This past weekend, I ran a half marathon on a hilly, tougher-than-expected course. I was only 3 weeks out from my last race and, honestly, I took this one pretty lightly. In addition to not being completely healed from the last race, I didn’t train as hard, hydrate properly, or eat as healthy – not a great combination, I know. Nevertheless, I ran anyway and started feeling the consequences of my sub-par training shortly into mile 12. I hoped I could hang on long enough to finish strong, but my calves started cramping violently. If you don’t know about leg cramps, just imagine a muscle group locked in a forceful, involuntary contraction.
With both of my calves experiencing these cramps, and with around ¾ of a mile to go, I wasn’t sure I could finish. At best, I would limp to the finish line, but there would be no smiling as I finished this one; I’d grimace all the way for sure – if I could finish at all. You see, this is a big problem for me. I pride myself in being strong and not limping. “Run pretty, run clean,” I’ve said before. I dreaded limping to the finish line as the crowd of people looked on. Maybe they’d wonder, “What’s wrong with this guy? He’s an ugly runner!” Yet, my decision was simple: don’t finish the race or finish limping.
I wasn’t happy about it, but I chose to cross the finish line in a full-blown awkward limp. My pride was injured, as was my finish time, but I completed the race with a few lessons learned about being afraid to limp – in a race or in life.
This is tough to admit, but in the same way I want to be a “pretty runner,” I want to be a “pretty Christian.” The truth is I’m neither. I limp as a runner due to lack of hydration, preparation, and experience. Does all that make me a bad runner? No, it makes me a human with many things to learn about running. It does certainly mean if I’m to grow in my running career, I’ll need to do several things much better than I did this weekend.
Likewise, when I limp as a Christian, it’s because I’ve gotten distracted from God’s presence, or it’s due to my weakness as an imperfect human, and sometimes it’s from my lack of experience. Does this make me a bad Christian? Again, the answer is no, but it does mean I must shore up some weaknesses if I want to go further in my relationship with God. You see, we’re all in a process the Bible calls sanctification, which is God’s will for us. (1 Thessalonians 4:3) Sanctification comes from the Greek word hagiazo, which means to “make holy.” Our painful limping, challenging trials, and frustrating weaknesses are all being used to sanctify us, to make us holy, for God says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Why does sanctification have to be a process? Why can’t we just accept Christ as Lord and Savior and – poof – we’re perfect like him? Think about it this way: just as my limp-to-the-finish run last weekend will drive me to prepare much better in the future, my spiritual failings and shortcomings yesterday will drive me to seek and rely upon God’s grace much more tomorrow. If I were a perfect, pretty Christian all throughout the race, would I even need to rely on God to finish? God has His purposes.
Sanctification, like training for a half marathon, is difficult work. It’s not really a pretty process, but the result will be beautiful. 1 John 3:2-3 puts it best: “…we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” Runner, you may be limping now, but keep running in the healing, uplifting grace of God, and you’ll run perfect just like Jesus one day.