Thursday, April 25, 2024

"Know the Course"

I learned this piece of running advice when I first started marathoning. Whenever I followed it I did much better than whenever I didn't. 

A few years ago I was scheduled to speak at a church in Annapolis, Maryland. A couple of days beforehand I learned that the Baltimore Marathon was to be run on that Saturday before the church service. I decided that since I would already be in the area I might as well run it. That was a mistake. Not only had I just run a marathon the previous weekend in another state, I knew nothing about the Baltimore Marathon course. It was so hilly I finished the race with a very bad case of walking-on-lava-with-tin-man-knees-syndrome. 

Fortunately, the Dallas Marathon was a different story. Before the race I carefully studied the course map. Two things stuck out. For one thing, the course was a relatively flat one. For another thing, the course would take me right next to the very spot at White Rock Lake where I had proposed to Becky in the summer of 1976. Needless to say, I started crying when I reached that spot. It was truly a moment I will never forget and the reason I decided to run Dallas again. 

"Know the course." 

How do we get to know the course of life's marathon? In several ways I suppose. I enjoy reading about the lives of great men like David and Daniel. I enjoy reading biographies of men who taught Greek before me, like F. F. Bruce and Bruce Metzger. I enjoy reading the testaments from the men and women whose lives are recounted for us in Hebrews 11. But above all, the marathon of life is described for us in a book called the Bible. The Bible is God's way of making himself and his ways known. It tells us exactly what he's like and what he expects of us. It provides guidance and inspiration for us when we feel weary of the race and want to quit. It's at once a songbook, a how-to-manual, a love story, and a warning flasher. Sometimes it's an aid station where we have to drop out of the race for a while, a hospital where sick or injured runners gather to have their health restored, a place where our sin-sick hearts can be examined by an expert (God), and a place to find comfort as we recover from the blows of life. 

In a sense, God is a coach who is in the business of helping us to the finish line of our personal marathons. And in his eyes, there are no elite runners or back-of-the-packers, just people either willing or unwilling to follow him, even when the course seems impossible. On our own, we can't make it. But the Bible assures us that we're not struggling alone. God is at work in us to "give us both the desire and the power to do what pleases him" (Phil. 2:13).

After all the preparation and training, we've got to hit the course and run like the wind to receive the prize. But no marathon -- not even a figurative one -- can be won without him.