God’s way of living requires true Christians to be people of action. It is not enough to just listen to Bible recordings or read the Bible, we must be “doers of the word” (James 1:22). We must deeply study the Bible and then commit to do what God commands.
Paul admonished the brethren of his time: “[L]et us keep the feast [of unleavened bread]” (1 Corinthians 5:8). Just knowing about the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread is not enough. We must do what these days require. These days demand us to act—literally work physically—by putting the leaven out of our houses and by putting the leaven of sin out of our spiritual lives. Why? Because of the supreme sacrifice that God the Father and Jesus Christ made, which is memorialized annually during the Christian Passover service.
Many people claiming to be Christian believe that Christ’s crucifixion completed God’s plan of salvation. Actually, it was just the beginning. There is much still to be done. God and Christ heartily desire to bring all repentant, commandment-keeping human beings into their Family. They are daily doing their part to bring us to spiritual birth (John 3:5-8). Are we diligently doing ours?
We must recognize that each of God’s holy days and even His weekly Sabbath require spiritual action from us. In fact, God’s master plan of salvation is a plan of dynamic action, and we must act in response to our loving Father’s gestures on our behalf.
God’s hard-working apostle, Paul, compared the true Christian’s life to an athlete running a marathon: “[L]et us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Paul likely watched a marathon (and other sports) at the Olympic games held on the isthmus of Corinth during his lifetime. He vividly saw a clear spiritual metaphor with a marathon and the main lesson of the spring holy days. God obviously put His stamp of approval on Paul’s writing. It is God-inspired Scripture. We need to give it our full attention.
Obviously, most true Christians spread around Earth today have never run a marathon. Yet spiritually, all are in a race that has a beginning and a finish. To run and complete a marathon takes months of physical training and strong mental toughness. It is a laborious challenge, yet the reward of completion is truly glorious. A marathon’s distance is 26.2 miles. Those who complete it are worthy to be crowned! This is even more true of our spiritual race. Though we may not know the exact distance of our race, we must recognize that there is a finish.
While it is unlikely that Paul ran a marathon, we can be certain that, during his ministry, he walked many times that distance. Perhaps during those walks to further the preaching of the gospel, he thought of the marathon as a perfect picture of the challenges, difficulties and exhilaration of completing the Christian way of life. You don’t need to run a physical marathon to get the picture. However, you can learn from some who have.
Look to Jesus Christ
Although I have never run a full marathon, I have completed seven half-marathons (13.1 miles) and am scheduled to run my first full marathon just after this year’s Feast of Tabernacles. Over my five-year running career, I have learned to follow (chase) the better runners and do what they do. Some of them have kindly coached me and greatly encouraged me to get better and faster. I have learned that winning runners have a firmly held winning mindset. In other words, a skilled runner never considers quitting.
Where do we get the desire, energy and vision to run and finish our spiritual race? We must look to and follow the example of the most highly skilled spiritual runner who has already completed the same race we must run. Our Savior never considered quitting His race. He now wears the crown of victory that is also offered to us (1 Peter 5:4).
Paul encouraged the Hebrews: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:2-3). These two verses provide hours of productive meditation time when we do as Paul says. To run our spiritual race with a winning mindset, we must look to Jesus Christ’s perfect example. What we review at Passover service should remain vividly in our minds all year long.
In March, the Herbert W. Armstrong College athletic department hosted a half-marathon race for our college students and faculty. Because of covid-19 restrictions, most marathon races are now run virtually or not at all, so the college held its own event. I was happy to be able to participate.
When I run a race, I always try to keep Hebrews 12:1-3 in mind. These verses help drive me to the finish line. More importantly, thinking on them as I run has deepened my understanding about the spiritual race set before us. Here are four spiritual lessons I learned running the AC half-marathon.
1. Winning runners keep a healthy lifestyle
When I signed on to run the AC race, I was not in top condition to run 13.1 miles. I had an injured left ankle that stopped me from running as regularly as I was used to. Bitter cold and ice this winter kept me from walking outdoors. However, I knew I needed the challenge. I was confident I could run the race because I stuck to a healthy diet, low in carbs and sugar and high in fresh water, protein, vegetables and fruits.
To run our spiritual race, we must adhere to a strict spiritual diet of daily deep Bible study, meditation and heartfelt prayer, as well as occasional fasting. Remember, Paul states that we need to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets us. We must take the burdens that are troubling us to Christ and let Him help us carry them or relieve us of them. The sins we fail to work hard to overcome will weigh us down and hinder our efforts to run our race.
Top racers even keep their physical weight in check. They have developed self-control, which is also vital in maintaining strong spiritual health. Take time to reread and study Herbert W. Armstrong’s booklet The Seven Laws of Success. The third law of success is good health. Mr. Armstrong referred to it as “the all-important law.” We know that Jesus Christ was never sick a day in His life because He obeyed the laws of health. What an example for us!
