“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” –Hebrews 12:1-2
I hate running. I ran track in High School, and since I was not fast enough to be a sprinter, I ran distance.
Sprints are the easy races. All that is required is an explosive burst of energy and the race is over before it began. Quick and painless. Distance running is conversely long and painful, and tends to be a lot more boring than the sprinter’s events. It involves not only endurance, training, and mental toughness—but something called a runner’s cadence.
One of my coaches told me in preparation for an 800 meter race to “sing your song.” What he meant by that was for me to find an internal rhythm that I could run to; a cadence that I could align my pace with that would keep me at the right speed throughout the race. All I had to do to keep myself from starting too fast or slowing down around turns was stick to the song. Run to the beat. Tick tock.
Long distances especially require a runner’s cadence. In the same way that a drum tempo anchors the music from floating along with the whims of the other musicians, this internal tempo keeps everything else going forward at a constant pace. When the song is in the runner’s head, he no longer sees what is around him; he does not think about that cramp in his stomach, nor does he pay any attention to that person passing him on his right. Time can be forgotten. He has gotten into a "zone" where all he can think about is the rhythm. Breath in. One step, another step, another step. Breath out. Repeat. When the song is sung, the only thing the runner can do is focus on next step. And then the next step. One. two. three. four. Repeat.
If the runner does not have this internal metronome ticking in his head, many problems can arise. Since his pace is not grounded in anything concrete, his speed is subject to something as abstract as however fast he feels like running at that point in time. This is a mistake many inexperienced runners make. They run as fast as they can in the beginning and enjoy the lead for the first lap, only to collapse of exhaustion on the second time around. (Since I also never feel like running, running based on feelings may probably not the best tactic.)
Others may time their pace with another runner, but this too is risky. How do you know that the other runner’s pace is a good one? What if they have trained more than you and you cannot keep up? What if they have trained less? A runner’s cadence therefore is something that the runner needs to create for himself, or he will inevitably fail due to poor planning.
I was reminded that this past Sunday, that this Christian walk is a lot like a distance race. It is long and tiring. It keeps going and going. How do we stay on track to finish well? How do we make sure we keep running even when we grow tired, cramp up, and see hills approaching on the road head?
I think we need to "sing our song." Get a runner’s cadence so stuck in our head that it will never leave. When trials come and when life gets or (worse) stays monotonous, we need that repetitive ticking in our heads and our hearts to keep us always thinking about that next step. To every day keep chasing after our Savior despite what we feel and see around us. This does not mean that we are to become numb to our emotions. It does mean that we learn to not let those emotions drive us when we have a race to run.
How do we get this song in our heads? Like most good things in life, Spiritual rhythm does not happen. You do not simply catch it. It takes practice and more practice until it becomes habit. Below are three (of many) disciplines that can help each of us to get a healthy cadence to our Spiritual race.
- Discipline of Looking. Hebrews 12:2 gives us a hint at what we “fix our eyes on” as we run. We fix our eyes on a Person who already ran and already achieved victory. Jesus Christ not only endured the pains of this life; He endured the cross, drank of its death, and spat it back out in victory. As He is the ultimate example of how we are to run, we must discipline ourselves to always be looking to Jesus—as the “fixing our eyes” is not a onetime act. It is a focused stare; one that we dare not break. We can learn to look on Him in this way by constantly reminding ourselves what He did on our account. If we ever lose Him from our sights, we will stop running.
- Discipline of Preaching. Did you know that preaching is not just for pastors? In fact it is a discipline that is necessary for any of us to run well. By preaching I do not mean standing before a congregation, I mean standing before yourself. Martyn Lloyd-Jones often spoke of this by saying that we are to take “ourselves in hand.” We are to not listen ourselves, but rather, “talk to ourselves.” What he meant by this is that you are to be constantly in the act of reminding yourself of the goodness of God. To be preaching to yourself the truth about who you are and who God is.David does this exact same thing when he writes in Psalm 42:11, “Why are you cast down Oh my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall praise Him, my salvation and my God.” David’s soul was downcast, but he did not wallow in the depths as so many of us do. His spiritual run was marked by such a cadence that he instantly reminded himself to hope in God the moment of his inward sorrow, for "He is my salvation." We need to likewise immerse ourselves in truth, read it daily, and hide it in our hearts that we may be able to set our strides to its rhythm.
- Discipline of Community. Though no one can run our race for us, no one can run alone. We need true community, and I believe that true community is a discipline. It will never happen on its own. True community requires intentional relationships; ones that do not remain in the ever comfortable "surface level" but are constantly pushing each other to run faster and stronger. True community does this by being honest with one another, confessing sins to one another, challenging one another, encouraging one another, and preaching to one another. Such a community is a difficult thing to find as it involves risk, honesty, vulnerability, and much patience. But without those examples and voices with us—we might as well quit.
Like running, most of life is monotonous. It is not won in one step, two steps, fifty steps, or one hundred steps. It is won by an arduous and boring perseverance--thousands and thousands of strides mundanely and repetitively lumped one after the other. But the key is the cadence. Setting the strides to the ever ticking rhythm. And when you keep running and keep sticking one leg out after another, you might look back and be surprised at the distance you covered.
May we then learn to run in His strength, one step at a time.