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Deleted Scenes: You can be an ultra-marathoner (Kind of). James 1:1-4.

A Note From Craig...
I really enjoy reading stories about extreme endurance athletes. Read is a key term there. As someone who finds running boring and painful, I don’t really envision myself ever doing ultra-marathon races. But I find it fascinating to read about what athletes like that go through.

For example, I came across this article about the Barkley Marathon. It’s a 100 mile race that includes 16,500 feet of elevation (twice the height of Everest). It has to be completed within 60 hours, and in the 35 years since its inception, only 20 competitors have successfully completed it. And in case you think it’s just a road race, here’s Jasmin Paris with some facts:

“Immediately after we set off we went up a slope so steep that at times my foot would slide back down, and I would have to go again. There were a couple of places we were climbing on our bellies. And this year, there was also a new section that used to be used for hillside mining, it was all covered in brambles so our legs got slashed to pieces.”

Can you imagine how disheartening that would be? To have made progress, only to have your feet slip and to have to climb up the same territory you had already covered? Can you imagine how frustrating it would be to find that the route involved terrain that would absolutely, definitely, leave you bleeding? There are some decent analogies here to a life of following Jesus in this world.

This past year, Jasmin Paris became the first woman ever to complete the course. What she said about the very end of the race struck me:

“When I got about eight minutes out, I suddenly thought I really might not do it,” she says. “I had about a kilometre to go but up a hill. I was so desperate to stop. But my mind was telling me: ‘If you don’t make this, you will have to do it all over again’.”

She was desperate to stop, she wasn’t sure she could do it, but there was a voice telling her to keep going. She had made it this far, so no matter how much her body was screaming at her to quit, she willed her way through.

In some senses, this is the worst possible analogy for the point I want to make from James 1. That’s because a story about a race that has been completed by 20 elite athletes over its entire history is hardly going to cause most of us to think “I could do that!” We rightfully see that as being the domain of physical super-men and women.

But here’s what I do see that I think translates to all of us: the need for Christian perseverance to finish its course. That’s what James says in 1:4: “let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature.” You see, it’s not just perseverance we’re after, it’s persevering perseverance. It’s the willingness to get back up even after our feet have slipped and we’ve lost ground. It’s the desire to keep following Jesus even when everyone around us is telling us to give up. It’s the determination to work through the doubts and uncertainty of a spiritual desert and keep coming to Him in prayer.

And there’s something else. Something that is different from the ultra-marathons, and something James doesn’t even say directly, but is filled out by other biblical authors. In this calling to not only run the race, but to finish the race, we are cheered on by the saints who have gone before us and who are running with us. Hebrews 12:1 says that “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. So we’ve got cheerleaders all around us, urging us to continue on. We've got the home court advantage, spurred on by this massive group that is on our side. The biggest cheerleader of all, however, is God Himself. Through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, He is not just the voice telling us to keep going, but He gives us His own power to do what we could not otherwise do. As Ephesians 3:20 says, he “is able today to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” In Ephesians 1:19, Paul prays that we would know “his comparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead”.

By following Jesus, you are running a race- a race that is much more like an ultra-marathon, where the point is completion, rather than a sprint. Let perseverance finish its work in you, and tap into all that God has given you to complete this race. Together, in Him, we’ve got this.

- Craig

1 Comment

Ceilidh - June 7th, 2024 at 12:31am

Thanks for the article Craig!