My girls and I ran a half marathon on Saturday. Actually, it was a 20K, but none of you non-runners care, so let’s just leave it at a half. Anyway, as I was running it, I thought back to the first time I ran a full marathon. It was a goal that I had thought previously unachievable…until I broke it down.
When I was contemplating running 26.2 miles, I read books on the subject, scanned articles written by veteran racers, and generally fed my brain anything marathon related. I was interested in running these long miles, but unfamiliar with the how-to. After perusing several Internet sites, I found a training plan that looked do-able and penciled into my calendar the miles I needed to run. That way, when the marathon rolled around, I would be good and ready. And I decided that I would obey my calendar even when I felt like ignoring it.
This worked well for me. After getting up in the morning, I would look at the mileage that was required that day and find a way to fit it in. If I ignored the directives of my calendar, I knew I wouldn’t be ready to run when the big day arrived. This fear of failure, of disappointing myself, kept me on the straight and narrow path when I wanted to give into the wide road of lethargy.
The reason that this plan worked for me is because the long months of training were broken down into (relatively) small daily miles. The big goal of running a marathon seemed achievable by training one day at a time. Conversely, if I had the same desire to run a marathon, and if I would have gone out the first day trying to run 26.2 miles all at once, my attitude towards my goal would have been very different. The dream of the marathon would have seemed completely undoable, discouraging, defeating. This is why, when we have a large vision, we start small and build slowly. Breaking goals down helps us to wrap our brains around this monumental task that we are attempting. One does not become a marathoner in a matter of days, or even weeks—a marathoner takes several months to be race-ready.
Why then, as Christians, do we expect to be spiritually mature instantly? Why do we think we can become godly by “just going to church?” In the same way that training for a race is a process, spiritual growth takes time…and effort. It takes hours and hours of sitting at Jesus feet, learning from His Word, reminding ourselves of His Truths. Spiritual maturity sometimes seems unattainable when we are struggling again and again with the same enslaving sin. It seems far off when our desire for the Word wanes. It seems unswervingly huge when we truly understand how incapable we are of achieving it on our own. But it is achievable…when we break it down.
If we make it our goal to seek God daily and read His Word regularly, it will affect our lives. Jesus promised, “It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). If we memorize scripture by reviewing it daily, it can help us to sin less; the psalmist said “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11). And if we give up our rights to our lives, God will reward us with His abundant life; “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25). These are promises the Christ-follower can count upon. One does not become spiritually mature in a matter of days—or even months—becoming more like Jesus takes a lifetime.
Although we will never achieve perfect maturity in Christ until we meet with Him in Heaven, we can take small steps here on earth to display a better reflection of Him to others. It’s true, as Christ-followers, that we have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead at our disposal. But it’s also true that we need to choose to use this power by disciplining ourselves and making wise choices every single day. The fear of the Lord and the reality of meeting Him face to face in the future make this obedience more appealing. Starting our day by looking at our “Guidebook” for direction is a great way to start. And choosing to do what it says is non-negotiable. Luke 6:46 poses the question, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?"
Choosing righteousness is hard. It requires dedicated training. Sometimes it feels completely unreachable; our true Home seems so far away. Philippians 2 tells us that we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (all the while being aware of the Spirit within). So, keep making the next right choice, keep persevering in your quest to give God glory. Keep choosing obedience over pleasure. Keep walking on the narrow path when the wide one beckons louder. Keep training yourself to be godly, little by little by little.
And it will happen. And you will see more and more of God’s face. And then, one day, you will hear the coveted words, “Well done good and faithful servant” when you reach the finish.
Keep running, my friend, keep running.
The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7