I want to spend some time thinking today about the phrase “it’s a marathon not a sprint.” That may be so true in 2020 and the coming year. The truth is I don’t know much about marathon running or sprinting, but my guess is there is quite a big difference. My guess is that most people could run a 100m sprint, but a marathon is very different – a different mindset is needed! Because A Marathon isn’t 422 different 100m sprints all put together (I did the maths) – actually a marathon is really tough! Not many people can do a marathon – a different attitude is required!
I did a half marathon once, while at university. I thought that because I played rugby and was relatively fit then a half marathon would be no problem But I was really badly mistaken!! It was really tough.
I learned a diet of pizza, pies and beer wasn’t a good combination for marathon running. In this article, though, I would like to suggest four differences between a marathon and a sprint in terms of the Christian life. Paul famously says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” So, I want to think about what Paul says to Timothy about running the marathon!!
First, in 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul says “God has not given you a Spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” The good news is that God has given you the Spirit! If you are a Christian God has given you the Spirit. God has given it to you – it is a grace gift! At the same time, Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 to “go on being filled with the Spirit” and in 2 Timothy 1:14 he reminds us to “guard the good deposit – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us!” So, the Holy Spirit helps at the beginning, middle, and end of the race. That’s the key to running the marathon, it’s the Spirit. On the one hand, a sprint (100m) mentality is to say actually we don’t need that much of the Spirit, it’s only a short race and we will be find. A marathon mentality is very different, it reminds us we need the Spirit every step of the way.
I looked up on google (so maybe take this with a pinch of salt), but a 100m sprint burns up about 9 calories, whereas a marathon burns up around 2500 calories! That’s all your daily intake! In order to be able to run a marathon you need to be filled up! The first thing Paul calls us to do is receive the Spirit. – we need the sustaining power of the Spirit every step of the race! Run with the help of the Spirit
The second thing I want to think about is motivation. Motivation is really important. If you’re not motivated for the marathon it is hard to keep going! I have tried to start running on 1st January loads of times, but by the end of January I have usually given up! Paul gives us this motivation in 2 Timothy 2:8 when he tells us to “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David – this is my Gospel.” Remember!! That word could be translated as “always remember”, “always keep in mind,” “always think about.” And it’s a command. Paul is saying to Timothy, and to us, “don’t ever let there be a moment in your life when you are not remembering the Gospel.” The truth is, you never outgrow your need for the Gospel. If we had a “sprint mentality” you might need the Gospel to get you off the starting block. But, a marathon mindset reminds me, at least, that I’m going to make mistakes and I need the Gospel every step of the way It reminds me that I need the forgiveness, intimacy, sin cleansing, judgement absorbing, wrath removing, justification imputing, death and resurrection of Jesus every day. If you want to run the race you need to Remember that!
The third thing Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 is that all scripture is God breathed and profitable! George Mueller once said “My task every morning is to get my heart happy in God – I rolled 60 burdens onto the Lord this morning and walked away with happiness from Jesus.” He said elsewhere “Happiness in God comes from seeing God revealed to us in the face of Jesus Christ through the Scriptures.” I think if you were to ask George Mueller what’s the key to marathon running Christianity – I think he’d say it’s about being a bible man. I believe with all my heart that if we sit down and read from Gen to Rev there is no way God will let us stand up from there without speaking directly into our life and us seeing breakthrough by the power of the word!!
One of the key differences between a marathon and a sprint is that you need to make sure you are heading in the right direction! If you’re anything like me, when I take up a new activity like running or cycling, I need all the gear. Paul tells us we can be “thoroughly equipped” through the Bible. What is more, Paul tells us the Scriptures “are able” to make you wise for salvation. The reality is that I have a pair of trainers which “are able” to run a marathon. But I am the weak link. The third encouragement is to read the Bible.
The final thing I want to highlight is that Paul mentions in 2 Timothy 4:1 is that Jesus will come back, judge the living and the dead, and the kingdom will come in its fullness! Paul talks over and over again about “looking forward,” “the last days,” and “that day.” Paul is encouraging us to have an eternal mindset and a focus on the finish line. But if you compare a sprint and a marathon, that focus on the finish line is very different, because in a marathon you can’t always see the finish line! But, a focus on eternity is actually meant to give us peace and joy as we run the marathon! Yet, when we run the race, having a mind set on eternity changes everything. For example, I have a guilty confession to make. Some of my family are Manchester United supporters. I know! I remember watching the Champions League final in 1999, and I remember the tense atmosphere watching the match. Man Utd played terribly, and Bayern Munich were 1-0 up. Then, as the clock ran on, the atmosphere became more and more tense! However, in the 91st minute Teddy Sheringham scored and then in the 93rd minute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored the winner. Suddenly, anxiety, worry and doubt were replaced with joy and excitement and peace.
What is interested, though, some of them watch the DVD of that match every year. When they do, they watch the match in a totally different way, with the eyes of faith. It’s the same match, Man Utd still play badly. Bayern Munich still go 1-0 up. The clock still rolls onto the 86th, 87th, 88th minute. But this time, there is no worry, doubt, anxiety, or fear. They know what’s coming! The same is true for Christians. We know what will happen, even if we don’t know when. It is about the finish line – but the finish line impacts how we run the race as well! I think it gives us real joy as we hold onto the promises of God as we run the race. Because we know that he who began a good work in us will carry it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus. We know that in God’s providence, sovereignty, and power that the finish line is coming, we know what’s going to happen, and we will get there by his grace. So, the way we run the Christian race, I think, involves a realisation of our ultimate destination. My encouragement to you, then, is just as Paul encouraged Timothy, seek to do the following:
- Receive the Spirit
- Remember the Gospel
- Read the Bible
- Realise his return