2. Winning runners wake up and prepare early on race day
I hadn’t been able to run an officially timed race since before the Feast of 2020. When I received my AC race packet several days before the scheduled race, I had forgotten that participants in a marathon, or even half-marathon, must rise early on race day—and this race even occurred on the day we changed to daylight saving time. No backing out! The packet was official enough that my brain kicked into race mode quickly.
Generally, registration is required at all races because race officials need to know who is running. Even though the race would have a small number of participants, officials organizing the race wanted to give our students a similar experience to the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. So registration was scheduled to open at 7:30 a.m. Numbered running bibs were to be given to all participants. Race announcements were to take place at 7:55 a.m. The race whistle was to blow at 8:00. I was thrilled. A real race was calling my name.
I planned to wake up early on race day. Experienced runners know that to successfully run a race takes wise preparation. This begins with making sure you are wide awake by race time. So, the alarm was to go off about 2½ hours before the race start. This allowed me time for some prayer (about protection for all of our participants) and Bible study, a nourishing energy-packed breakfast, a check on the weather, muscle stretching and positive mental attitude focusing. I took this race seriously. If a racer does not appear on time for the start, he loses the right to race.
It is important to remember that we must run our spiritual race each day. Therefore, we must prepare properly to run each day. This means getting up early to take in our vitally nourishing spiritual food, delivered through fervent and urgent personal prayer and Bible study. Jesus Christ set us a perfect example here also. “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). It is likely that all of us can make improvements in this area.
3. Winning runners stay on the route
In our race packet was a map of the half-marathon route. The 13.1-mile route traced though two neighborhoods close to the AC campus. All winning runners study the race routes. No racer wants to make a wrong turn during a race. Generally, during an official marathon race, a half-marathon is run at a staggered time but on the same course. A wrong turn can disqualify a runner from completing a race. During our college event, a 10K (6.2 miles) race was run at the same time as the half-marathon. Not wanting to have to read a map during the race, I decided to drive the course two days beforehand. I noticed there were some tricky turns at the beginning of the race. Because we were running in two local neighborhoods, we could not mark the turns with spray paint. I was concerned.
On race day, I purposely positioned myself at the back of the pack to start the race at a slower pace than those nearly five decades younger than me. Also, I thought I might be able to help students who may have lost their way at the beginning of the race. There were a few students who needed some direction. Then I took a wrong turn. There were race assistants posted to help redirect runners who might be misled by a tricky turn. But the one I needed was not there. I did not panic, but I did run in circles for a while. I said a quick prayer and eventually found the course assistant and made my course correction.
I know there was a powerful lesson here. All of us can be striving to do what’s right to run our race, even go out of our way to help others, but we can also get off course. What do we do when we realize we are off course? Certainly, we should not run in circles—but we should immediately pray for help and be grateful when the help comes. It is a dangerous spiritual situation to get off course and pretend we are not.
In the 1970s, even Mr. Armstrong admitted he had gotten off track, yet he fought hard to get back in the race and worked diligently to bring the Church back with him. When we find ourselves drifting off course, we should immediately go to God and ask Him for the power to get back in the race. He will send us the help we need! Welcome the chance to talk with God’s ministry.
4. Winning runners maintain focus on the race
Getting back on course, I realized that I was running alone at the most difficult part of the course—a long stretch of steep rolling hills. Running up hills is challenging—even grueling—when out of practice. I began to focus on leg strain and not on the race. The most successful marathoners focus on the race—not on tiredness or their muscle and joint pains. Most skilled runners would agree that the human body is basically lazy and doesn’t want to work hard, so it will complain and resist hard effort in the form of pain. Mental toughness must lead the way.
I realized two things at this point. The first and most important thing that came to mind was that I was not running alone. God and Christ were actually right there with me. I was thinking deeply during the race about our spiritual race. Light bulb! I needed to focus on finishing the race. Thoughts of quitting began to seep into my mind. I reminded myself that I had completed more than one half-marathon previously, and I never got injured. So I had no excuse to quit! Then I said another quick prayer for the energy to finish. I set my vision on the finish line.
When running a long-distance race, the last mile is always the toughest. Yet the exhilaration of crossing the finish line is amazingly rewarding. Decades ago, Mr. Armstrong told God’s Church that we were in the gun lap—or the last mile of our spiritual race. We have endured some really tough times since Mr. Armstrong’s death in 1986. The finish line is in sight! Sadly, multiple thousands of God’s people have dropped out. What a tragedy!
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible,” Paul admonished the Church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). The same is true for us. Let’s all keep running to obtain our eternal crown!