In October 2016 my husband and I did something together that I never in a million years thought I would do. We ran a half-marathon. Now, if you saw me, the first thought that would come into your mind would not be, “She looks like a lady who runs half-marathons.” No, it would probably be, “She looks like a lady who knows what good food tastes like.” I’m what Southerners call “healthy” aka I have “meat on my bones”… and then some. But I like me, and that’s okay.
Anywho, flashback to January 2016. I wanted to have some sort of motivation to get into better shape. I thought having the end goal of a major race could be my motivation. Seemed some what practical, and since my husband was going to be training too, I would have some in-home accountability. I (and by “I” I mean my husband) researched for a manageable training schedule to get us ready. Being in our mid-thirties, it would take a little more time to train for our bodies. It’s easier to move pebbles than boulders, and my boulder of a body did not like moving. I exercised, so I could eat more. That’s about it, so running as a training program was not my natural tendency nor desire. Cookies, though, now that is my natural desire.
Training for a half-marathon takes time, yet as a mom of two, wife, avid volunteer at my church, and school teacher, time is something I didn’t have in excess. I had to find time. Therefore, I would get up early to train. Like, five in the morning early. The sun wasn’t even up, early. Too early. BUT, I had to stick to the schedule, or I would regret it later. There’s a reason it’s a training schedule and not just a mere suggestion. It gets you ready for the big race that WILL happen. I had to stick to the schedule in order to grow in strength. If I skipped a day of training, I would regret it later. It would be harder on my body the next training day. I would hurt, and I might even cause myself serious injury. Plus, it would be easier to give up and give in to not getting up early if I skipped.
There was opposition, sleep mainly. I love sleep like I love cookies, and my bed is super comfy. Also, there was a “crime spree” occurring my little suburb. In the dark of night and into the morning, people were dressing up as clowns and jumping out at innocent bystanders in order to instill deep fear in the hearts of many. Clowns. In. The. Dark. Talk about a reason for counseling… and pepper spray. Clowns alone would have kept me in, but training was important. It was a priority. I would even bring up to others how I got up early in order to run in the dark and how it was hard but worth it. I would post sweaty, ugly training photos on social media to encourage others (brag) about my getting up in spite of wanting to sleep and facing my fear of clowns. (side bar, they caught the people dressing up as clowns. The clown spree is over.)
Finally, October had come, and after 12 weeks of training, we finished our half marathon. I was sore. I was tired, but man was I proud of my accomplishment. I loved how I felt. My legs were all muscle, and I could see the result of my hard work, self-discipline, and personal motivation. I wanted to keep up this training schedule, getting up early and running for my health. I wanted to keep going. I wanted more of this healthy lifestyle.
I kept up the early runs for about a week before my bed was too comfortable and my eyes were too heavy. I no longer got up early, and I would fit my runs in every so often in order to eat more. The race was over. Training was no longer a priority. I went back to my old ways as if I never ran the race.
Jesus shows us how we should prioritize spending time in prayer. In Mark 1:35, the author writes, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Jesus wasn’t getting in his early morning run. He got up to pray, to spend time with the Lord. Jesus had long days of healing people, driving out evil spirits, and out smarting religious leaders. I’m sure He was tired. His comfy, temporary bed was calling His name. I’m sure sleep was something He wanted, but He wanted to be in prayer more. Jesus’s ear was turned more to the Father than to the pillow and comfort. He wanted more.
The Apostle Paul says in his second letter to Timothy that he has “run the good race”. Paul is getting close to the finish line of life. Meaning, he’s about to die, just in case you didn’t catch that. He wrote earlier in 1 Corinthians 9 that runners run to get a crown that fades. Now, Paul writes to tell his student that he will die and inherit a crown of righteousness through Christ. Paul prioritized Jesus in all that he did. He knew the scriptures, and he knew spending time with the Lord through prayer and fasting was important. His race was not a one-time event. It was an all-in, all-life choice to proclaim the Gospel. According to the beginning of the letter, Paul also knew that God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). He faced something way scarier than clowns. Paul faced prison, torture, and death.
Satan doesn’t have to make all my Bibles disappear to keep me from reading the Scriptures or make my tongue mute to keep me from prayer. All he has to do is distract me, so I prioritize something else, instead of the Lord, in my life. Just like my love of sleep would keep me from getting up, my love for myself (usually in the form of sleep), will keep me from prayer and Bible reading. If Jesus thought it was necessary to get up early to pray, who am I to say I don’t?
I don’t have to heal people, drive out evil spirits, or out smart religious leaders on a daily basis, but I do have to love people, guard against evil (through the power of the Holy Spirit), and grow in my knowledge of the Lord. Though running a half-marathon is super cool and can be marked off a bucket list, I want Jesus to tell me (like Paul) that I have run the good race. That can only be done through spiritual training: prayer, meditating on Scripture, and fasting.
Now, instead of getting up early to train my body, my husband and I get up early to spend time with the Lord. We get up before the kids, make a pot of coffee, and spend our early mornings in prayer before the light of day even occurs. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. It’s a battle to tell my bed no. But that’s exactly it. It’s a battle. We already have the victory in Jesus, but the everyday battle is won before the sun comes up because running the race Christ has set before me has to be my number one priority and desire. Even more than cookies.