7am. 6,000 ft elevation. 250 people. Starting line. Bam! 32 miles to go.
A few years ago, I signed up for an ultramarathon. Sounds fun to say, not so fun to do. The truth is, I’m not a marathon runner. I don’t even like running. Running is hard, especially at 6-8 thousand feet of elevation.
Walking in the way of Jesus is also hard. No way around it. It doesn’t matter if you are on the mountain top or in the valley, it’s just plain difficult, and here’s why:
- You are a sinner. I hope you realize that. I also hope you realize that it’s in your nature. You can’t stop it from happening, but it can change. (More on that soon.)
- You are surrounded by sinners. Think of them like those other runners who won’t let you pass on the trail. Who steal your water at the refuel station. Who give you the wrong directions. Who jump over you when you eat it on the downhill.
- Things happen. You get cancer. Your friend commits suicide. The market tanks. Your house burns to the ground.
- There is an adversary. The Bible calls him Satan, which loosely means, the deceiver. He and all his minions (there are a lot), work with brilliant efficiency to turn you off trail toward cliffs, briars, bears, anything that will destroy you.
So yeah, it’s hard. More for some than others, but regardless, feel free to say to yourself, “This is hard.” There is hope though, and His name is Jesus. Scripture says that He knows exactly what it’s like to run the trails we run.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15)
Jesus knows exactly what it’s like to be a human being. He felt the heat of the day and the coldness of night. He knew fullness and what it was like to really starve. And He knew what it was like to go toe-to-toe with the deceiver and to suffer at the hand of those who are deceived.
But the thing that’s different for Jesus (outside of being God) is that He chose to jump on the trail with us. We had no choice. The gun fired when you were born and the race began. Jesus made the choice. He signed up for all the miles, hills, and valleys. Every challenge He took by choice.
Even when it got really hard, through blood drenched prayers, He stuck with it. If you give time to thinking about it, it’s wild. There was no quit in Jesus. He was fully committed to His next step on the journey to save the lost souls of Earth. Jesus was and is, to put it in modern terms, “A real one.” And praise God for that.
You wouldn’t say the same about His disciples. When men came to arrest Jesus, His disciples weren’t game for the next steps in Jesus’ journey. Well, not the step He was about to take. One of them, Peter, had other plans,
“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear…So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
But friends, if you are a follower of Christ, how often have you had plans for how you are going to run this race, that didn’t line up with Jesus’ plans? You were planning to take that hill and He wanted to take you into the valley. He said go the narrow way, but you took wide, destructive ways. I have done both of these and so much more.
I have experienced hardships that I could not control like my dad being in prison for much of my childhood. Moving to 5 different schools in 6 years. The loss of two children to miscarriage. But I have also chosen to look at pornography and manipulate others. I have woken up from drunken nights and had to apologize. I have stolen and not paid back. I have cheated and tore down others in my way. I’m a sinner.
All this adds up to be a lot of baggage. Baggage has a direct impact on our ability to run the race God has for us. For instance, when I ran that ultra through the Big Horn mountains in Wyoming, I had no idea what I needed. So I did what any noob does, I packed every gel and water supplement known to man in one of those sleek little water vests that you see in the ultra-runner photos. As legit as I looked, it was foolish. It was 8lbs of resource that I didn’t need.
That doesn’t sound like much, but 8lbs across 32 miles and a big elevation change adds up. And so it is in our journey in the way of Jesus. We carry unnecessary baggage that we need to lay aside. Things that just happened, like (you fill in the blank). Or sins that you committed along the way that had minor to major impacts, like (you fill in the blank).
You know, it would have been nice if someone would have told me I didn’t need to carry all that weight at the beginning and that there were going to be incredible aid stations all along the way. I could say the same about my journey as a believer. For some reason, though I knew I was forgiven, I still carried so many burdens. It wasn’t until a few years ago that some amazing followers of Jesus showed me that I can be honest about the things that happened to me as well as those things that I hoped to take to the grave.
Friend, you too can find freedom to drop every weight that hinders. Confess your sin to God, He will forgive you. Then confess your sin to other believers. James 5:16 tells us to “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another and you will be healed.” There is so much freedom and healing that comes through radical authenticity.
If you are willing to do this, I’m so proud of you! But let me encourage you to take one more step on this hard trail of following Jesus. Be reconciled with those who have sinned against you and those you have sinned against. Reconcile is just a fancy word for “make it right.” This happens through confession and seeking or extending forgiveness. This is the ministry Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 that Jesus practiced with us and expects us to practice along the hard trails of life with one another.
As hard as it can be, it’s always easier than the way of the world. Jesus says,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 28:11-30)
Despite my poor training, I finished that ultra race. After I crossed the finish line, I was greeted by food, friends, and some hearty slaps on the back.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it." The trail you are running with the Holy Spirit does have a finish line. And there really is food and a celebration. But the greatest prize of all is that your Savior is waiting for you.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-2)
So, run! And today, choose to drop the baggage that is getting in the way of you running and finishing well. Be reconciled with others, and point others to the One whose trail running lead to your reconciliation.
Until then, I’ll see you on the other side with a hearty slap on the back!