(Published 08/10/17 for proofreading delays)
Yes, it's been several months. I keep wanting to post something, but usually I can't commit myself to sit down and actually write it. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten this!
*Note: The links a little ways in are just Bible Gateway, so you don't have to take the effort to look them up yourself. Otherwise, (and I'm speaking from experience here,) it's pushed aside and you don't take the time to look it up, so it gets forgotten.
I've done cross country since fifth grade. As a high school runner on a competitive team, when I look back on middle school and before, it's not hard to tell that I wasn't particularly good. Practice was two or three times a week and I didn't do much outside that. Our season didn't start until a little ways into the school year, so we didn't have much time in practice to improve anyway. The main thing our coaches always told us to keep running, even when it felt horrible. Walking during practice or a race may feel good momentarily, but it breaks your momentum and all you want to do is keep stopping. I would do my best to stick to this, no matter how slow my pace. That didn't put me anywhere near the front of a race, but I was fine with that. The only time I had to beat was my own.
I always found myself running about the same pace as the people I call "sprint walkers". They do exactly what their name suggests: run all out until they can't go anymore, then walk. (Repeat). Whenever the coaches or the crowd caught up to them, they'd start up again as if nothing happened. I would work my hardest to keep going at my slow and steady pace, and here these people who walked half the race would pass me, even though I'm doing the right thing and not stopping. In the end, though, I was the one who didn't feel as completely drained from having to stop and start.
Since then, I've gotten a lot faster. High school mileage is a 5k (about 3.1 miles) instead of the middle school 2 miles or 5th grade 1 mile "fun runs". Endurance means more than it used to, since there's more ground to cover, and my high school team has made me work a lot harder at what I do.
I see the same sprint-walk happening in spiritual terms. I'm trudging along sometimes, maybe not doing my best in my prayer life or I'm not doing what I'm told, when all the sprint walkers come past me. They run their spiritual walk really well when they first believe, trying to change their life for the better. But what is there that makes them stay? Society is moving further away from the Christian church, and our megachurches don't carry the same peer pressure on an individual to stay involved. There are so many people coming and going that it's easy to rationalize that no one will notice when you're gone. For all they know, you're going to the earlier service to catch a soccer game later in the day. When all the sprint walkers do attend regularly, it can all morph into a routine where they sing some songs, listen to the story of Abraham again, empty their pocketbook, greet some people on the way out, and then catch some lunch before going back to busy life.
Sermons have to be geared toward newer Christians and outreach because they don't have as much time in the lives of the congregation. We're losing a lot of Sunday School opportunities because society is changing and we tell ourselves we don't have the time, so all some people are hearing from God on a regular basis comes through a lot of the same intro-to-Christianity sermons. There's nothing besides personal willpower that pushes people to read the Bible on their own. It's like the part of the race where the crowd isn't allowed to follow to cheer everyone forward, and it takes a lot of personal motivation to keep running at the same pace.
But every now and then there comes an event. For people my age, it tends to be a literal, large scale event with tons of people, loud music, and a speaker who tries to get the audience emotionally involved. Maybe for others it's a sermon that really hits home. Maybe for some, they just stepped too far in their walk away and they have a personal moment with God. People walk away from this event, whatever it might be, calling it "life changing". It's that moment in the race when suddenly you're back to civilization and people start cheering you onward. The sprint walkers start up again. The people who were running push themselves a little harder.
Except it doesn't last.
When people refer to God as "Father", I wonder how much they mean it. Yes, 1 John 4 (see v. 8) is true, where God the Father loves you and wants you to turn from your sins and seek him. Yes, 1 Corinthians 10:13 is true, where God will help you overcome what you can't do by yourself. Yes, James 5:16 is true, where your prayers are effective. But that's not a complete Father-child relationship. God the Father is also a God of justice. If you read more of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul describes how God punished the Israelites when they disobeyed him, even though they were his chosen people with the baptism, spiritual food, and spiritual drink of the Law, which was their closest chance to salvation before Christ. And James 5:16 doesn't just say that prayers to God are powerful. It says "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." You have to make the effort and have the faith that it will be done.
If you have an earthly father who raised you and pushed you to be a better person, can you say that your relationship came without you ever sitting down and getting to know him? Did you never interact to do anything other than him telling you what to do? Did he never call you out on something you did wrong and discipline you, in one way or another, so you didn't do it again? If you don't have an earthly father who looked out for your best interests, what's missing? What makes your biological father imperfect? (And now that I have you doubting your father figure's parenting skills, give him a call if you can, saying how much you appreciate him. It's not his fault he's human.)
We aren't running for our own glorification, unlike cross country. We don't have an opportunity to sprint when we see the finish line. There are no periodic mile marks to say we're getting close. Those on the sidelines don't always want you to succeed. Sometimes the runners beside you go off the path so much that you can't tell which way is right. Sometimes you can't tell what's ahead of you. But the run can also be so much more satisfying.
So how do you keep running? How do you push yourself to come closer to God when the crowd is silent and everyone around you is walking?
Well, in running, I'm always told to run with someone. It's someone else to pace me, and we can look out for each other. God also intended us to experience our run to him with a community. Maybe you could join with others who want spiritual growth and form a Bible study or a support group. You don't need any set curriculum to read the Bible. Just read what's written, and you'll find the path of where you need to go and how to get there. Hold each other accountable, even if you're only able to meet online to check in with each other. Be completely honest with someone about anything that you're not sure of or anything that concerns you. If you see someone walking or about to give up, be there for them and run along beside them.
Finally, don't forget the journey and the prize. If you can take the effort to look around you, you can discover the beauty of God's creation and his own nature. The further you go- the more you get to know God as a Father in all aspects- the more breathtaking the view. In the end, we get to live in Heaven with our Creator. The more you seek the good of others and the will of God, the greater your reward will be in heaven. When my coaches say to stretch and to eat healthy, I do it because I know it's for my good. When you read and obey the Bible, you become more like Christ, the perfect runner. It's not always easy, but it's definitely satisfying.
Questions? Did I miss anything? Feel free to comment below. I don't bite. I promise.