Lately, I have recently started running a little bit on the treadmill. Most of my life, this has been something I have resisted, but it is much too hot here to run except early in the morning. Unless, I get up at 4 a.m., I’m not going to get my prayer time and a run in before the boys have to be off to school. I think it is safe to say, that isn’t likely to happen. But what I have learned is that I actually like being able to externally control my speed. It makes it easier to push myself a little faster than I usually do out on a trail. It is encouraging to find I can actually run faster than I have been.
I went for a run the other day after dropping my youngest at pre-school and perhaps it was ill-advised to start out a run here at 9 a.m., but I had been longing to get back outside and see if I could go faster on the trail without the added push from technology. I did run a little faster than my usual time, but I also had to stop and walk for part of my run. That got me thinking about how you know when it is time to change the pace.
When I’m feeling like I can’t keep running, I always give myself a mark to hit before I actually stop. Usually, I repeat, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 as I run for encouragement. Sometimes it is a close mark, like the next telephone pole, sometimes it is an intersection or a bus stop in the distance, but when I get there, I re-evaluate how I’m feeling and decide what I think my body is telling me to do. Should I keep going, slow the pace a little, or even just walk for a bit.
In a sense, these changes in speed are similar to interval training. The Mayo Clinic says it, “is a simple technique experienced and novice exercisers can use to get the most out of their workouts.” And US News and World Report claims that, “alternating intense work with short rest breaks can take your fitness to new heights quickly.” Athletes use intervals to improve their speed and endurance.
Generally, if we look back, we can see how challenges and changes in speed or direction in our lives have ultimately made us stronger. It is harder when we are in the midst of struggling with the pace, the goal or the distance of the course we are on, but we can do the same thing. Set a goal we perceive as reachable on our current route and trust God to get us at least that far, then when we get there we can listen for Him to give us guidance about the next step. I think His answers are probably similar to the ones I listen for from my body. When we reach the mark, perhaps He simply encourages us to continue on. Maybe we need to slow our pace to gain strength for challenges ahead. Sometimes, He will even give us a swift kick in the butt and tell us to get moving.
Unfortunately, every once in a while, my body screams at me to take a shortcut or just to turn around altogether and go home. Much to our dismay, the answer God gives us about our course in life may sometimes be that we are on the wrong path altogether and we should start over at something else. This doesn’t mean we give up all together on our exercise regimen or on life, it just means He has a different course in mind for us, either for that day or perhaps for the rest of our days. When that happens, we have to trust God to show us the way He wants us to turn and set small marks along the way to check in and see if we are on the right path.
This morning, the answer I got from my body was to walk for a bit. After I did that, I had the energy to give my all in a full-out sprint at the end. As I was cooling down and stretching, I felt good about my workout. I had finished strong, even though I had to take a breather along the way. Isn’t that what you would like to be able to say at the end of your life, “I finished strong in the plan God had for me.” We have to make a plan to check in with Him often, whether it is just for encouragement to stay the course or to see if it is time for a new route in our lives.
I doubt you would ever hear an athlete say they didn’t care about getting stronger or faster through their workouts. They follow strict guidelines and plans for their training so that they can improve. “Now, they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we [as Christians] for an imperishable crown.” 1 Corinthians 9:25. If we are not following God’s plan for our lives, it is like we are ignoring His guidance for how to finish strong, like the crown in heaven doesn’t matter. Paul begged the Philippians to “hold fast to the word of God” so that he could, “…rejoice in the day of Christ that [he] had not run in vain or labored in vain.” Philippians 2:16 Listen and use His Word for direction so that you may not run, labor, or live in vain. He knows how to make you stronger!
Just because our race was already won for us, doesn’t mean we won’t face some stiff competition on the way to heaven. Satan doesn’t play by the rules. He will try to bump, trip and knock you off God’s course, because if he can shake your faith he can gain a hold in your life and block you from receiving your crown at the end. Our loving and omnipotent God knows what perils lie ahead of us and He is faithful to prepare us to overcome them, if we alow Him to be our trainer. When He tells me to find rest to restore me for a future requirement, to keep a steady pace or go all out sprinting ahead, I want to be able to hear His directions for the intervals in my life.