Maybe I should begin by saying, I am not a runner.
Around this time last year my husband told me to block particular dates on my calendar so we could head out of town for a long weekend. As the date approached, I asked him where we were headed and what I should pack. His reply was simple. ‘It’s a surprise. Pack casual….and bring your sneakers.’
Now, I really do trust my husband! He has never steered me wrong before, so I didn’t question it. I just packed my bag and off we went. A few hours later however, I found myself in Nashville, standing in a crowd, wearing my sneakers, a number pinned to my shirt, registered for a race I had not planned to run.
Finding myself in a race I had not planned on running shed some amazing new light for me on a very familiar passage in the Word of God. This new perspective has shaped every challenge, every trial, every difficult event or journey that I have faced since.
In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul writes:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”
For years, I have read that passage as if Paul were referring to the marathon of life. From day one until the day we go home to be with Jesus, we are running a race of ups and downs, highs and lows, expected and unexpected events that become mile markers on our individual journeys with the Lord.
But, the language Paul uses here is actually quite different. The race Paul is referring to is not a marathon covering miles and miles. The word Paul uses in the original language is stadio, a race that measured 185 meters, approximately 660 feet, the equivalent of just .11 miles.
Paul says in a stadio, in a race of only .11 miles, all the runners run. Interesting, isn’t it? Paul is referring to a short run. He says in a very short run, just over a tenth of a mile, all the runners run. These runs had a beginning and they had an end. They were marked by a defined distance and a finish line, even if the runners were not able to see the finish line from where they stood. These were not long races. They were short runs in the grand scheme of the games. I read that and I say, “WOW! I can run that kind of race! A race of only .11 of a mile with a finish line just ahead? Let me grab my sneakers and I will run for the prize!”
But then we get a little deeper into the verse. Paul says that in these .11 mile races, all the runners run. The word here for run is trekh’o, and the definition tempts me to put my sneakers back on the shelf. Trekh’o doesn’t just mean to run. It means to run with all you have, and then run some more. Trekh’o is defined as a time of extreme peril which requires the exertion of all our effort to overcome. Ouch.
The runners in these .11’s had to give the race all they had. They had to endure the peril, but only for a defined time with the understanding that there was an end to their struggle, even if they could not see the finish line clearly from where they stood. Someone had gone ahead of them marking out the start and marking out the end. With this understanding, they registered for the games, took their place, and they ran.
Paul said that is the kind of race we are called to run. These defined .11’s may be short, but they are going to be tough. These .11’s are marked out for us with a beginning and an end, but they are times of extreme peril requiring that we exert all we have in order to overcome, in order to get the prize. These are races that we don’t want to run, races we had not planned on running, but races each of us face at some point in life:
- A financial pressure that has been looming around you.
- A conflict in a relationship that has been dragging you down.
- A child pursuing a path clearly against God’s ways and purposes.
- An unknown in your future that leaves you on your knees late into the night.
These races are hard. They weigh heavy on our hearts and minds and consume our thoughts and emotions. They require all we have, but Paul calls them stadios. He reminds us that they are only .11’s. They have a beginning, they have an end and they cannot go out of the control of our God. These .11 races may seem to be long from our perspective. They are difficult and challenging, but the One Who sees the beginning from the end knows that these momentary struggles are just that, momentary, regardless of how long they seem to us as we run.
And then Paul uses one more small word…he uses the word all. All means all. In this kind of race, all the runners run. Sister, that means you and that means me. No one is getting out of it. We are the runners and all the runners run.
Why would the Lord allow us to run these .11’s? Why would the Lord permit these times of peril and extreme exertion on our journeys? Because, at the end there is a prize and Paul says that we are to run in such a way to get it. That is good news. There is a prize…and we can get it. God doesn’t put us on an impossible race and then tell us to try to get the prize. He says you are on a race, there is a prize and there is a way you can run in order to win. Put your shoes on, fix your eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith and run the race well! We can finish our .11. We can run our race. Even those of us who have never run the race before.
This year, my husband took me back to Nashville to run the same race again. This time I knew where I was headed and I knew I would make it through. I had run this race with him before and I had come out stronger. Running the race with my husband last year gave me confidence that I could run this race again.
I still trust my husband. He registered me for a race he knew I could handle, even if I thought I could not. It was hard. I had to run in a way I never had before, but I as I ran, the closer I got to the end, the finish line came into view. My perspective changed, I crossed the line and at the end I got the prize.
I will always trust my God. Every race that He has set before me is a race He knows I can handle with Him. It may be hard, but I will make it through, even if I have never had to run this way before. Whatever .11 He has ahead, I will run with purpose, not aimlessly, and I will get the prize, a deeper relationship with Jesus, conformed into the image of Christ just a little bit more. That is a prize worth winning!
What’s your .11? Where has God called you to run a marked but perilous journey requiring you to give all you have, holding onto Him in order to cross the finish line? You can trust the One Who has marked out the race. He started it. He will finish it. You will make it through.
Maybe I should end by saying I am a runner. We all are. We are not runners in races to receive an earthly prize. We are runners in the unshakable Kingdom of God on course to receive a prize that never fades away.
Get out your sneakers, my friend. Put them on. Keep your eyes open, look straight ahead and run! Run with purpose the .11 marked out for you!
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17