You have a race to run. It’s a race you’ve been given, not one you’ve chosen.
It’s possible you wouldn’t have chosen your race at all, had the choice been yours. Or perhaps you wouldn’t have chosen this particular route. Or perhaps you wouldn’t have chosen your pace. Or perhaps you would have chosen different racing environments, teammates, or coaches. Or perhaps you would have chosen different capacities, strengths, and resources, ones you believe would help you run more effectively. Or perhaps you would have chosen a different distance.
But here you are: in this race, on this route, at this pace, on this terrain, in this climate, with these people, and your strengths, and your limitations, for this distance. Like it or not, this is your race.
And the question is this: Will you embrace your race or keep trying to escape it? What mindset will you choose? For though you may not have chosen your race, you do get to choose how you run it.
You Can’t Escape
Of course, escape is not a real option. However, fantasy provides a seductively compelling illusion of escape. And the world offers you an overwhelming number of fantastic virtual experiences to “relieve” you from the rigorous realities of your race.
By “fantasy” I don’t mean “imagination.” The two are not synonyms. Imagination is the God-given gift to human beings that allows us to fulfill our mandate to be sub-creators and stewards of our little corner of creation (Genesis 1:28–30). Nor by “fantasy” am I referring to the literary or cinematic “fantasy” genres, which, when used rightly, are imaginative sub-creations that can help us better understand and embrace reality.
By “fantasy” I mean something we are all very familiar with: the use of our imaginations for faithless ends — to faux-create an alternative to reality as a means of trying to “escape” reality. You know what I mean: sexual fantasies, anger fantasies, power fantasies, revenge fantasies. These are sinfully preferring a race God hasn’t given us; they are pretending we are in a race of our own choosing — a race in which we get to be God in our own way.
But the problem with such fantasies is that they aren’t real. They get us nowhere. They provide a temporary illusion of happiness, but as soon as we take off the virtual-reality goggles, so to speak, we are the same person, in the same race, on the same route. Nothing has changed, except that we have lost valuable time and burdened ourselves with more discontent and more guilt. We are more unhappy runners than we were before, which often just make us want to escape again.
How to Run Free
There’s only one way to real freedom and real joy: we must renounce our fantasy races, routes, paces, terrains, climates, teammates, strengths, or distances, and embrace the race we have been given. This is how to run free and for joy:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)
This text shows us how to run our race and run it well.
1. Learn from great runners.
You are running a unique race, but not an unprecedented race. No one has experienced exactly what you have, but many have experienced the same emotions, temptations, and various other challenges common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). That’s why the Bible includes a “great cloud” of examples of faithful race-running.
If you want to run well, study other runners. Hebrews 11 provides a helpful starter list, but it is by no means exhaustive. Study the great faith-runners. Examine all aspects of their courses. God did far more abundantly than all they asked or thought (Ephesians 3:20). He will do more for you, too, if you run faithfully.
2. Run as light as possible.
This is your race. God has given it to you. This truth is for your liberation, not your limitation. It’s meant to free you, not constrict you. It’s folly and sin to waste time wishing your race were different or resenting God’s choices. Most of those in the great cloud of witnesses had no idea all that God was doing while they were running very difficult races. Neither do you. But learn from the witnesses that God’s purposes are bigger and better than you can imagine.
Lay aside all the weights of fantasy and escape. Lay aside the weights of past sins and regrets. It makes for miserable, slow running. The cross pays for all the past, and the future joy will make all present difficulties now seem light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17). Focus on your race, and only carry what God gives you. His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).
3. Run with endurance.
Endurance is only increased by pushing our current limits. It’s hard, yes. And you don’t know how you’ll ever be able to run like other great faith-runners. Neither did they when they began.
Begin today, and push your limits. When tomorrow comes, run and push your limits. What exhausts you today will be much easier in six months, but then you’ll be pushing different limits. Don’t look at your fantasized ideal of a great faith-runner. Let Jesus make you into whatever runner he wants. You faithfully and prayerfully aim to increase your current endurance limits.
4. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Look to Jesus — he is your greatest example, your Savior, and your greatest intercessor (Hebrews 7:25). He is the source of your greatest joy — your one great prize for running well (Psalm 16:11; John 15:11). A race is only run for a prize. If the prize is not before your eyes, you will lose motivation. If you feel unmotivated to run your race, it may be because the prize has been obscured. First priority: eyes on the prize again, whatever it takes — whatever it takes! And then “run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Embrace Your Race
This is your race. God has set it before you. There is more glory in it than you yet comprehend. How are you going to run?
You can’t change the past; stop trying. There’s much you can’t change about the present; stop trying. There are many fantasies singing like sirens to allure you into the illusion of indulgent escape; stop listening, and don’t let them eat your race time and weigh you down.
Embrace your race. Study the great faith-runners, run as light as possible, push your current endurance limits, and get your eyes on the Great Prize. Run freer, run faster, and run for joy.