Fall is one of my favorite times of year since that means its cross country time. Most of you probably know that I’m a cross country running coach. Our season is now well underway and as with every year it’s filled with exciting possibilities of what’s in store. To the casual observer, or the disinterested, cross country would seem to be just a fall version of the spring track distance running.
But they are really worlds apart
Yes, they are both running (one team’s slogan is: our sport is your sports punishment) but that’s where the comparison ends. While track is about finding the right pace for your projected finishing time and then executing it while going around and around the track, cross country is far more nuanced. It’s more about ebbs and flows, of burst and relax. See, with cross country the terrain and pitch changes as you go-CROSS COUNTRY (hence the name!).
Cross country can be bumpy and smooth, there are times you feel like you’re flying (especially going downhill) and other times you care barely keep your feet moving like when you’re going uphill or running through mud.
In a lot of ways running cross country is like our journey as disciples of Jesus. There are ups and downs, ebbs and flows too as you run the race of life.
We are reminded to run the race with perseverance (Heb.12:1). That means to stick with it, to not give up. We are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the perfector of our faith who ran his own race which ultimately ended at a cross. As we learn further in this passage it’s a race that’s marked out. In cross country, though at times it may be hard to follow the twisting and snaking course it’s always marked out and there’s always a map. We’re reminded that our race is on a course marked out for us. It may seem at times random, and even scary, but Jesus knows and he’s with us every step of the way.
One of the many things I like about coaching cross country is the opportunity to set personal goals. In teams sports it’s hard to do that but for the runner, the goal may be to get on the podium and receive a medal, not to come last or perhaps even just run the whole way without walking. All are valid goals and each is worthy to be celebrated.
In our journey with God all will achieve varying degrees of perceived success but when we seek to please God, our great coach, and follow his plans for us, we too can experience that spiritual satisfaction regardless of how worldly our prize may be. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:24 that we are to” run in such a way as to get the prize.” Earlier in the chapter he talked about how only one gets the prize in the race he is referring to (think Olympics) but all go into strict training (and hard as my runners will tell you) but he reminds us that we do it for a greater prize with far more winners. Until that point, we are to train and test ourselves to grow but always with the idea of pleasing God.
Pretty amazing huh? All these lessons from a sport that some would consider punishment! But then isn’t that, ultimately, what discipleship is all about? I don’t run like someone running aimlessly, I don’t fight like someone beating the air, no, I beat my body and make it a slave so that when all is said and done, I will receive the greatest prize of all, to be in the presence, forever, of the one who set the course out for me in the first place (1 Cor.9:26-27). I think that’s worth a bit of discomfort during the journey. Ready to lace up and start running?