Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
We're continuing our series in which we look at the long race of following Jesus that we are participating in. (If you missed week one, check it out here.) Over the next several weeks, we'll be considering some really practical things - drawing on the analogy of a long race - that are helpful as you run.
The first suggestion to help you run well is simple. Running buddies. Find someone or some people to run with. All over the world, there are running clubs where people gather to run together. Running, as much as it is a solo endeavour, quickly becomes a community in which one is encouraged, challenged, motivated, and held accountable.
The same is true for the Christian life. We were never meant to run it alone. In the early church, there was no such idea that someone would follow Jesus and not be a part of a church - a called out community running the race together. Somewhere in history the emphasis on Jesus as our "personal saviour" turned faith and following Jesus into a solo endeavour. But the Bible makes it clear that salvation is both personal and communal. We are saved into community and saved within that community.
Consider these analogies to describe who we are in Jesus:
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. . . . All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12)
Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. (Ephesians 2:20)
Our ability to run the race the way to our best possible ability is directly connected to those we run the race with.
When I first signed up to run a half-marathon, I didn't do it alone. I signed up with my sister and that made all the difference. She lived a couple hours away from me, but we were still in it together. Every day for months, when I didn't want to leave the house on a hot day to run the hills around Omemee, I remembered that the October race date was coming and I had committed to her to be there and run. So I'd lace up my shoes and hit the trail to train. Because I wasn't running alone.
Then, on race day, we met and ran together. We talked. We encouraged each other. The race became easier because we weren't running it alone. At one point in the run she convinced me to run ahead at a pace that worked for me. About the 16k mark, I decided to do it. I took off and left her behind. I felt great . . . for about 20 minutes. Then everything turned for the worst. I began to feel every ache that I hadn't felt moments before. I didn't know if I was going to make it. Negative self talk began in my head. What was different? Nothing, really. Except that now I was trying to run alone.
That isn't how we're meant to run the long race of following Jesus. We need running buddies. Even St. Paul needed others running with him. Reach out to a friend and ask them if they would be willing to be in regular conversation with on your journey. If they are close by and you can meet face to face, even better! Maybe join a small group or Bible study when they resume in the fall. Or consider starting one to help create space for others, too. It may take some time and trial to find the right running buddy for you, but it is worth the effort! And if you have running buddies already . . . stick with them. Cheer them on. And thank God for them.
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.