Running. I love to run. My dad thinks running is boring, but I love to set a goal, work hard, and crush it. I’m only weeks away from another half marathon, and have been reflecting on the parallels of running to Spiritual life each week as I set out on my long runs. Our bodies fluctuate a lot, and our stamina is easily affected by diet, rest, the weather, sickness and many, many other factors. But one thing I have started to notice about myself is that mile three is always my slowest mile. On Monday I ran nine miles, and mile three was my slowest by fifteen seconds. Today I ran four miles and mile three was my slowest by fifteen seconds.
Most runners agree that running is predominantly mental. Some experts say that once you can physically run three miles you can run anything. Some say five, some say ten. But most agree that once your body is physically capable of running a certain distance, it is up to your brain to keep you going. This has certainly been my experience! If I set out for a four mile run, I am tired and ready to quit after three. If I set out for a nine mile run, I am tired and ready to quit at eight. But every time I run, I hit a wall right around the two-ish mile mark and it lasts until the three-ish mile mark. For those eight and a half minutes I hate running, I wonder what in the world I am doing, my tendinitis threatens to flare up, I feel like I’m not breathing well and I want to take a break. Once I get past three, I break through my wall and can run forever. Unless, of course, it is a four mile run, then I’m ready to quit! But if I give in to the three-mile wall, the rest of the run is ruined; I let myself take more breaks, I may find a shortcut home, and I never hit my groove.
Yes. Mile three is my nemesis.
Today as I listened to mapmyrun tell me how slow my third mile was, I thought about that first major trial that we all must encounter which puts our faith to the test. When we come to faith, there is a honeymoon season, or a season of infancy. Miles 1-2. Some people around the world are in situations where coming to faith requires counting the cost, being ready and willing to surrender their lives for the sake of salvation, but even there the moment of meeting Christ, being freed the bondage of sin, being forgiven for a lifetime of rebellion, and communing with the Spirit for the first time is an inexplicable pleasure. The joy of the Lord infiltrates our lives and gives us His peace and we are read to take on a lifetime of faith.
And then it happens. Mile 3. A believer that we knew and respected abandons the faith. A child rebels and breaks our hearts. A house fire wipes out all of our earthly possessions. A car accident leaves us permanently disabled. We get cancer. How we handle mile 3 will set the pace for the rest of our journeys of faith.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”
– Matt 7.24-27
The rains will come. The floods will rise. The promise of the Gospel is not that we will never have hardships, it is that God will sustain us through them – to His glory and to our eternal good. If we build our lives upon the promises of Scripture, that God has forgiven us our sins, that He is preparing for us an eternal dwelling place, that He will provide us with abundant life both here and in eternity, and if we love Him and His glory alone, then we will have the strength and the fortitude to withstand the storm. If we misunderstand the promises, if we think that faith guarantees an easy and happy life, if we expect God to cater to our desires, or if we simply do not trust Him and His plan, then we will fall.
And the destruction will be great.
Storms of life will come. And not only that, but we are promised that:
Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
– 2 Tim 3.12
Jesus called those who come to faith, but who get distracted by the pleasures of the world the seed planted amongst thorn bushes, and He calls those who fall away because of suffering those who grow up in rocky soil. Is your heart rocky soil? The plants die, the faith dies, because there is no depth of root. There is no understanding of the nature of God and His promises. The thorny soil leads to plants that cannot get enough light, or are choked out by a parasitic plant that suffocates and kills by wrapping around it – like ivy. Is there a preoccupation or desire that is suffocating your faith? Is it your job? Your toys? Your family?
When mile three hits it is normal to question everything. How could a loving God allow this to happen to me? I am a good person! I do not deserve this! I made all of the right choices! I have been obedient! But God is faithful and will give you the stamina to push through.
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
– Is 40.31
And the first time you push through mile three to feel the joy and stamina of mile four kick in, you can go on forever. Until, of course, you twist your first ankle, trip and fall, or get rained out. But I, personally, feel particularly hard core when I push through the rain.
You will hit mile three every run. There will be an occasional day here and there when you feel awesome, run an amazing pace and mile three is less difficult than normal, and there are also days when every single run your legs will feel like they each weigh 100 lbs and every step is a battle. Mile three will hurt. The encouraging factor is that once you push through mile three the first time, you will trust God’s provision to get through it the next time. And even though it hurts, you are tired and you want to quit, every mile four builds up your confidence that mile three is conquerable.
Have you hit your first mile three? Have you pushed through your first mile three? Wait on the Lord, He will provide new strength. He will sustain you through it, and there will come a point where you hit your groove and can run forever.
…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
– Phil 2.13
He will work it out. Just ask Him. He says that we do not have because we do not ask, so let’s start taking Him at His word, and asking Him to come through on the promises! And keep on keeping on!