A scary thought

“Let us run with perseverance the the race marked out for us,” Hebrews 12:1b.

A couple weeks ago New life Church hosted an end-of-summer picnic at a local park. About 30 people attended. One of the activities was a softball game. Nearly everyone participated. It was a lot of fun! It also may be an object lesson for life with a scary thought at the end.

Hang with me and I’ll explain. However, I have to back up first.

I’m not much of an athlete. I enjoy sports as much as the next guy, but I’m not big (though I’m rounder than I used to be!), I’m not strong, and I’m not fast. If my memory is right from over 40 years ago, my lifetime batting average in youth baseball was .222, two for nine. That’s two base hits in nine years. Get the picture?

I haven’t played much ball in the past twenty years. It was a surprise my wife even knew where to find my ball glove. That old leather was pretty stiff the day of the picnic. I was stiff, too. So I was really gentle as we began to play. I jogged after balls and lobbed throws to other players.

Running hard wasn’t on my agenda, but neither was it a real concern. I’d been jogging several times this summer and I’ve shed a few pounds. I felt like I was in relatively good shape for my age and lifestyle.

After awhile, the competitive juices began to flow and I took after a fly ball in right field. It was the first time I’d run all out in years. I didn’t feel a thing during the game until my last time at bat. But soon it was clear I had pulled a groin muscle–or perhaps done something worse.

Almost two weeks later, I can’t run a step. Not even a soft jog. Right now my life is strictly sedentary.

Was that brief all-out run worth it? I’d say “no.” For starters, I didn’t catch the ball. It fell harmlessly in foul territory. So there was almost no gain to the effort. And the cost was too great. If I had just limited myself to jogging, the game wouldn’t have been any different and I wouldn’t have gotten hurt. You have to be top physical condition to run all out. 

Here comes the switch-eroo. Is it possible this is similar to spiritual running?

The Apostle Paul used physical conditioning as an analogy to spiritual conditioning in 1 Corinthians 9:24. He spoke of buffeting his body for spiritual profit. That’s not something we do in a restaurant! Similarly, Hebrews 12:1 calls for followers of Christ to run a race with perseverance. Obviously, it’s a spiritual race.

We’re called to a long race. A hard race. We must be in top spiritual condition to run it.

As a preacher, I’ve exhorted Christians to run their race hard. Many people have been jogging in their spiritual lives, but I’ve exhorted believers to run all-out for Jesus.

Is it possible that’s a mistake? Are preachers setting the stage for immature believers to be hurt by calling for total commitment? If we’re out of spiritual shape and we run all-out for Jesus, will we pull a spiritual muscle? Can Christians become discouraged, disillusioned, or depressed if they run too hard, too soon?

Is it possible we need to work up a regimen of discipleship leading to top physical condition over time and then run all-out for Jesus? Do you have to be in top spiritual condition to run all out for Jesus?

It’s kind of a scary thought even suggesting that some believers may be better off if they don’t run all-out for Jesus. “Run your race toward Jesus, but not too hard!” That doesn’t do much for a pastor’s job security! (Don’t tell the board about this post.)

Right now, I really wish I had held back at the picnic. I would be much better off now. But what about the spiritual race which we are called to run with perseverance?

Are there any believers out there who would have been better off if they had held back early in their spiritual development so they could run with more perseverance later when they were more mature?

What do you think?