Hitting the Wall
It was April 26, 2008...a cool Saturday morning with an early light drizzle that had turned to gray skies. As I made my way through the streets of Metro Center office park, the muscles in my legs began to weaken, my body started to feel heavy and my brain was telling me to stop and rest. At that moment, a passenger van slowly passed by with the sliding door open. The people inside asked, "Do you need a ride?"
The day had started for me well before sunrise, but this journey had begun months earlier. I, and two of my friends, had set out from our homes that morning, just outside Clarksville, TN, heading for Nashville. It was a day to follow through on a challenge and commitment we had made to one another the previous September, to do something none of us had ever before attempted. We embarked upon the process of training to run a marathon...that is a 26.1 mile long-distance run. I remember vividly, the first day I ran a mile on my training plan, I was so winded that I could hardly breathe. But, over the intervening months, I slowly advanced in my stamina, strength and distances. The short runs, the Saturday mornings dedicated to the long runs, learning about hydration and nutrition, meeting up with my buddies to encourage and cheer each other along on those increasingly lengthening Saturday runs, all added up over the months to prepare us for this day.
So, our training was being put to the test. As we approached mile 18, my friend, Eric, and I, began to experience what is called "hitting the wall." It is when the body has expended the fuel is stores and the energy dips, impacting the physical as well as the mental functioning of the runner. It is a point at which the runner has to take steps to push through and not give in to the slump and give up. The passing van that was provided to transport injured or fatigued runners to the finish line, offered an added temptation to give in to the thoughts in our minds to stop and not finish the race. However, there was something that took place in that moment that got us through. We began to talk to each other. We coached one another, we encouraged and told one another, "We can't give up." We were completing 18 of 26.1 miles...we had come too far to stop. We had trained and we had worked hard to prepare for this day. As we pumped one another up, and grabbing energy gels and hydration at the next station, we pushed through that wall. We were not going to be stopped. And, you know what? We made it.
The next 8 miles were not easy, but they were not defeating. We kept going because we could visualize in our minds what it was going to be like to cross that finish line. It didn't matter what our time would be. It only mattered that we were going to finish...we were going to cross that line. And, I will tell you, I couldn't have imagined what it would be like to make that final turn and see the finish line in view. As we did, Eric and I looked at each other with smiles that engulfed our faces. I was thinking, "We are going to do this!"...thinking it, until I was saying it! And, we did...we crossed the finish line that day, completing the challenge and the commitment we had made 7 months earlier. I can't tell you how good that felt! I would go on to run another marathon and 11 half marathons over the coming years. Never fast, but always finishing.
Life is a Race, Purpose Gives Us a Reason to Run
I share this story to illustrate an important concept of living a purposed life. However, let me be quick to say, this isn't original with me. A writer, led by the Holy Spirit, wrote about it a few centuries ago.
Therefore since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, and run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God's throne.
Run the Race in Community
A "cloud of witnesses" describes those who have gone before us on this journey of faith. The picture that is painted is that those who have finished are cheering on those who are still in the race. Like a marathon runner coming into the stadium on the last leg of the course, the cheers in the bleachers rise. This picture reminds us that we are not meant to run this purposed race alone. Just as Eric and I were encouragers to one another when we hit the wall, we are to be encouragers, cheering one another on, providing support and reminding ourselves of the reason we run...to fulfill our purpose and to bring glory to the One who created us for this race. Sometimes, our engagement in community lifts us when we are weak. Sometimes, it challenges us to lay aside the things that weigh us down or the sins that will trip us up. Always, it points us toward the finish line.
Keep Our Eyes on the Finish Line
Part of the words that Eric and I spoke to one another when we hit the wall, were reminders of what we had set out to accomplish. We talked about the finish and how we would feel when we finally crossed that line. We could visualize that moment and it was an encouragement to keep going through that tough phase. In the same way, we are reminded to keep our eyes upon Jesus in the life marathon. He is the One who gives us our purpose...the "source and perfecter of our faith." In his place at the right hand of the Father, he advocates for us, and he has sent his Spirit to encourage and empower us. When we start to lose focus on why we are running this race, He is the One who reminds us of our purpose. He has already paved the way for us. Following Him, keeps us on the right course. Our encouragement of one another to maintain that focus is actually a part of the purpose we are called to fulfill.
Celebrate Every Mile and the Ultimate Finish
The picture that the writer of the Hebrew letter paints for us is as if the crowd is cheering us across the finish. But, there is also a sense in which their victory is a celebration of our completion of every mile. After Eric and I pushed through that wall at mile 18, I can assure you that we celebrated every tick of those last 7 miles. Each mile marker was a step closer to the goal. God's Spirit encourages us, and so do His people. Every step of the way, we can find support and help from those with whom we are running. When the course gets tough, we find the grace and strength we need from the indwelling Holy Spirit and through the incarnational ministry of Christ through our fellow runners. Then, when we finally reach that last turn and the finish line is in view, we will be able to celebrate that we have lived a life of purpose, not perfection, but one of purpose that has made a difference in this world. I can't think of a better way to finish...finishing strong.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. In the future, there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing.
2 Timothy 4:7-8
What can we learn from this about living a life of purpose, 365 days a year? Allow me to summarize:
Who do you look to for encouragement when life gets tough? Who is in your community? Who are you encouraging and supporting to find their purpose and run the race well? What are you doing to keep your eyes on Jesus? What do you have to celebrate today on this journey of purpose? SHARE YOUR TOUGHTS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.
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With over forty years of ministry experience, Randy Kinnick continues to live a life of pursuing the purpose for which he was created. Whether teaching God's Word to adults, coaching youth and young adults in finding their purpose, or caring for the hurting and abused in Southeast Asia, the adventure has taken him around the world in ways he could have never dreamed. The adventure continues!