We have all heard the phrase “Go the distance.” Our minds naturally think of runners or athletic pursuits. A marathon runner for instance, has to “go the distance” for 26 miles; but how do they do it? Running for that long does not come naturally. It takes endurance. For the marathon runner, going the distance means training for endurance. They need to strengthen their muscles using weights; they condition their hearts with cardiovascular exercises; and, most importantly, they fuel their bodies for the race. If they neglect any of those three techniques for endurance training, the athlete can experience something called “hitting the wall.” This phenomenon occurs when the runner just collapses; the body gives out due to lack of strength, poor conditioning or not enough fuel. The results for a marathon runner are devastating because when they “hit the wall” they don’t make it across the finish line.
When we want to “go the distance” in our spiritual life, we also need to partake in endurance training. In Colossians, Paul prays for the believers that they would “be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance.” (Col 1:11) Why would we need endurance? Hebrews 12:1 answers that for us; it says we need to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” We realize that we, like the marathon runner, are in a spiritual race. We need spiritual training just as the runner needs physical training. We need to make sure we fuel our spirit with God’s Word daily. The athlete doesn’t just eat properly right before a race. Rather, they eat a balanced diet and drink enough fluids as a lifestyle. During a race they continue to drink fluids in order to keep their bodies functioning. In a similar way, we need to feed on God’s Word, not just when we think we need it but as daily sustenance for our spiritual race. John 1:14 tells us “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Later on, in John 6:55 Jesus tells us “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” We need to feed and drink the Word of God so that we can “go the distance” with Jesus.
Like the athlete, we also need to strengthen our spiritual muscles. When we get tired and the race marked out for us is harder than we anticipated, we need those muscles to be strong enough to carry us through. We need the strength found in prayer, in bible study and in worship. An athlete works out daily with different weights. They always push themselves to do a little more each day until their bodies, which once could only lift 30 pounds can now lift 100 pounds. Paul reminds us again in Philippians 2:12 that we need to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” Have you ever watched someone push themselves to lift heavier weight than they are used to? Their muscles shake and quiver as they lift beyond their ability. In the same way, we need to push ourselves to go deeper in prayer, be diligent in bible study and authentic in worship.
Finally, we need to condition our hearts if we are going to finish the race marked out for us. In order to avoid hitting the spiritual wall, we need to make sure our hearts are right with God. In Psalm 119:36 the psalmist pleads with God to help him. He says, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” When our hearts are plagued with selfish desires, we are not going to run very far. Our endurance is based on keeping our eyes focused on Jesus, not on our own lives. Again we read in Psalm 119:37 “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things and give me life in your ways.” While the athlete relies on the treadmill to condition their heart for a marathon, we rely on the Holy Spirit to condition our heart for the spiritual race set before us. The treadmill may leave athletes breathless with exhaustion but our God will make us breathless with awe and wonder. The fuel of His Word is strength to our spiritual muscles and He reminds us in Proverbs 8:17 “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” Our hearts are conditioned by continually seeking Him.
Let us each commit this day to making sure we don’t hit the spiritual wall before we reach the finish line. With Jesus as your personal trainer, may you have the endurance to “go the distance” so that you can say with Paul one day “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)