Thursday, September 19, 2019
   
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What Are the Rules for Running Well?

With the challenge of our last session on how to win the race in mind, I want us to look at what is necessary to keep us in the race, so we won't be disqualified or run with less than our potential. In 2 Timothy 2:3-6, Paul gave Timothy a number of specific meditations and reflections to reflect on:

  • the hardships of a good soldier of Christ Jesus, and how focused the soldier's service should be
  • the hardworking farmer, and what share of the crops he received
  • the competitive nature of an athlete

Paul concluded the listing of these potential reflections with this promise in 2 Tim. 2:7—"Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this." I have certainly found this to be true. Great insight comes from reflecting on all Paul wrote to Timothy, and particularly his encouragement to meditate on the competitive nature of an athlete.

 

As I was praying the prayers of the Chalk Revival (see The History and Future of the Chalk Revival), I began to have not only a profound repentance and cleansing of my own heart, but an increasing burden for the lost and for the maturity of believers. I have discovered in studying revivals, that this is an outgrowth of any renewal. I believe the Word mandates we not only reach the lost, but that all new, young, and even older believers continue to grow and mature in the faith until death. So I began praying and looking in the Scriptures for a metaphorical picture of a maturity program both biblical and easy for all to grasp, whether new believer, young believer, or one seasoned in the faith.

In answer to those prayers and that search, I was impressed with the numerous references in Scripture to running and finishing a race. There are at least 37 passages in the Old and NewTestaments that refer to "the race," "the runner," "running," or "run!" Running was certainly one of Paul's favorite examples and metaphors for the Christian life, and probably a very familiar sport to the recipients of the gospels and New Testament letters.

Looking at these many references, I have tried to summarize their content in the form of rules, or "principles of running well."

Rule #1: The first and most general principle is to compete according to the rules.

2 Tim. 2:5—"Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules." The crown is for the one who competes according to the rules. Our natural tendency is to try to run as we see fit, or in a way that suits us, but we can imagine what kind of race it would be if everyone was making up the rules as they went along.

The Psalmist had the attitude called for in 2 Tim. 2:5; he was only going to run according to the rules. "I run in the path of your commands (rules), for you have set my heart free." Likewise, in the race for the victor's crown, we must obey the rules if we expect to win. No rogue runners will finish the race the Lord has marked out.

 

With that general rule in mind, here are some further rules from the key passages where running is the theme, example, or metaphor. My prayer is that they will help you as you walk and run your race.

Rule #2: Strict training is required.

1 Cor. 9:25—"Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training." An essential element of every track team is the initial and ongoing training and conditioning for the individual and the team before competition. That kind of training will include a variety of things:

  1. the basics, like the essential conditioning and calisthenics required. Don't you love the thrill of the agony of exercise; the hassle of showering and getting ready after finishing? Don't you love it when you pull a muscle or have pain in a joint? Isn't it fun? How many athletes do you think prefer the preparation for the race over the actual race? Obviously training isn't fun, but it is essential.

     

  2. monitoring and designing of food intake for the competition ahead. What we take into our spiritual lives will also affect the way we run and how fast we run the race the Lord has marked out for us!

     

  3. training for a unique race, i.e., the events a person is most gifted/skilled in. The track team is a wonderful example of what the Lord intends the church to be. Obviously not all members of the team compete at the same event. We are gifted differently, and run at differ ent paces. The goal is not to run like someone else, but to run according to our own race! E ach of our unique events will take specific practice.

     

  4. starts and finishes prepared for and practiced. We need to start well and end well, and that takes practice and forethought. W hen we studied the book of Daniel, we started at the end of his life and saw how he finished. Then we asked, "How did Daniel get to the place where he had such character and strength? What decisions did he make and what practices did he follow when he was young, to make him into such a long distance runner who seemed to run with class, grace and strength all the days of his life?" One obvious answer, among many others, was how he started his day with prayer. He had plenty of practice, and it paid off in the end. T he early years revealed that he made the decision to obey God rather than man. Great training for the challenge of the lion's den!

Rule #3: Run with your audience in mind.

In Hebrews 12 we find the description of some of the most significant members of the audience, i.e., seated in the stands.

1] Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every thing that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2] Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3] Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

 

The crowd/the witnesses/the audience

It's important in the race the Lord has set before us to ask and answer some questions.

How many will be watching us? It's important to know: Sometimes the stands will seem to be full; other times they will seem empty, or only a few will be present.

Who will be present in the stands? One group will be those the book of Hebrews calls witnesses, and the context is that they are the believers/saints who have gone on before us. The other witness is the author and finisher of our faith—the Lord Jesus Himself—the One who sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. He is the race sponsor and the One who has already finished the race you are running in.

 

Why is this important? The crowd can affect the race, by their example/experience; encouragement; enabling/equipping; evaluation; and by the desire of some to mimic.

 

Example: Eric Liddell--Peter Marshall.

Last time I quoted from the biography of Eric Liddell, the inspiration for the movie Chariots of Fire.

The author recalls that in "1925, Eric's presence at an amateur track meet anywhere in Scotland was enough to insure a big crowd... The attendance at just one of Eric's rallies that year inspired a young man named Peter Marshall to commit himself to the ministry. Marshall eventually became Chaplain of the United States Senate, and his widow, Catherine, was one of America's well-known religious writers.

Catherine freely [atttributed] her husband's religious commitment to Eric's influence and noted Peter's ministry in America was second choice—his first was to follow Eric into the China missionary service" (God's Joyful Runner, Russell, Ramsey, Bridge Publishing, 1987, p. viii.)

