What does it mean to run for your life? Typically, this phrase implies running away from something that is threatening to take your life–a bear, a giant, a fire, an army. My challenge to you is to allow your mind to shift the perspective on running for your life, instead: Rather than fearing what is behind you, instead focusing on running to attain life–living with a mindset on running toward the life-giving, soul-healing benefits that lay ahead of you.
In Philippians 3:12-14, Paul speaks of this looking-ahead approach, “Not that I have already obtained this [perfected perspective] or am already perfect, but I press on to make [a perfected perspective] my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” (ESV, emphasis and notes added).
In this I see a difference between running from something to save your life, and running toward something to attain life. Matthew Henry’s Commentary says, “He [Paul] forgot the things which were behind, so as not to be content with past labours or present measures of grace. He reached forth, stretched himself forward towards his point; expressions showing great concern to become more and more like unto Christ”(Biblehub.com).
Did you catch that? He didn’t look behind to his past or around at others in order to set his focus and goals, instead, he looked toward Christ and made his concern to live a life that was marked by a calling to live like Christ. He also didn’t just sit around hoping it would happen: He reached forth, he strained toward, he pressed on.
The analogy of running a race is not lost on me. In fact, it intensifies the meaning of this passage for me and allows me to take to hear the intent of Paul’s words. This is because to me, there was a time when my running was motivated by weight loss, time goals, image, and pleasing others. I was always looking behind at what I had accomplished, under my feet at what the scale measured, or to the fear of failure that would be visible to others if I ever regressed. I let these things motivate me and push me toward my goals in competition. And to be honest, it worked. But it sucked the life out of me. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t believe there is anything inherently bad with goals or striving to meet them. But there is a difference between allowing them to give you life and allowing them to become more like a bear chasing you down the street.
I believe that difference is found in allowing running to become an actual (rather than metaphoric) spiritual journey lived out intentionally and habitually. And how does one make that shift? By turning the focus from self to Christ. By turning the focus from earthly goals toward eternal goals. By turning toward what is ahead and letting go of what is behind. By choosing to run for your life, rather than to define your life. For me, this doesn’t mean I have cast away all my goals and no longer run with a watch or try to achieve my highest potential in terms of strength and speed. But those reasons are not where I find my joy, sense of accomplishment, or motivation to keep going.
Instead, I spend a lot more time focusing on allowing my running to bring me closer to Jesus through praying and listening to worship music when running. I consider it kingdom work when I get together with friends to hit the road together. And sometimes, when they are friends who share my faith, we spend the last couple miles in prayer. When I am talking myself into a run that I don’t really want to go on, I don’t use phrases like, “You better go or your next race will be a disaster.” Instead, I frame it this way: “You need this time away to recharge, think about Jesus, and refocus.” The goal isn’t the run, the goal is the quietness, time of reflection, and making space to let Christ work in my heart and head while I pound it out on the pavement. My shift in perspective allows me to press on towards those goals that build my intimacy with Jesus and depth of relationship with others, which in turn allows me to keep looking forward and upward, focusing on a training strategy that brings me life.
- What goals motivate you to keep running/exercising?
- What is one thing you need to set behind you in order to move forward in running free?
- What is one change you can make today to shift from running in fear, and toward running for life?
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Jaclyn Loween is a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mom, teacher, runner, and blogger at jaclynloween.com. Her desire is to help others know who they are in Christ and how to run confidently in life and faith.