Running And The Christian Spiritual Life


ING RUN (Photo credit: sophiea)

I am still running and training for the Dallas Marathon. This year, I am trying not to let my spiritual life take a back seat to my running. Here are a few things that have helped.

Community Bible Experience – Take the New Testament, remove all of the chapter and verse identification, as well as the footnotes and cross references. Then read for 20-30 minutes a day for five days a week. Then discuss with a small group on a weekly basis. This is the recipe for the Community Bible Experience that seeks to get people reading scripture with the spirit and purity of the early church. In addition, when ordering the materials for the Experience, you are sent MP3s for each daily reading. This has become my ritual on my training runs. I have gone through an entire gospel on a long run. The richness of some of these scriptures has been breathtaking.

2GB W Series Walkman – Meb Edition – This headset is an MP3 player that requires no wires and doesn’t have to be plugged into another source. It charges fast and keeps its charge for a long time. I have listened to all of my daily readings (see above) using this device and it has been great. This will be a common companion on my runs. The one drawback is that it doesn’t want to stay in my ears. I have to stuff the back strap into my hat or headband to keep it in my ears. An extra highlight is the prerecorded running advice from U.S. Olympic medalist runner Meb Keflezighi.

Lord’s Prayer – After I listen to 30-40 minutes of scripture, I usually shut off the Walkman and pray. Immersing myself in scripture is a great way to set my heart right for prayer. Praying the Lord’s Prayer in this manner has been enriching. Each part of the prayer seems to have focus and power behind it. I have always seemed to pray better when I am moving around.

Psalm 23 – Following the Lord’s Prayer, I recite the 23 Psalm. In the context of my running, lines such as, “he leads me in paths of righteousness for his namesake,” are suddenly a  living object lesson. Almost every line can be connected to an aspect of running and the 23 Psalm becomes my running prayer. “He leads me beside the still waters…” is not just a comfort but a promise that I will have relief from the hurt and suffering I am feeling during the run.

Eat & Run by Scott Jurek – I have been a fan of Jurek since I read Born to Run. His free spirit mixed with an obsessive compulsive attention to detail reminds me a little of myself. He lays all of this out in his book on running and vegetarianism. Jurek mixes Eastern ideas such as bushido (emptying the mind) with New Age ideas such as discovery the power within. It obviously has worked for him (he runs 100 mile races and wins them) but the book ended with a level of sadness and uncertainty that I am not sure can be fixed by reliance on the self. Instead of being inspired by Jurek to try out these ideas, I have become more convinced that the power that I have (Christ within me) is all that I need (and more than I need) to provide the mental and spiritual power to run marathons. I won’t ever match the caliber of Jurek’s successes but his quest for running nirvana is fleeting and misguided and I feel led to counter it.

“3rd Planet” by Modest Mouse – The first time I heard this song on my MP3 player, I couldn’t make out what it was. It sounded familiar but it was not a common listen of mine. Then the controlled energy of the song mixed with the cosmically grandiose lyrics about the beginning and end of the world took me to the sadness of the Garden of Eden but sprinkled in a radiant hope that surprised me. My interpretation of the song is probably not even close to how it was intended but does that really matter if I am so inspired and moved by the end result?

*I am raising money for Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Children. Go here to make a donation.

Scripture Reading While You Run

Like last fall, I am training for the Dallas Marathon.* Though I try to find training programs that limit my mileage to a manageable number there is still no substitute for putting in the running miles.

Pray-As-You-Go 1

Pray-As-You-Go 1 (Photo credit: Church of the Redeemer)

The best audio version/podcast of scripture that I have found is Pray-as-You-Go. It is on iTunes and can be downloaded off the web. I place it on my iPod and listen to multiple days’ readings, sometimes multiple times (a Job passage was particularly powerful today but not yesterday). The format consists of a song (anything from Bach to Ladysmith Black Mambazo), followed by a call to prayer, a short reading of scripture, and then a prayer as you hear the reading a second time. Each day’s podcast last between 10-12 minutes.

Pray-As-You-Go is produced by a Jesuit group so the tone might be a bit more contemplative than many are used to but I always find myself engaged with the reading in a powerful way. I look forward to many of my runs because I know I am going to be fed the word and experience God in a unique way. If you have a long commute, spend time on a treadmill or exercise bike, or are more of an auditory person, Pray-As-You-Go can keep you in touch with the word of God and spark a prayerful consideration of his work in your life.

Here is a sample from this week:

*I am raising money for Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Children. Go here to make a donation.

