October 2013

Running toward the Goal

In Philippians 3 Paul writes this:
“I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. Of course, my friends, I really do not think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above.”

This verse has been on my mind as I puff and pant my way through the NHS Couch to 5K programme – a series of podcasts which take you from running for 3 minutes to running for 30 over about 9 weeks.

I finished this programme December 2011. By the summer of 2012 I could run about 7 kilometres in about 30 minutes. I impressed myself.

And then we moved to Devon.
Beautiful, hilly Devon.
And all the up and down-ness started to defeat me. I couldn’t run as far. Or as fast.
And I became demoralised and stopped altogether.

A year and a quarter later and I am starting all over again.
I’m having to learn all the lessons again. I can’t cut corners. I’m working on the hills (which are nothing compared to Brixham but mountains when you have lived in flat Essex!)

There are other lessons that trying to run have taught me .

Lesson 1:
Listening to God and finding time to rest.. When I first started running, after a few weeks I developed seriously painful knees. I looked up what you should do. “Rest up until your knees feel better” it said. Which I translated as “keep running through and the pain will go away”.
It didn’t.
It got worse.
Being the stubborn sort, it took me waking up in the middle of the night with hot and hurting knees and then nearly being sick with the pain of running before I decided to go with the “Rest up until your knees feel better”.
Guess what? It worked.
They have never hurt again.

Sometimes as Christians we are keen to work through and keep busy. Maybe because we don’t want to stop and think and reflect on life and faith. Maybe because we worry that if we stop we won’t start again. But there are times when we need to wait on God and his healing work in our lives. Times when we need to be still. And if we trust that he always works for good in our lives. In the previous chapter of Philippians Paul writes “... God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose.” Which I see as God working with us to make us the best we can be. When God suggests this is your time of rest, listen. He will be working for good when we take the time to be still.

Lesson 2:
This is about having aims and goals. Sometimes I love running. I’m so blessed that where we live most of my run takes in the sea view which looks different every day . Some days trying to run is a bit of a slog. Especially when it is cold. Or dark. Or raining. But I try and keep the goal in mind and manage to push through. Once I actually finish Couch25K I plan on running a 5K race – and then? I don’t know yet. But running towards a goal helps.

As Paul pointed out, it is the same for faith too. Our goal is unchanging – to reach forward, to follow Christ, to know that the prize of eternal life has already been won for us, but to show that we are worthy winners by the faith that we hold and we share with others. And that helps on the days when being a Christian can feel like a bit of a slog too. (Especially when it is cold or dark or raining). Having the cross held out before us can spur us on, keep us going, with hearts lifted up as we remember all that Christ has already achieved for us.

Lesson 3:
“I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect.” Says Paul.
Oh how true this is for me.
When I lived in Upminster I thought I had cracked the habit of exercise and would keep on at it. It didn’t take much for me to stop. But the good news is that I can start again.
So it is with faith. We may sometimes feel that we have given up, or have behaved in ways that we wish we hadn’t – but we always have the chance to start again. It might feel a bit humbling (I feel rather ridiculous in my running kit as I am currently walking as much as running!) but there is always the opportunity to be renewed and live in God’s way once more.

And now I need to continue to build on what I have already managed. I don’t run fast and still sound like a baby elephant as I hit the ground (for a small person I am quite ungainly). I will never be a marathon runner but can still do more because you know what? I never thought I would say this but I enjoy running.

There is much to enjoy as well as endure in faith as well. That knowledge that God loves us with a deep and sustaining love, forgives our mistakes of the past and inspires us to move closer to him. May following Jesus always be a surprising and challenging adventure for all of us as we reach towards the goals he has in mind for us

God bless