Now and then someone will ask me if I pray while I run, and I answer, "Sometimes." Really though, when I pray I prefer to really focus on what I'm praying. When I run, I have found that trying to focus on anything other than the running doesn't work. Not that I am "focused" on every step I take, but, I get myself going, and while my body is focused on the running I allow my mind to wander here and there, free-association-style, bringing it back to the activity at hand when needed. Sort of rambling through my "thinking" so my main energy can go to what I am "doing."
Even so, it is not time wasted. For instance, as I ran this morning, here is where my mind rambled...
Years ago, when I was running my third 5K, as I floundered in the third mile, plowing along one step at a time, trying not to fall over, I glanced up and saw a friend running toward me. I had run with this guy several times with the Saturday morning group and knew him to be an experienced runner and friendly besides. Seeing him running the wrong direction, I assumed he was doing what other hot-shot runners sometimes do, running the 5K course twice for a 10K. But when he got to me he turned and ran alongside me, telling me to look up, hold myself taller, swing my arms, and breathe steadily. Basically, he knew I was running, and when he didn't see me finish sooner he came looking for me to help me along. He ran me right up to the finish in better shape than he found me.
While on my run this morning, I remembered his advice. Frankly, it has been something I have often needed to remember over the past several years. There are times when running is difficult. That seems obvious, but, it's not always hard, and sometimes it's rather great. But getting to great takes a lot of running through difficult.
One of the things I tend to do when a run gets difficult is put my head down. I tuck my chin a bit and look at the ground directly in front of me. This accomplishes two things: I lose sight of the road ahead and it becomes harder to breathe. As you might guess, these actions are not at all helpful. By losing sight of the road ahead I lose my points of reference, my target goals, and my awareness of my surroundings is compromised. By looking down I am forced to focus on only one step at a time, and my own steps at that. My perspective shrinks.
From this memory and the thoughts that followed, my mind meandered to the same lesson learned in different circumstances.
There are times when life is difficult. And then there are times when merely "difficult" would be a relief. When life is hard, I tend to put my head down. Actually, when life gets beyond difficult what I tend to do is curl up in a fetal position and screw my eyes shut. But, you get my drift.
Focusing inward on my fears and looking only at the circumstances which are battering me down get me nowhere. My eyes need to be up. When I look ahead, rather than down, I can see, at least in part, the road ahead of me. And it usually isn’t as bad as my fears suggested.
When I look ahead, I am better able to see the goal. When I run my goal might be a tree up ahead, the top of a hill, or a turn coming up. I set reachable goals all throughout each run in order to have victories along the way.
One goal set for me by the Lord when I am in difficult circumstances is praise. When I praise him, especially while life is difficult, it is a victory.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul,And why are you in turmoil within me?Hope in God; for I shall againPraise him,My salvation and my God.”Psalm 42:11
The Psalms are blessedly full of reminders to raise our sinking eyes and hearts to gaze upon the Lord and there find hope and strength and praise.
“I will bless the LORD at all times;His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”Psalm 34: 1(At all times includes the good and the bad, right?)“I waited patiently for the LORD;He inclined to me and heard my cry.He drew me up from the pit of destruction,Out of the miry bog,And set my feet upon a rock,Making my steps secure.He put a new song in my mouth,A song of praise to our God.”Psalm 40: 1-3a
Paul prays for this very kind of encouragement for others when he writes:
“I do not cease to give thanks for you, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” Ephesians 1:16-19
We are called to a great hope, a glorious inheritance, and are helped by the immeasurable greatness of God’s power. There is encouragement and strength for the journey in those words, beloved. We don’t need to manufacture this hope from thin air, God has called us to it. And those he calls, he carries through to the end.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
Just as we can know for certain that God will bring his work to completion in us, we can also know that he does not call us to walk alone. We are saved into the church, which is his body, and we are called to help one another along to the finish line. The author of Hebrews makes this clear immediately after reminding us of the importance and surety of our hope in Christ:
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10: 23-25
And again, Paul writes to the Corinthians:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”2 Corinthians 1:3-5
We need each other! We need to stir one another up in love and good works, we must not neglect one another, we must encourage and comfort one another! Just as my friend ran back to help me along to finish that 5K, so we need to come alongside each other when life is difficult and even more when life becomes unbearable. We have all experienced some degree of affliction and suffering, some more than others. And that which we have experienced will teach us to gently, humbly, compassionately, and lovingly come alongside others when comfort is needed.
I praise God that he has given me a strong anchor of hope in my Savior, Jesus Christ. And I thank him that in the times when I feel like I can’t look up, can’t take another step, he sends someone to come alongside me. Someone to pray with and for me, to remind me of the hope that I have in Christ, and to encourage me to look up and gaze upon my hope and my salvation in Christ and to praise him.
Finally, I am encouraged to know that when I think of spiritual truths in terms of running metaphors, I am in good company.
“…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
This all sounded a lot better as it rambled through my head during this morning’s run. Perhaps there is still, somehow, an encouraging word here for someone.