The Christian Life Marathon

Have you ever watched or participated in a marathon? 26.2 miles of determination, doubt, dread, and delight all in one race. Every believer in Christ is running a marathon – the Christian life itself. There are different lengths, different tracks and terrains, and different hurdles to overcome, but believers have the same finish line – heaven! Let’s consider seven comparisons between a marathon and the Christian life: preparation, pace, purpose, preservation, people, perseverance, and prize.

The Christian Life Marathon

Preparation.  Unlike athletes, Christians receive no “training” before our life with Christ begins, but God has been at work on our behalf. Our debt of sin was fully paid two millennia ago when Christ died: “he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). Prior to our birth, He “knitted [us] together in [our] mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13 ESV). In addition, He has guaranteed the supply of all that we need in terms of sustenance – “our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) – and support through “another Helper” – the Holy Spirit (John 14:16 ESV). He has divine plans already in place for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11) including “good works” for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). In summary, right from the start of the race, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3 NLT) and this life is a training ground for heaven. Here we learn the character of God, our identity, and ways we can glorify Him, increasing our capacity for worship of Him there.

Pace. A marathon isn’t a sprint, but runners are constantly making progress in the right direction. There will be fast and slow times of physical, mental, and spiritual progress. As Christians, our mindset should always be looking forward; simply putting one step in front of another. Moving forward unravels the next stage too. Runners can’t see the finish line from the start, nor can they see all the track, but they still run having faith that there is a finish line; and as they keep running, more of the course is revealed. We can’t see our whole journey; God deliberately only reveals one stage at a time so that we keep in time with Him. At any point of the race, no matter how hard going it is, remember that the finish line is closer than it was at the start.

Purpose. God doesn’t want casual walking or ‘tag-alongs’. Although people often say ‘it’s the taking part that counts’, with God our fruitfulness and intent is also important. We should be dedicated to bringing glory to God so that in “all things [Christ] might have the pre-eminence” (Colossians 1:18). God is our greatest supporter, and we are “called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Let’s encourage one another to “make it our aim to please [the Lord]” (2 Corinthians 5:9 ESV) and to remember that, in the words of the hymn, “life is worth the living just because He lives”[1]. Am I excited to see where God will lead me?

Preservation. In a marathon, the right direction to take at a junction may not be obvious, so marshals point out the correct way. Marshals give clear, direct instructions that aren’t contradictory. God is our life coach, directing us through the unknowns, all of which are fully known to Him. Let’s trust Him – especially as He says, “My ways [are] higher than your ways” (Isaiah 55:9) and the Psalmist writes, “He will direct your paths” (Psalm 119:105). Additionally, just as marshals “preserve” the runners in a race, by directing, warning, or assisting in trouble, so Christ preserves, keeps, and guides throughout life and is always ready to alert us to dangers that may take us off course and to pick us up if we stumble (which we all do at times).

People. There are also many people along the way to encourage us: believers at a similar stage with whom we can share experiences; older believers who are praying fervently and unceasingly for us, even when they are unaware of our particular circumstances; and younger believers, whom we may be able to mentor and inspire. There is something for all to do, whatever our age or ability. We shouldn’t let those who are slipping away trip us up. We should hold out a hand for them, but not quit or get discouraged ourselves when they stumble. Everyone has a purpose vertically to glorify God and horizontally to build up others. We are also displaying to the world the One we are representing – Christ! We are “ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20), commissioned to encourage people to turn to Christ and join this extra-ordinary race.

Perseverance. Life involves times with company but also times alone, and loneliness can seem tough, even meaningless. When that happens, we need to look up! We aren’t the only runners on this track. We may see a marshal, other runners, or supporters who are actually there with us! Maybe we just need to look around to see fellow brothers and sisters who are alongside us and love us. Even when others seem distant, we must remember that Christ is a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1) and “[His] strength is made perfect in [our] weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). When going through challenges, we must seek our marshal – Christ – no matter what others may say. He is the greatest Comforter and He encourages us to “Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for [we] know that nothing [we] do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT). Our motivation comes from spending time daily with Him – reading God’s Word, praying, worshipping, witnessing . . . and through these things we will grow closer to and fonder of Christ. Reflecting on the commitment and zeal we had at the start, we must let it encourage us to keep pushing to the end, always thanking God for the good times and thanking Him for the hard times too, praying for help and wisdom to get through.

Prize. Just as athletes look forward to the finishing line and to getting a medal, so we “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God” (Philippians 3:14). The prize shouldn’t be our motive, that should be to become more Christ-like, but the prize should incentivise us. There are rewards to come according to how well we have run the race (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

So “let us run with endurance the race [marathon] that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). The Christian life is difficult and, for many, long and challenging, but we have the best guide, the greatest Comforter, and a reward that’s out of this world (literally!) . . . and to be enjoyed for all eternity! Let’s live in light of heaven as our home, praising God for the blessings He provides, and let’s enjoy the wonderful beauty of our Christian marathon with God!  

[1] Bill and Gloria Gaither (1971), Because He lives.