I went for a 3 mile run yesterday. I don't run. I mean, I love to run, but I just don't. Typically it's because I don't have time, or when I do have time there are other more pressing things, but there are these points in my life when the desire to run wells up within me so that, when a bit of "free" time arises, I bite the bullet and go for a run. Yesterday was one such day.
You know, the interesting thing about my running habits is that they are not conducive to running. I mean, with my age and physical condition, I could probably run 10 miles no problem if I did it regularly, but I just don't. Other things crowd in and become more important. There are times when I decide to run regularly, this typically happens in the Fall (at least it has the past 3 Falls) when my schedule changes a bit, and it gets a little cooler, and I'm in better shape from being out and around all summer. So I'll start up running on this schedule, but after a week, or maybe 2-3 if I'm lucky, I just won't be doing it anymore.
Or, the other thing that happens is my experience yesterday. I have run once (that I remember) in the past...3 months, and that was at a slow pace for maybe 2 miles. So, yesterday, I set out to run at 4:30, in the heat, and I'm dead set on running 3 miles. After mile 1 my legs are barely coming up from the ground (trust me, they had no problem going down). About two thirds of the way through mile 2 my body started rebelling. It started with my stomach; it just didn't feel good. And then it went to my head. And then my shoulder. And then my legs. I figured my body was just playing tricks on me, so I kept on running. Around mile 2.15 my intestines started acting up (yes, your intestines can react to running...). It probably didn't help that I had eaten around 40 cherries within 20 minutes of starting my run. I was convinced that I was just going to start spewing....ok, too much detail, we'll leave the negative effects of my body. But in my mind at the time, these things should be happening; this was because I was running; this was because I was pushing myself; I wouldn't stop for anything; I was full steam ahead.
It is interesting that Paul compares our spiritual life to running a race. There have been too many times when I've woken up one day and gone, "You know, I haven't run spiritually in a while. I haven't prayed or read my Bible for 3 weeks!" Or worse yet, "I've been doing the religious thing, but it's been months since I've really taken time to commune with God and seek his face." The things of life have crowded in, I've become too busy and consumed with my daily life that I haven't taken time to do that one thing that is really important to me. And so I'll do one of two things (the same things I do with running): Either I sit down and create a schedule, I decide when I'm going to do what and allot my time for God; or I just get such a desire for God that I just "do it", I sit down and read the entire book of Romans or Isaiah in one sitting (ok...never Isaiah, but I'm just saying).
In the first case, it is very soon that my schedule has run out, that I'm back to the same old things again, and that its another 3 months until God turns the light on and makes me realize where I'm at.
In the second case, I end up pushing so hard, I have such a desire for him that I just go, go, go until my body and mind are falling apart and I'm so weary I can't even stand.
Now, I'm not saying that a schedule is bad (I think it is actually necessary) or that we shouldn't push at times in our spiritual life. But here are some thoughts of ways to compensate for this "push every 6 months" phenomenon that I find within my running and my spiritual walk.
1) Do it with friends. Everything is easier when you have friends to do it with you, people to hold you accountable, someone to check up and make sure that you're doing what you want to be / should be, someone to do those things with you.
2) Set some end goals. When you're working towards something it becomes much easier to stick with your plan. My dad is planning on running a 5K in July, he's out running everyday; I have nothing to run for, so I run once every 3 months. Set some goals for your spiritual life. Decide to read through your Bible in a year, pick three people to witness to and pray for until one of them comes to Christ, pick a spiritual discipline that you want to improve on with an end goal of where you want to be, decide to save up $1000 to give to missions, find someone to disciple and agree to meet with them once a week for a year. Make sure, though, that once you complete your goals you set some new ones.
3) Pace yourself. Ok, there's danger in saying this...because it can be misunderstood. You should be sold out to Christ. If He calls, you should drop anything and EVERYTHING to do what He calls you to. There is no "off" time in the Christian faith, you should ALWAYS be living for God. BUT, this does not mean that you should be reading your Bible / praying / or serving in some tangible way at all times. There are other spiritual disciplines, there is a LIFE to live. And so, if you feel God calling you back to reading His Word, or back to times of prayer, or back to neglected service, or back to discipleship, or back to whatever it might be, PACE YOURSELF! Don't give up everything to do that one thing, because that is not what God wants, at least in the long run. When God gives you a task or shows you an area in your life that requires change, go at it with gusto, but be sure to keep an eye on everything else to make sure that Satan doesn't twist your good desires into an unhealthy and unwise preoccupation.
Run the spiritual race. Keep your eyes on the goal set before you. Take regular time to fix your eyes on Christ. Consciously throw off the sin that so easily entangles. Push yourself to the extreme. Do the things that you never dreamed you could do. Life a life sold out to Christ, so that the only thing that matters is the race that you are running, and everything else slowly fades away.