The watching crowd can be an inspiration to us, or we can have influence on them! The crowd includes mentors, parents, friends, family, enemies, children, and those of whom we are unaware. The Lord, however, is the One witness to the race who can actually give us life, energy, perspective, and assistance from the stands. He is the one audience member we must keep in focus and look to so we won't lose heart and grow weary in the race!

Heb. 12:2—Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3] Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

If we run with the audience of One in mind, fixing our eyes on Him and considering what He has done, we should be

  • inspired as we watch the originator and perfecter of the run finish
  • encouraged to endure the hardships of the race because He shows us how
  • motivated to endure opposition, because that's what Jesus demonstrated for us!
  • infused with the right heart and the energy we need (v. 3).

Looking back at this passage, notice:

Rule #4: Minimize the falls by laying aside the weights and sins that entangle and trip us up.

We need to run light, with no entanglements or hindrances to our faith. "...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us"—Heb. 12:2b. This "hindrance free race" will keep us from becoming entangled in sin, inappropriate relationships, inappropriate actions, etc. Many people ask what the difference is between hindrances and sins.

Let me give you an illustration from my college days. My roommate thought he was too skinny, so he would wear extra clothes including three-four layers of socks. They weren't needed, but he thought they were. The problem with this "weight of socks" was, he would rotate them, and by the fourth day, I wanted to leave the room. I literally used to hang his socks out the window. Then Dave became self-conscious about the smell/aroma of the layers of clothes and the socks he wore, so he started stealing cologne from people in the dorm. I didn't initially know where he was getting all this cologne. He kept it hidden under his bed. He would sprinkle cologne all over his clothes and socks to cover up the smell.

The difference between weights and sin initially is obvious. One only slows you down, the other breaks the rules of the race; but both will eventually trip you up. With Dave, it all started with the weight of wanting to look better than he was. Eventually, however, it led to a sin that affected his life and tripped him up.

Can we run the race without this preparation—the laying aside of weights and sins? Of course we can, but it will not be run effectively, and eventually we will get entangled and trip.

 

Rule #5: Long distance perseverance and focus wins the race over short term spurts of energy.

Looking back to Hebrews 12, it is imperative we see the most unheralded reason people finish the race and improve their running. It cuts to the heart of the runner. The internal quality necessary for every successful runner is perseverance. v. 2c—"....and let us run with perseverance..."

Perseverance defined is "strength under control"--hupomena in the Greek.. From the human side, perseverance is more important in the long run than talent. Perseverance is one of the key reasons people will finish the race well, and lack of it explains why some may start fast and then pull up short .

Rule #6: Stay in your own lane.

v. 2d—"...the race marked out for us." The encouragement to stay in your own lane really does have a Scriptural foundation. All races have similarities, but each will also be unique. There is a race marked out for us, and we should stay in it. We're on the same track and all looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. But there is a specific lane we have been assigned, and we will function best and be most fulfilled as we move forward in that particular lane.

 

Rule #7: We will have opposition from sinful men, but if we meditate on how the Lord endured His opposition, we will find great encouragement.

Heb. 12:3—"Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Our opponent in the race needs to be understood and not overlooked; i.e., we should know the strategies the enemy of our soul has used.

Paul asks in Galatians 5:7, "You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth"? The Galatians were running a good race until someone broke in and led them from the truth. It can happen to us, too! We need to understand, then, the race temptations, and be alerted to the signs of running off course. Beyond that, however, our primary attention should be on the methods our Lord used to endure the opposition.

 

Rule #8: Be a good team player and do everything without complaining and arguing, for the good of the team, the coach, and yourself.

It's amazing how team camaraderie and spirit can affect how everyone does in individual and team events. Arguing and complaining, on the other hand, can destroy a team's chances to win.

Here's what might be a half-time speech to a team, from Phil. 2:16

"Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15] so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16] as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing."

Paul wanted to boast on the day of Christ about his team, that he didn't run or labor for nothing. He said a very similar thing to the Galatians in Gal. 2:2—"I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain." If we want to be able to boast about our run, and have the coaches see the team shine like stars, we as a team must continue to do everything without complaining and arguing.

 

Remember your coaches, disciplers, parents, friends. Do you want to run or labor for nothing? Keeping with the coaching theme, again:

Rule #9: The only way to have ultimate victory is to find a coach who loves you.

There is a coach who loves you enough to die for you; not to condemn you; to sustain you until ultimate victory is achieved. Romans 8:31-37 says, What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32] He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33] Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34] Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36] As it is written: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

What a marvelous passage of Scripture! Romans 8 is the only passage we have looked at that does not focus specifically on The Race or running. It does, however, remind us of our ultimate victory and how we will be able to finish well the race marked out for us.

This whole section has one question after another, and each calls for an answer. It's pretty difficult to read these seven verses without rejoicing, or at least smiling, because they certainly lift your spirit. Do you see how this section ends? Talk about winning! "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."

Do you see, however, that the context doesn't sound very triumphant? The passage is talking about sheep, ready to be slaughtered. There is tribulation and affliction, pain, hardship, hunger, a lack of clothing, and even death. In the midst of these circumstances, though, there is tremendous inner strength, incredible determination, quiet confidence, solid security and unswerving love.

All of this is made possible through Him, our coach, our Savior, the One who loves us—v. 37. If God is for us, who can be against us?

Rule #10: Run for the glory of another, the glory of God.

Col. 3:23 tells us, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men..." The purpose of the race is to run for the glory of the One in the stands, the author and finisher of our faith.

Rule #11: Run in the strength of another.

Is. 40:30—Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31] but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

 

We will get tired and weary, stumble and fall, but there is a way to pick ourselves up, renew our strength, and run without growing weary. It is to hope in the Lord, for He will renew our strength.