Once upon a time I was an endurance athlete (junkie). I loved to run and still do although I don’t train nearly as hard as I used too. I loved running so much that I would wake up at 2:30 AM once per week just so I could squeeze in a thirty mile training run before breakfast. Running helped me to learn about my body’s limits. I knew my body so well I could feel the electrolytes burning off as I ran and knew how much fuel I had in my tank if I wanted to push harder. I trained my body to exceed its limits and strived to push them further and further back. I loved it so much that I would push myself to run as many miles as I could in my sixty minute lunch break, get a shower and refuel at my desk. I was crazy in love with my performance as a runner, despite having never won a race. My goal was always to be competitive and train harder for milestones. Then my livelihood changed due to budget cuts…I was unemployed and could not afford this passion of mine any longer.
The Valley Low
I had never been unemployed before, but here I was unemployed with a small but growing family. My wife was a nurse and went back to work while I was trying to find something stable. Quickly two years went by. During those two years I contemplated suicide a few times, but my wife was amazing throughout. She, through a co-worker, got invited to church. I didn’t go. I told her that I felt closest to God when I ran by myself, carrying all I needed along my run (water, snacks, etc.). This is where I pray to God, I told her. Then one day I ran out of water and fuel and had a broken foot. I learned a hard lesson that day, maybe I didn’t know my body as well as I thought. Again, I lost another job due to budget cuts. Again, I got invited to church. I went this time. I liked the atmosphere, the music was wonderful, and the preacher did a great job with the lesson. It felt like a place I wanted to be, a place where I could bring my family. Then one Sunday, the usual preacher was out of town. So we got one of the men in the church to preach. He took the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel like I had never heard it before in my life. I was broken and I wanted Jesus…just Jesus!
Fire and Water make steam.
When I became born-again, I was conflicted with my existing passion and this newfound passion and desire to follow Jesus Christ. I would sometimes attempt to merge the two passions by repeating some of my old sayings like “when, I run I am getting alone with God.” This was an epic error on my part, because I was trying to serve two masters. Still I persisted by saying stuff like “Jesus was an endurance athlete Himself…He walked everywhere!” I was forming a false messiah based on my life rather than submitting to the Son of God and becoming re-made by the Holy Spirit. Then I started to study the Bible for myself and see who Jesus really was and is. The Holy Spirit really does have a way of starting a fire in you and that fire is wonderful at consuming all the useless stuff in your life.
Flashback: I climbed a mountain!!!
On Easter Sunday back in 2003, I was in Albuquerque, NM for a military class. I had been there a week and me and some fellow classmates decided to climb Sandia Peak for Easter instead of going to church. Sandia Peak is a mere 10,378 foot ascent in high desert atmosphere. I was from south Louisiana where the humidity rarely drops below 90% so the high desert was taking its toll on me before we even climbed the mountain. I had nose-bleeds every day while there and it was hard for me to stay hydrated. The climb was one of the most harrowing experiences I have ever faced. While I managed to accomplish this feat, the turmoil is forever seared into my memory banks.
Flash forward: I remembered that mountain!!!
After becoming a Christian, I was at an in home small group Bible study. We were discussing the pastor’s sermon that week and came to Matthew 14:29-31. While we discussed it, everyone was focused on the healings that Jesus produced in the people that followed Him; I kept reading it and re-reading it. Two things kept popping into my brain: “running a race” and “Sandia Peak.” As I continued to listen to them discuss the healings, I raised my hand and asked “have any of you ever run a race?” I think one of fifteen in the room said that had before. Then I asked “have any of you ever climbed or hiked up a mountain?” To which no one said they had. I looked at them for what seemed like an eternity and it seemed as if I was looking at a bunch of fellow runners who had no idea that there was a “difficult” race or path between the starting line and the finish line.
Bible study saga part II
The leader of the Bible study said, “What is your point?” To which I said, “Well it seems like you all are more focused on the fact that Jesus healed them all, rather than the fact that they ALL had to climb a mountain with their ailments just to get to Jesus.” The climb represented their difficult journey to get to Him. It took great faith and perseverance to make that trek up the mountain. Not sure why but the Bible study ended abruptly. I was told afterward that I was looking too deep into the plain meaning of the text. I couldn’t get over that, because any race I have ever ran, if you received a medal, it was always after finishing the race. In many of those races if I started getting dehydrated I would lose focus and only think of the finish line, so much sometimes I would pass the water stations along the route and not reach the finish.
The same can be true for Christians. We are severely dehydrated, spiritually speaking. Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, “Whoever drinks the water I shall give him will never thirst.” In this same conversation Jesus tells her that we must be in the “Spirit” to truly worship God. This Living Water is the Holy Spirit and the water stations for Christians along this difficult path are our fellow believers. We are to bear each other’s burdens, which includes encouragement, gentle rebukes, intercessory prayer, unconditional love and most importantly, be merciful. We must run this race, but we must also serve as water stations for our fellow runners. This is only possible if we are abiding in the love of Christ Jesus and worshipping in Spirit and Truth.
While exercise and even competitive running is not a bad thing, it can become an idol if we put our faith in it or on our own performance rather than on God. But most importantly as Christians we will face burnout or spiritual dehydration and we must recognize it early on or we could stray off the difficult path. In order to stay both on the path and spiritually hydrated we must not only run the race but serve as water stations for a teammates. We must pray for each other, encourage each other and yes even share in the struggles and sufferings of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
In closing, some of the races I have run often had portions of the course being run at night. Our race as Christians has entered into the night phase and it has never been more important for us to shine the Light of Jesus Christ to illuminate the path for fellow believers who are struggling. We must stay close enough together to continuously see the Light during these dark days and if any of our teammates fall on the course, we must pick them up and carry them until they regain their spiritual strength. Our Lord Jesus Christ has not intended this race to be an individual sport but rather for a team.
The church is His team and it is the winning team.
Patrick Allen is the Youth Pastor at Spotsylvania Baptist Church, he attends Liberty University working toward a B. S. of Religion. He’s married to the love of his life, Amy, and been married for over 10 years. They have 3 beautiful daughters: Madelyn Reese, 7; Ainslie Grace, 4 ; and Teagan Catherine, 2. Patrick is also a member of the Virginia Army National Guard (17 years of service). He’s a passionate believer in Jesus Christ and was also a fitness instructor. Connect with him on Twitter @PatrickAFT