I ran my very first race a little over two years ago, and I haven’t been the same since that day.
As of today, I’ve raced in 11 half marathons, 1 full marathon, 1 25k, several 10ks, and a handful of 5ks. No, it doesn’t come easy. And, no, it doesn’t come naturally.
Running, and routine exercise in general, teaches me about moving forward, not throwing in the towel and keeping my eyes on the prize.
But most of all running continues to teach me spiritually.
Here are a few lessons physical exercise teaches me about God wants to teach you, too.
Enjoy the process.
When I first started running, I had to teach myself to enjoy running. I didn’t run Cross Country in school, and the most I ever attempted to run growing up was on the basketball court or as a sprinter in middle school Track & Field.
For me, to be a long-distance runner, that’s crazy. Not me. I was never the tiny girl in the crowd, and I looked at other experienced runners around me as some sort of unattainable image. I knew it would take work to get to a place where I wanted to be, and I knew it would be a process.
It’s been a process where I’ve had to learn to enjoy running for miles on end. A process, which seemed unrealistic three years ago, made me enjoy the bumps, bruises and lessons learned along this road to become the athlete God has called me to be.
And I think along our journey to become the man, the woman, the wife, the husband, the brother, the sister, the business person, the teacher, the doctor—or what have you—we’ll all experience those bumps, bruises and lessons along the way that will shape and mold us into the calling God has for us.
Take it step-by-step.
When I ran my first half marathon, I jumped right in with little training. As the years went by, I had to learn how to train properly for races. Too often did I want to just jump into a race thinking that I could dominate the finish. I learned to take it step-by-step. Take it day-by-day. Take it run-by-run. Take it race-by-race. I learned I couldn’t reach my ultimate end goal in the first few days of beginning the training.
A lot of us attempt to do this spiritually. We have God-sized dreams that we go for whole-heartedly in one setting or in a span of a few days, and most of the time, God is whispering, “Wait. Not yet. Continue to pray. Continue to learn. Continue to grow before I lead you through this door.”
“And take it step-by-step. Enjoy this process.”
Growth requires self-discipline.
At the end of the day, no one else could force me to hit the pavement, to hit the gym and to put in the practice. It boiled down to my desire to grow and learn and see results.
If we ever want to see a change in our lives, it requires us to lay down our pride, to lay down our desires, to lay down our wants, and to press into God’s Word. It requires us to practice self-discipline and to train ourselves to seek first the Kingdom.
Our natural desires, our natural tendencies, our natural response to self-discipline must be left behind in yesterday as we move forward today. Routine exercise taught me spiritual growth starts with me practicing self-discipline and surrendering all to the Lord. He’s ready to take us on a journey we can’t even imagine if we can simply do this.
Keep moving forward.
I often repeat this to myself on my long runs: “Keep moving forward, keep moving forward, keep moving forward.” If I can keep moving forward, I gain more ground, I gain more mileage, and I gain more of what’s in store for me along the path.
Too often is God nudging and whispering and encouraging us to “keep moving forward.” We dwell on yesterday, we sulk in our woes and fears and unfortunate circumstances, so much that sometimes we miss the wide open path set right in front of us. God wants us to keep moving forward. One foot in front of the other. Pressing on until we see His face.
Keep your eyes on the prize.
I know, I know, it’s a cliche. But it really helps.
God wants us to keep our eyes on the prize in this world, too. He wants us to be reassured that this race, this life, is a stopping point into eternity. And in this world we will have trouble (and it will be tough, and hard to breath, and physically draining), but to take heart because he has overcome the course (John 16:33).
Keep your eyes on the prize—on our maker.
Go with purpose in every single step.
Running taught me to not run aimlessly. To not move forward without a specific plan or intentions. Running taught me to take hold of my purpose. With every step, I run with the intention of finishing my race with boldness, with all of my strength, and with determination. Because there’s so much more in store for me on the other side of the finish line.
God wants us to go with purpose in every single step. He wants us to surrender to him. He wants us to run our race, but not run aimlessly. He wants us to put each foot in front of the other with purpose and intention and fixation on what’s to come right around the corner.