Several years ago, I decided I would put on my bucket list to run a marathon. In our hometown, there used to be an annual 8k race. (For the non-runners like me, that’s basically 5 miles). I thought this might be a good place to start toward the marathon goal. I ran almost every day. I downloaded one of those apps that would tell me what I needed to run each day to get this out-of-shape body ready to run a race. I had my “get pumped” music that I would listen to while I ran. The night of the race came (it was at night, by the way), and I did it. My goal was to run the race in under 50 minutes, and I ran it in 49 and some change. I met my goal.
I then changed my bucket list from “Run a Marathon” to “Run a Race”. Check. That one’s done.
I’m not made to run long distances. But there are a lot who are – maybe even some of you. My wife’s uncle, Lynn Burnett, is one of those. Earlier this year he ran in his 14th consecutive Boston Marathon, so I think that qualifies as being a serious runner. Over this past Memorial Day weekend, we went camping with my wife’s family, and Lynn was telling me one afternoon that he had to get up and run 10 miles the next morning since he was training for another marathon. I asked him if he was just going to run circles around the campground, or how he was going to do it. He began to explain to me a specific route that he would take down the road outside the campground, get to a certain location, stop and come back into the campground, run a lap around the campground, and then repeat that like four more times. That would equal exactly 10 miles. I was amazed by how much he had planned the whole thing out.
For the last several months, I’ve been teaching a Young Professionals class at our home congregation, and we have been doing a slow textual study of I Corinthians. We were just finishing up chapter 9 where Paul brings in the analogy about running the race and winning the prize. Paul then makes this statement in verse 26: “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.”
When Lynn was explaining to me his route for running that next morning, that statement from Paul entered my head, and it’s like a lightbulb went off. I always thought I had an idea of what Paul meant. In my mind, when you ran aimlessly, that means you were just flailing around like a newborn giraffe trying to run, like someone who lacked any kind of coordination. However, I don’t think that’s what he meant at all. If you run aimlessly, you are still running; you just don’t necessarily know where you are going or what your end goal is. You don’t have a plan. You just know you are supposed to run, so you run. But where to? Who knows. That’s running aimlessly.
Instead, Paul said you were supposed to run like someone who was training to run a marathon. Someone who intended to run in such a way to win that race. Someone who knew the exact route to run at a campground before it got too hot so he could hit that 10-mile goal.
In Paul’s context, he was trying to explain to the Corinthian congregation that they needed to understand that they sometimes had to give up some personal freedoms in order to watch out for the souls of others. He wanted them to understand that there was a bigger purpose to this life than acting on their own freedoms. However, this same concept applies to us. We may go around doing “Christian things”. You may read your Bibles, but how do you read it? Do you just randomly open to a passage and read for two minutes, or are you studying to try to gain a better understanding so you can improve your life and teach the gospel to others? You may go to worship services, but how do you worship? Do you keep a close eye on your watch, or do you allow your mind to become connected to the message of the songs and the sermon?
Do you run aimlessly, or do you have an end goal that you are working toward?