What Kind of Runner Are You?

The Bible tells us we all are in a spiritual race. It’s a race you and I must finish … and win


By Dennis Rainey


Joggers, or “pavement pounders” as I call them, put me to shame. I had lunch one day with a runner who was so good that I didn’t even feel guilty. Max Hooper was a serious runner—a world-class ultra marathoner.


After knee surgery on both knees, Max was told he would never run again. Three months later he ran a 2:47 marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon. Since then he’s run in additional Boston Marathons, and when I interviewed him he had competed in six Pike’s Peak Marathons—I get lightheaded even thinking of driving up there!


He was one of 410 men who qualified for a world championship for ultra-marathoners, the Western States 100 Mile Trail Run from Squaw Valley, Utah, to Auburn, California. Only 210 finished the race due to extreme temperature changes, rugged terrain, and altitude sickness! He prevented dehydration by consuming more than 50 pounds of liquid during the race.


And he has run in a 52-mile race called the “Double Rim to Rim Run.” Got any idea where that might be? Just thinking back to one summer vacation and standing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon makes me weak in the knees. But Max ran from the south rim of the canyon, down, down, way down to the Colorado River and then up, up, way up to the north rim. Then the runners turned around and ran back to the south rim. Without stopping. If you want to ask someone what the Grand Canyon looks like ask Max—he’s been across it many times!


Are you beginning to understand why I didn’t feel guilty at lunch with this bionic runner?


But Max’s ultimate race was completed on his 40th birthday in some of the most hostile environments planet earth could offer any runner. The start: Badwater, California, in the oven of Death Valley, 282 feet below sea level—the lowest point in the United States. The finish: the summit of Mt. Whitney at 14,494 feet—the highest point in the contiguous United States. Total mileage: 146 miles.


Hooper and a Marine buddy started the race in the 100-degree desert floor of Death Valley running by moonlight. They began by hurdling sidewinders and ended scrambling on all fours up a glacier (the last six hours of which they ran above 10,000 feet) to complete the task in 63 hours and 12 minutes—an American record. He wore out three pairs of running shoes and his feet were swollen 2 sizes by the time he reached the summit.


Max said that he was able to do it because he didn’t run alone.


Did you know you’re in a race?


Like Max, you and I are in a race. A race that God has set before each one of us. A course of extremes. There’s the agony of the valley of the shadow of death, contrasted with the summit of joy because of the birth of a baby. And there are miles of rugged terrain and climate changes in between. Life is a race for every Christian. It is a race you and I must finish … and win.


How are you running today? Winning? Losing? Did you know that the omnipotent God of the universe has instructed us on how to avoid losing and ensure winning?


Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).


What about you? Did you know you’re in a race? What kind of runner in the race are you?


There are at least five kinds of runners:


The casual runner. He runs when he feels like it and when conditions are perfect. For these Christians the sacrifice demanded by the race is just too high.


The cautious runner. He thinks a lot about the race. But instead he plays it safe and seldom leaves the starting blocks.


The compromised runner. Unwilling to lay aside present pleasures, he has given into temptations to run outside his prescribed lane. His life is filled with short cuts—and dead ends. Few convictions. And no costly stands on issues at work. He just blends in with the pack!


The calloused runner. This is a veteran runner who’s become a cynic, or sarcastically critical of people. Scared by the puzzling, unfair circumstances of life, the calloused seldom see God in their everyday circumstances. Preoccupied with their injuries, their hearts have layers of thick tough tissues made of bitterness, envy, or apathy.


The committed runner. One who knows where the finish line is and is determined to win. In training at all times, they know that victory will never be achieved by the faint-hearted—they have decided to run to win.


What’s my point, you ask? Well, if you’re in the race and running, don’t let anyone hinder you from running well. But beware—look at Paul’s warning at the end of verse 27—you and I could be disqualified.


The danger of disqualification


What does Paul mean by “lest … I myself should be disqualified”? Well, for one, he is not talking about losing salvation. The Bible doesn’t teach that we can be “un-born” from the family of God. I don’t think he’s talking about disqualification because of one mistake (although there are examples in the Scriptures of that), but a repeated rejection of God’s leading in life. Willful, deliberate disobedience.


Look around at the human debris of those who have been disqualified from their ministry. Do you know a Christian leader who is no longer in the race? A solid Christian layman or woman who used to walk with Christ but no longer does? The landscape surrounding my life is littered with the lives of those who are no longer running. Casualties.


I don’t condemn those who fail—my humanity is off the same bolt of human cloth. They have become examples. Living exhibits, warning me that I too could be disqualified and be declared “no longer useable” by God.


There are two sure ways to end up disqualified: Never start and don’t finish. Neither seem appealing to me.


How about you? Could you be disqualified? Absolutely.


May I ask you a very important question: Is there anything in your life right now that could disqualify you? Something you’re trying to hide? Something you’re keeping from God? Don’t mess around with sin—don’t play patty-cake with evil—it’s deadly stuff.


Running to win


So how do you run to win? Here are the apostle Paul’s rules for the race:


Self-control. The discipline of our desires is the backbone of our character; know what tempts you and avoid it. Augustine, the great Christian philosopher, lived a licentious life before his conversion. One day, shortly after becoming a believer, Augustine encountered a young woman with whom he had sinned. Augustine turned immediately and began running away with the woman crying out, “Augustine! Augustine! It is I! It is I! It is I!” But Augustine just kept on running and yelled back over his shoulder, “It isn’t I! It isn’t I!”


Careful aim or direction. Paul says that a runner intending to win must know where he is going. The finish line for the Christian is the person of Jesus Christ. Keep your eyes on Him. Know Him. Grow in your love for Him. Be pleasing to Him. One of the reasons we indulge ourselves as spectators and have so little desire to give up our rights for the race before us, is because we have lost our focus on the glory of God.


Sacrifice. The Christian life will cost you your life. You and I must die to ourselves—deny our rights. Anything, any prize, any relationship, anything of value costs. You may find that working through a problem in a relationship is harder than walking out. But walking out may result in God being through working through you.


When Max and his running partner were about halfway through their race to the summit of Mt. Whitney, they realized they could set a new American record. Together they decided to go for it. A friend who followed them the entire way said of them, “You could see the pain in their eyes—they looked like corpses after 40 miles of continuous running … But at the finish there were tears in our eyes—it was something to be proud of.”


The pain was worth it! And for you and me, the pain is worth it! I’ve decided not to turn my running shoes in early—by God’s grace I’ll wear them out! How about you: Are you going for it?


Copyright © by FamilyLife. Used with permission.


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