After 20 minutes waiting at the starting line, the half marathon started and I set out on a faster-than-planned pace. Much faster. 35 seconds per mile faster. In retrospect, I blame the excitement of the start and the cold November temperatures for making my legs move faster than expected. By the third mile, I realized the 1-hour, 50-minute pace-runner was just ahead of me – I could easily see the big, white sign on a pole with “1:50” printed on it. All I could think was, “I can’t run a 1:50 half marathon, can I? I’ve never ran that fast and if I try to, I may not be able to finish.” Despite this bit of anxiety, I felt good and decided to stretch my limits and keep the 1:50 pacer sign in my line of sight.
I quickly realized if I took my eyes off the sign and focused on my breathlessness and tired legs, I would become overwhelmed by my exertion and fall back from the pace-setter. If I locked-in on the ever-moving forward 1:50 sign, I would maintain the faster pace. In Exodus 17, God’s people faced a similar situation. As Israel fought against the Amalekites, high on a hill stood Moses, the leader of God’s people. As the story goes, Moses held the rod of God in his hand, and as long as he held his arms above his head, Israel prevailed. However, as Moses’ arms grew weary and fell by his side, the enemy gained ground. Eventually, Moses’ brother Aaron, and their friend Hur graciously helped keep Moses’ arms held upward so Israel would outlast the Amalekites.
After the victory, Moses built an altar to God and called it, Jehovah Nissi, which means, “The Lord is my Banner.” Just like the 1:50-pace sign guided my half marathon, in life there’s a banner out ahead of us and it’s Jesus himself. Yes, he lived a perfect life and ran a perfect race – something we can’t do – but he has mercifully declared, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) When we look to him, we prevail over this life, realizing sin and death have no hold on us – just as they had no hold on our Lord. When we dwell on our struggles, our burning legs, and shaky legs, these afflictions seem to magnify and take ownership of us, so often causing us to lose ground and fall off the pace.
During that race, as I ran that faster pace, I was stretched to my limits and felt anxiety wash over me many times. Many in this world would encourage tapping into my own personal power in those tough moments, but Psalm 144 tells me the Lord is my rock, my trainer, my lovingkindness, my shield, and my refuge. Within myself, all I could hear was “Stop! You can’t do this!” With Jehovah Nissi in my line of sight, and my eyes fixed on Him, I find all I need to run a good race and even do more than I thought possible.
Are you in a race right now, stretched to your limits and overwhelmed by crushing feelings of doubt? If you look inward, away from Jesus, it’s likely to make your situation seem more desperate. If you find Jesus, who always stays in sight, you’ll find “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” (Isaiah 40:29)