I ran my first half marathon this past Saturday, and I learned something new about running: being surrounded by people makes a difference.
When training for the race, I often ran alone. My friends and family showed their support, which was encouraging, but that support was often forgotten in the midst of training. As you look at the distance you still need to cover for a long run and feel at the same moment your body’s exhaustion and discomfort in the heat and humidity of the day, quitting becomes much more appealing than finishing. The end goal of completing the race kept me moving forward, but I didn’t always enjoy the work.
On race day, something changed. We arrived on a cold, wet morning, watching rain clouds drift by overhead, yet I wasn’t dissuaded by the discomfort. As I began to run, I felt more energized and alert than I had in training. As I passed the ten-mile distance marker, at that point running further than I ever had before with every step I took, I noticed an absence of any desire to slow down or to quit. Throughout the run, things which normally might have hindered me only propelled me forward.
So what changed? What made this run more successful than past runs? While there were a number of factors that helped this experience to stand out in my mind, the biggest difference came in the number of people around me. As I ran, I was surrounded by just over 1,400 people, providing a buzz of excitement and energy as we moved forward together toward the goal. In addition to this, there were people stationed along the race route providing encouragement and support. I think this, more than any other factor, made the difference in the run. Before, the encouragement was unseen during the run; then, the encouragement was present.
As I considered the reasons for my improvement, I remembered a passage from Hebrews. After recalling the legacy of faith in God throughout history, the author exhorts his readers to act, writing,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The eyes of every believer are to be fixed upon Christ. He stands as the object of our worship, the reason for our acceptance, and the foundation of our joy and peace. As we follow him, however, we follow alongside fellow brothers and sisters in the faith. We run in the same legacy as the heroes we admire in the pages of Scripture. We see in this text a call to recognize the present encouragement we have by nature of our belonging to the body of Christ. Furthermore, we are called in the following verses to follow in the footsteps of Christ himself, who has forged the path we now run. While the race we run may feel lonely at times, the Holy Spirit reminds us here that we are never alone.
This week, consider how you run. In this spiritual race, as in physical races, be encouraged by those around you and be motivated by those who have gone before you. Run in a manner worthy of your calling, that you may honor the Lord in your efforts. And trust that he will sustain you in this life, for “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).