Updated: Feb 9, 2019
I still remember field day sign ups the spring of my fourth grade year. I was in a class of bookworms, so when it came time for the mile, there were no volunteers. For some inexplicable reason, I raised my hand. To this day, I have no idea what possessed me to sign up. I wasn’t a runner. I didn’t even play a sport; yet, I decided that running a mile long race in front of my entire school would be a good thing to do.
I went home and informed my parents. My father began helping me train, and we went out running every day. Eventually, I got so that I could not only run the mile, but do it in a fairly decent time. When field day finally rolled around, I had no illusions that I would win, but I thought I could at least represent my class well. I was wrong. Immediately after we took off, I fell behind. “No problem” I thought to myself, “I am just pacing myself. Those other girls will tire out, and I will catch up.” I kept thinking of the tortoise and the hare and just told myself to keep going. It was at the beginning of lap 4 that it happened. One of the other girls lapped me. Then a second one did. By the time I began my last lap, two of the runners had already finished the race. Then, That was not the worst of it. aAbout half of the way through my last lap, I realized that the entire stadium was waiting for me to finish so they could get on with the rest of field day. I stopped running and walked off the track.
What had happened? I had trained! I had worked hard – why had I come up so short?
Just a few months ago I listened to a talk given by a scientist who had studied Olympic athletes, specifically runners, in an attempt to find out what made a gold medal Olympian. In his research, he found a commonality not in their genes, but in their lifestyles. These elite runners filled their childhood with running. They would run to school, home for lunch, back to school, then home again. After getting home from school, they would then literally run around doing their chores. On average they spent 4 hours a day running. For comparison, less than half of kids in America get 1 hour of physical activity in a day, much less four! He discovered that the way these kids lived did more to prepare them for being Olympians than any training program could. They led a life infused with running. It wasn’t just something that they did to exercise or get healthy. It was a part of them.
Could the same be true of our spiritual lives? When we look at the life of Moses, we see how being with God was a part of his life. When God called out to Moses from the burning bush, Moses hid his face, afraid to look at God and came up with many excuses for not doing as God commanded, but in the end he obeyed (Ex 3-4). Throughout Exodus, God initiates many conversations with Moses, and we see Moses protest less and begin to willingly follow and obey. Eventually, we see Moses not only respond to God’s lead, but pursue Him.
To Moses, having a relationship with God wasn’t something to check off his to do list. He wasn’t meeting an obligation, or going through a training routine. It had become part of who he was. He sought relationship with God and did what felt natural in the pursuit of that relationship. Sometimes it meant altering his lifestyle and moving to meet God on His terms (Ex 33:7), and sometimes it meant arguing with God and reminding God of the things God himself had said (Ex. 33:12-17). But in order to pursue that relationship, Moses had to know God, and in order to know God, Moses had to spend time with Him.
We must do the same. If we wish to finish strong as Moses did, we must seek to know God. Not seek to “fit Him into our schedule” or to “meet our obligation” to Him, but daily, weekly and yearly seek to really know Him. At first, we may be like Moses where we are afraid and protest, but eventually learn to trust, and willingly follow , and pursue. It takes time and consistency and may not feel natural. So much of what we are told can easily be turned into a checklist: have a quiet time every morning or seek God on your knees. But God wants more than those things. Yes, he wants you to learn about Him through His word and through prayer, but He also wants your first thought in every situation to be to seek Him. We cannot will ourselves into that kind of relationship through determination and effort. It only comes with time and practice.
That mile race I ran during my fourth grade field day was the last race I ever ran. I did not finish strong. I didn’t even finish. The difference between the girls who won and me was simple: running was foreign to who I was. The race was something I trained for, but not something that flowed out of who I was. I knew many of these other girls. I watched them run endlessly at recess as I stood motionless in the tetherball line. Running was such a part of them that I would be surprised if it even occurred to them to train for the race because they already knew they could run. I don’t want to just go through a training regimen for the Christian life. I want to live it. I want my relationship with God to be so intrinsic to who I am that I can’t help but follow Him. Without cultivating that relationship and trust, there is no way for me to power through or force myself to follow out of sheer determination. The only way to finish strong is by the daily practice of knowing God better, listening to His voice and turning to Him in all things.