International Ministries

Learning to run... stretching forward!

October 4, 2015 Journal
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On a warm day before the rain set in last week, I caught a couple of minutes of our three little neighbor girls at play.  The youngest, Hadley is full of zest for life—and full of passion to catch up with her big sisters.  In typical full-tilt mode, she giggled and bounced down the driveway on her toes.  Hadley is just two.  Far from steady on her feet.  The driveway is steeply sloped.  I was transfixed… caught somewhere between panic-stricken and awe-struck.  Part of me wanted to rush over and scoop her up, before her reckless run down the driveway led to a tumble into the asphalt, complete with tears and major road rash.  Part of me wanted to cheer her on, amazed by her fearlessness and her success!  Little Hadley, on the brink of disaster for at least ten yards (a lot of steps for a two year old!) actually made it to the flat sidewalk at the bottom, grinning and victorious!  Hooray!

Little Hadley is learning to run… by running!  Ultimately, that’s how we do it.  At every level. 

It is a long, long way, from two-year old Hadley, toddling on her toes, to the Olympians Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce taking the gold for Jamaica in the 100 meter sprint, and Stephen Kiprotich carrying the Ugandan flag across the finish line to take the gold medal in the 2012 marathon in London.  But the distance is covered by running.  Disciplined, determined, daily running.

Of course, there is much to learn about technique, about strategy, about equipment.  But without running, none of that would count for much.  And, surely it is true that not everyone’s body type sets them up to reach the same level of achievement.  But the best genetic preparation in the world would be useless without… running!  They call it training.  But, mostly, it consists of running.  Focused, faithful, fully committed running.

Living for Jesus is like that.  We learn to do it, actually, by doing it.  Whether bouncing on our toes on the brink of disaster, or striding purposefully toward the finish line or, yes, twisting an ankle, taking a tumble and losing some skin as we collide with the ground.  We learn to follow Jesus by… following Jesus!  As with running, there is a great deal of learning to do as we follow Jesus.  But as with running, for our study (of Scripture, history and so many aspects of our context) to become real learning, we have to be active, engaged, actually following the Lord with our lives.

One of the images Paul used for the life of faith is that of athletics.  In his first letter to the congregation in Corinth, he urged them to learn from what they could see runners and boxers doing to prepare to compete (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  Athletes’ disciplined way of life was focused on a goal.  Paul urged the followers of Jesus to pursue the much greater goal of serving the world-changing mission of Jesus with the kind of discipline and determination they could see in the athletes around them.  (This was an important word to a “team of rivals,” clearly distracted by intra-team squabbles.  But I digress….)

Paul again used the metaphor of running as he wrote to the congregation in Philippi, urging them to persevere, to stay focused on Jesus and to press onward toward the finish line of God’s Reign.  Like a runner reaching out for the tape, Paul said he was stretching forward with every muscle, focused on the finish line.

I love the metaphor, especially if we remember that following Jesus is “a team sport.”  It is about running together, about encouraging one another, urging each other to reach our personal best and, especially, picking up our teammates when they take a tumble, as we all will.

During BereanSafari last August, I had the chance to serve as player-coach with Sara, a bright young Ethiopian woman who is honing her skills as a Bible study leader by… leading Bible studies!  Whenever I can, I love to use teaching opportunities not only to help participants gain more knowledge, but to help them become those who do their learning by serving the learning of others (2 Timothy 2:2).  It was a privilege to run alongside Sara throughout the week, matching stride for stride and learning together how best to assist our group in their own learning!

I was grateful to be able to join Sara as she stretched forward to develop leadership skills.  I am grateful for all whose prayers and gifts make it possible for me to join people like Sara around the world.  I am grateful for all whose prayers and gifts to the World Mission Offering are making it possible for International Ministries to “Stretch Forward” into a third century of responding to the call of Christ in mission.  Thank you!

May the Lord enable you to run with faithfulness the race that is set before us all, stretching forward toward the amazing goal the Lord has established, when God’s redeeming desires will be fully realized, “on earth, as in heaven!”

Stan