The Christian life has often been likened to a marathon, that gruelling 26.2mile/42.2km long distance run. I understand the comparison given the race imagery in Hebrews 12:1, and I would say that it’s almost an accurate analogy, but not quite. I would propose that the Christian life isn’t like a marathon. Rather, the Christian life is like an ultra-marathon.
What’s an ultra-marathon, you ask? An ultra-marathon is any distance greater than the standard marathon, and believe it or not, there are people out there who run races longer than 100 miles.
The Christian life isn’t like a marathon. Rather, the Christian life is like an ultra-marathon.
The most extreme of these is a 135 mile course through Death Valley, California, with temperatures so hot that runners need their strides to land on the road paint to keep the soles of their shoes from melting on the asphalt. That’s intense, and I would suggest closer to the mark of the twists, turns, peaks, valleys, and conditions that following our Lord Jesus can be in this beautiful yet difficult Christian race.
In addition to the external challenges we encounter in this ultra-marathon, as all runners experience, we also contend with ourselves. I was especially convicted of this in a recent sermon by my associate pastor, Caleb Hall, who highlighted two obstacles that get in the way of our staying the course of this race: weariness and laziness.
Perhaps you can relate as the cumulative effect of the last two years lingers from the Groundhog Day of Covid and its consequences. On-going fatigue that stems from life being continually upended can easily be used as an excuse to justify sins of omission – neglecting what we ought to do – and sins of commission – participation in what we ought not to do.
In other words, our weariness over circumstances, whatever those may be, can feed a spiritual laziness that makes overcoming the initial weariness even more difficult. When these feed on one another, it doesn’t take much to convince our fickle hearts to throw in the towel when it comes to obeying God’s will.
Maybe this will resonate: more than ever in this last while I have found myself fighting temptation to neglect prayer, or family worship, or leadership responsibilities, or putting the needs of others before my tiredness, or my self-centredness. Don’t hear me wrong: rest is good and we need it lest we wear ourselves out and become only a burden to others. Running at a sustainable pace is wise, and as I’ve heard Mark Dever put it, “You can do more in 50 years than you can in 5.”
That being said, sometimes we’re called to a season where the pace is harder. Sometimes the section of the course we’re in requires more grace to travel less distance. That’s the season we may still find ourselves in now, and I believe the need of this hour is to endure in the ultra-marathon of the Christian life, which expresses our confidence that in the end God will keep all of His promises (Koester, Hebrews, 461).
Endurance to respond in godly and wise ways to governing authorities that may have frustrated and disappointed us. Endurance to be as innocent as doves yet as shrewd as serpents. Endurance to bear with one another in love. Endurance to engage in the spiritual disciplines for the purpose of godliness. Endurance to sustain our eager maintaining of unity in the gospel. Endurance to maintain purity and contentment in singleness. Endurance to fight for our marriages. Endurance to raise our children in the fear and instruction of the Lord.
Endurance to resist the devil. Endurance to flee from temptation. Endurance to put sin to death. Endurance to renew our minds with biblical truth that we might be transformed to think like Christ rather than the world. Endurance to lead where we’ve been called to. Endurance to serve with the gifts the Spirit has given where there is need. Endurance to move towards people in humility and love rather than away from people.
While not an exhaustive list, if you recognize your need for endurance in any of the above, I’m glad. I certainly do and I believe recognizing such need is a good beginning. The writer to the Hebrews certainly identified as much in his audience, recalling the ways they had endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes partners with those so treated (Hebrews 10:32-33). They had compassion on those in prison and joyfully accepted the plundering of their property, knowing that they had a better possession and abiding one (10:34).
On the heels of this recollection, we find these words: Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised (10:35-36). Endurance, especially in difficult seasons, as was the case for the original audience of this sermon letter, is a need that we have. Don’t be ashamed of that fact, rather embrace the reality, because when we do, we know what to do next: ask God to meet our need.
Let it not be said of us that we lacked endurance because we have not sought it from our Lord who promises to supply all our needs according to His glorious riches. Will you join me in asking the Lord for endurance, for yourself, for your household, and for our churches for whatever may be before us?
Even as we ask the Lord for endurance, let us recognize one great way God has already provided for us that we might persevere. Consider Romans 15:4: Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Will you press into the Scriptures, picking up again that reading plan we may have started but let slip, so that we would not grow weary in doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:13)?
Ultimately, availing ourselves of God’s ear and God’s word are not ends in and of themselves. Notice from both Romans and Hebrews above that there is an end goal to our endurance. Paul writes of hope, and what a glorious one we have! Our God is the God of endurance and encouragement (Romans 15:5). Our God is the God of hope, who fills us with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit we may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).
In addition to this present hope, Hebrews also speaks of receiving the future hope of what is promised, concluding the call to endurance with the following: For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls (10:37-39).
By the strength of God’s grace, may we help one another to indeed endure and receive what is promised: that better country, the heavenly one, the place our Lord has gone to prepare for us, the city with a foundation of righteousness, whose very builder is God. After all is said and done, that’s what awaits us at the end of this ultra-marathon of the Christian race.