule, and then make sure it happens.”We are a schedule driven people. This becomes our mantra; “If I don’t write it down, I’ll forget!” I have heard this so often, and now I’m beginning to say it myself. We have the best of intentions, but the ultimate problem is that we are absent minded. There is a power in writing something down and making space for it in our day.
To make space for God truly means setting aside a time and place to meet with God. This looks different for everyone, and rightfully so. We are all different people, and we all connect with God in different ways. There is no magical spot. That’s not the point. The place matters so much less than the person we’re meeting there.
We need a space where we can be with God with no distraction, where we can delve into the Bible, where we can pray, and where we can actively listen. We need space for solitude, where we can let down our guard, pray, and speak honestly.
We can see throughout the gospels, Jesus leaving the crowds, leaving his disciples, or leaving those he was spending time with, to go off and be by himself and pray. For example, in Matthew 14:23 (NASB), “After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone.” Or in Mark 1:35 (NASB), “In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.”
We need space to be with Jesus. We need to set a time and a place to meet with God daily.
This journey of faith is no sprint. If we aren’t careful we will treat it as such, and chance burning out. The journey of faith is a marathon in the direction of Jesus, and it requires us to stay faithful and keep the pace set before us. This means making space for God; prioritizing our spiritual development and growth towards becoming more and more like Christ. This is one way in which we set a sustainable pace that will help you run a marathon, not just a sprint.
Because one day, I hope we can echo the words of Paul, “I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”
Father in heaven, I pray that you give us the wisdom and the perseverance to stay faithful in our journey towards you. Help us to continue to follow your lead and keep the pace of faith set before us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.