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All during grade school, I ran a mile or more almost every week day. I wasn't a good runner: I wasn't fast, and I didn't enjoy it. I'm sure some seasons I ran more than others, but over all, I kept at it because I knew it was good for me (well, that and the fact that my mom required it to fulfill my PE requirements). In college I ran frequently, too, more out of the need for a study break than for anything else.
But after I got married, pregnancy, injury, and other demands got in the way of running. I didn't run for over a decade. In the past few weeks, though, I've started running again. And I've been amazed at the spiritual lessons I've learned from physical exercise.
Worthwhile pursuits take effort.
Running - or any other form of exercise, for that matter - doesn't come easily to me. I'm not a naturally-gifted athlete. I have to work hard in order to build up even a small amount of endurance. Most worthwhile things in life, though, are going to require serious effort.
The same is true of our spiritual lives. If we're just haphazardly reading a few verses here and there every few days, it's likely that we won't grow much in our spiritual walk. In order to deepen our faith, we need to make the effort to set aside time to diligently study God's Word.
Goal-setting is the key to accomplishment.
The reason I began running again is because my dad and sister want me to run a 5K fun run with them in September. (I'm still not sure why they're called fun runs; nothing about running is enjoyable to me except for the sense of accomplishment that comes after I've gone running.) This is a specific, time-bound goal, and it's something I can aim for.
So, too, we should be setting goals for our spiritual lives as well. I recently checked out my library's copy of Chip Ingram's book Good to Great In God's Eyes, where the author talks about setting goals for growing our faith. We apply goal setting to nearly every other area of our lives; why not to our spiritual growth as well?
You need accountability.
I either go running by myself after Jon gets home from work and while the kids are still napping, or I take the kids with me in the morning (big kids on bikes, Baby D in the jogging stroller). Although trying to get everyone going in the same direction and at the same pace is a bit cumbersome, I much prefer going with the kids than on my own. With them there to encourage me, I tend to run farther and faster while taking fewer breaks.
We need that same kind of accountability in our Christian walk. If no one's asking how we're doing in our faith, we could easily lose heart or simply stop caring about our spiritual growth. We need other believers to cheer us on, to keep us on track, and to confront us on our sin. We'll never grow spiritually without the support of others.
Don't worry about what other people think.
I have a really awkward gate when I run. I kick out my heels in a goofy way, and if I'm particularly tired, my feet will slap the pavement. Add in my poor posture, and I look pretty silly when I run! I was tempted not to go out running for fear of what people would think of my crazy running style, but I'm glad I didn't let that stop me. For one thing, I wouldn't be getting into shape, and for another, I wouldn't have been able to write this post. :)
The world is going to make fun of Christians. We appear crazy to unbelievers. While we should make every effort to be kind and loving toward those who find us weird or even repulsive, we shouldn't let what other people think prevent us from following Christ.
Appearances can be deceiving.
I've been following a run/walk pattern my dad told me about. I run for about 3 minutes, then walk a minute, then run again. The slight break that walking gives me helps me catch my breath and rest my muscles without letting my heart rate drop too drastically. The end result is that I can go further with less injury.
What ends up happening is that I run out of our mobile home park toward the trail behind our house, run/walk along the trail, then run back into the park. I'm sure that my neighbors all think that I'm constantly running since they see me run out and run back in. But the truth is that I take a lot of walking breaks that they don't see.
The same thing happens in other areas of life, too. We see the pastor who can suggest Bible passages effortlessly and the Christian lady who always smiles no matter how hard life is. But what we don't see are the years that the pastor poured into studying God's Word or the countless hours the lady has spent on her knees asking the Lord for strength.
We should avoid the comparison game at all costs. It's unbiblical, and nobody wins. Be happy for those who are doing well in certain areas and ask them for advice so that you can improve in your life, too. And always remember that the small snippets you see of someone else's life are just that - quick snapshots from a lengthy film. They never represent the whole picture.
Sometimes you have to spit out the yucky stuff.
I don't take water with me when I run. Because I don't like carrying things and since I don't run that far, I can get away with just drinking water before and after I exercise. But my labored breathing combined with summer temperatures often means that my mouth dries out so much I can't swallow. At the risk of sharing too much info, there's no way to get rid of the saliva in my mouth other than to spit it out. It's not pretty or lady-like, but it's occasionally necessary, because if I don't get rid of it, it threatens to impede my breathing.
There will be ugly things in life. Sometimes, there's nothing to do but spit out the sin, repent of it, and move on. Otherwise, sin will choke us. At best, it will hinder our spiritual lives; at worst, it will destroy us. Just get rid of it.
Invest in the right equipment.
For the past several years, I've owned a hot-pink pair of New Balance tennis shoes that I bought on clearance. I'm not usually picky about my shoes and just buy whatever's least expensive, but this particular brand of shoe never fit my foot well. (I guess that's the down side to buying shoes online.)
My first few runs in those shoes were miserable. They were old enough that there was no cushion left. When I noticed that the insides were starting to tear, I couldn't he happier, because I finally felt that a new pair was warranted. When my new Asics - my favorite brand of tennis shoe because they fit my feet so well - arrived, I couldn't believe how much better my running was!
While it's good to be frugal, there are times when investing in a Bible study book, online class, or running shoe is the right move. I don't often think about investing in my spiritual growth, which is truly sad since this is the most important area of my life. Physical exercise is good, but Spiritual exercise bears with it the weight of Eternity.
You need a day of rest.
"Why is "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy," the one commandment we so often ignore?" When my pastor's wife asked me this question, it got me thinking about how true it was. While most Christians really do try to keep all of the 10 Commandments, resting one day a week is still a struggle for many of us, myself included.
It's funny, but I noticed a comparison with my running as well. While I can get in about 4 good runs a week, I've found that taking a deliberate day off instead of constantly running back-to-back is extremely beneficial. It lets my body recover better and helps me to stay injury-free. The Lord certainly knew what He was doing when He made this a requirement.
Caring for one area of life often results in improvements elsewhere.
Some years ago, I was diagnosed with inflamed arteries. Basically, one test suggested that although I was only 29 at the time, I had the arteries of a 47-year-old. Those are not good statistics for someone under the age of 30! Although I didn't start running right then - we soon found out that Baby D was on his way - it was one of my motivations for getting back into running now, since I'm pretty recovered from that last pregnancy.
Even though reducing that inflammation and increasing my stroke rate (the amount of blood that my heart can move in one pulse) were my main goals, I've noticed that my clothes fit more comfortably, that I have increased energy, and that I'm sleeping better, too. Taking care of the inflammation resulted in improvement elsewhere.
So, too, when I place priority on my spiritual life, other areas of conflict often improve along with it. Spending time with the Lord naturally helps me with patience and joy, and those things give me an improved perspective in other areas of my life. The result is that I see improvement not only in my spiritual growth but also in my relationships and other activities.
The result is worth the effort.
Running takes hard work, work I often don't feel like doing. But the results of improved health, greater vitality, and quality sleep are well worth it.
Putting time into my spiritual life also takes effort. If the effort for running is worth it, then the spiritual ramifications of applying myself to my Bible study is even more so.
When I started out on my running journey, I wasn't looking for spiritual lessons. I just wanted to get healthy. But the Lord has miraculously arranged things so that, for Christians, our spiritual growth intersects every other aspect of our lives. One by one, these little lessons jumped out at me as I trudged over my jogging trail. It's beautiful to see this interweaving He orchestrates!
Related: Tracy shares her experience with running every day for a year.