Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
1 Co 9:24
I’ve always been an all-or-nothing kinda gal. Perfectionism is one of my most persistent idols I’ve yet to crush and I have a horrible track record with balance which my God seems to be resolutely intent on breaking me of. And so when Jesus grabbed hold of my heart 6 years ago, I was gung-ho. I was sold out, intent on doing everything and anything with him, for him, through him and in him. I told everyone I knew and everyone I saw all I knew about Jesus (which was VERY little initially and it is only by the grace of God that any of it was right!). He was the love of my life and in the light of his glory everything I’d previously aspired to, hoped for, worried about seemed to melt away.
There is something attractive and inspiring about an idealistic and zealous approach to walking with Jesus. And no doubt God longs for, and even commands passion and wholehearted devotion (Ro 12:11; Ps 69:9; Luke 14:33) to him. But it is incomplete. He points out that it is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way (Pro 19:2). Even with a right intent of heart, I made a lot of mistakes (James 3:2-5) that can be forgiven but not undone. Sprinting is glorious-it is an exciting, invigorating adrenaline rush. Sprinters are majestic in their form and thrilling to watch. Sprinters are incredible athletes and valuable performers. But one can only sprint for so long. Even the application were stretched to the max-a 400 m run, a sprint doesn’t last longer than a minute. Sprinting, by definition, is anaerobic meaning the demand for oxygen exceeds the available supply and thus maintaining activity is limited to a very short term.
At some point, the runner needs to either slow down the pace or face burnout.
And I would suggest following Jesus is similar—while we love the thrill of spiritual highs, the waterfalls of grace, and the waves of the Holy Spirit, what matters much more is that we make it to the end and finish well. It matters very little how hard one runs after God initially if 5 years down the road he/she has lost interest or “moved on” to another “phase of life.” Because the reality is that it gets hard. And sometimes despite all my efforts–all my desires and longing to be more on fire for my God and to be more effective in his kingdom, to have greater impact on my friends, family and co-workers, and to have my character and attitude radically transformed, sometimes I remain stagnant and God remains silent. And at that point, all I can do is endure. Sometimes my circumstances are nearly unbearable—they pile up mercilessly one after another–friendships are torn apart, relationships are wounded, I hurt others and am hurt by others. And at that point, I weep, mourn, repent, forgive…and try to endure. Oftentimes a depressing darkness hovers over me like a cloud—relentlessly plaguing me with the brokenness of this world, the corruption of humanity, and the despair of my heart. And I fight to endure (Phil 3:14).
Christians are exhorted throughout scripture to “patient endurance” which interestingly translates as “long suffering.” There is something a little less glamorous about that second view, but somehow more realistic. There is also something curiously encouraging about this—when I feel beat up and run down, depressed and exhausted and at the end of my rope, I just may, in fact, be at the center of God’s will, patiently enduring as I suffer for long periods of time. Also encouraging is knowing that we have a comforter (2 Co 1:3-5) and example of one who has gone before us suffering long and enduring perfectly. How did Jesus run his race? With his eyes on the father, with the joy of OUR salvation set before him, hating the shame and oppression, yet subjecting himself to it for the reward promised. And his prize: entrance into the eternal kingdom of perfection seated at the right had of his father for all times, ruling and reigning over all creation (He 12:1-4).
Even more than the emotional exhilaration and thrill of grace upon salvation, I want to ensure I love Jesus 50 years from now come what may no matter how messy, mudane or unglamorous it might look in the meantime. We serve a God who is gentle, loving, and caring, and who longs for us to make it to the end and share in his reward (Rev 2:7; Rev 2:10; Rev 2:17; Rev 2:25-28; Rev 3:5; Rev 3:12; Rev 3:21). He has much grace for our mistakes, coaching us every step of the way such that we might achieve the ultimate goal of our faith: The salvation of our souls (1 Pe 1:9) to the glory of his son (Eph 1:13-14)!