Running The Race: To The Finish

On Dec. 4 I ran in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Over the last several weeks, I have provided my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

The marathon is done and I finished it in a little over five hours. My dad asked me if it was the hardest thing that I have ever done? As I was laying in the passenger seat and loopy from the run and the pain that I was experiencing, I couldn’t think of anything else that was harder. Now, with a few days to reflect, I still can’t think of anything harder but I can think of some important lessons that I learned. These are lessons that are important not just for running a marathon but also making it through any difficult moment in your life.

Lesson #1 – You need help – I would say that about 60 percent of the runners had someone to run with or at least had a someone they knew at the start with them. These people were able to smile and joke and distract each other with mindless conversation. I had trained alone and intended to race alone until I heard about the Clif Pace Team. My dad had encouraged me to find people to run with because he knew that it would make it easier. I had heard good things about the Pace Team so I planned on finding the 5 hour pace team at the start. I was able to meet one of the other runners on the Pace group and just having someone to chat with on occasion during the race was a big help. But I really didn’t learn this lesson until around mile 18. At this point, I started to have cramps in my lower thigh. I didn’t expect this kind of set back with still so much farther to go and I was beginning to stress out. I ran up to my new Pace group friend, who had run in some marathons before. I asked him if he had any advice for leg cramps. A lady who was running with us, heard my comment and was nice enough to give me some of her electrolyte pills. I don’t know if they helped but at a time when everyone was just trying to survive, her service to me was beyond generous.

Don’t expect your spiritual life to make it through difficult times without help from others. No matter how strong you are, there are some things that only other people can bring to you.

Lesson #2  – Endurance Brings Clarity – You would think that running gives one a lot of time to pray and meditate on God. Maybe for some people but just as when I am sitting still, my mind rarely stays focus enough to finish a prayer. I have been on many a run when I have tried to make it through the Lord’s Prayer and lose my train of thought and never finish it. That was not the case at about  mile 21. I was so wasted from the exertion and the pain that I probably said the most cohesive and direct version of the Lord’s Prayer I have ever uttered. Other prayers that I voiced over and over were “Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and “I am one in whom Christ dwells.” I needed that last one to tap in to some strength and courage that I didn’t think I had.

Lesson #3 – Trust – Along this journey to becoming a marathon finisher, I had recognized God’s role in bringing me along. I had prayed for good health so as not to miss a workout and that was answered. I had seen validation of my quest in people who I met and things that I had heard other’s say. I had received a great pouring out of abundance from people wanting to donate to Scottish Rite in honor of our daughter. I had received unexpected notoriety from a newspaper article that included me in a story about first time runners. God was making these things happen for a reason and I was becoming more and more sure of it as the weeks went by. But then a collection of circumstances began to surface that were very unwelcome.

First, Thursday night, I started to come down with a head cold. My nose was getting very congested and the good health that I had experienced throughout my training was fading. Second, the weather forecast for Sunday was getting bleaker and bleaker by the day. Early in the week it looked like a high in the upper Forties with a 40% chance of rain but by Saturday, the chance of rain had moved to 100% with a high barely reaching 43.  I had only run in rain once in all of my training and that was not when it was 40 degrees. Running a marathon was not something that I had ever done before and then here were these two situations which were a part of my worst case scenario. I reached the point where worrying and fretting wasn’t going to be very productive.

It is in situations like this where God always comes in and reminds me that he can be trusted, that he is who he says he is, and that my only choice is to lean on him. I couldn’t do anything about the weather and how my body was going to hold up under the strain of the marathon was a complete uncertainty. I had to trust God that he had brought me to this point for a reason and that he wasn’t going to leave me alone. The race became less about me and more about God’s work through me. Which is the way it should be. The race taught me to find the place where I should have been all along – in ruthless trust of my savior Jesus Christ.

Running the Race: Training Not Trying

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

Rostock-Marathon bei Schmarl, Rostock

Image via Wikipediaspiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

Yesterday, I completed a 14 mile training run. This was the longest run that I have completed. I completed it without a whole lot of trouble, pain, or suffering. It seemed to be a natural progression of my previous training.

One quick search on the web for “marathon training” will give you hundreds and hundreds of links to training programs. There may be more training programs than there are marathons to run. Doing this search, it becomes obvious that training is an essential part of completing and excelling in a marathon. No one tries to complete a marathon without training first. The process is training not trying.

This should be the same principle in our spiritual life – training not trying. Have you ever tried to be a better person? Have you tried to be more loving or more compassionate, or more giving? Whenever I am left to my trying I realize that my trying has a short shelf life. Gritting my teeth and straining to be a better person never works over the long haul. Just as gritting my teeth and straining to run 14 miles without the proper training would have left me wasted at about mile 4, straining to be more Christlike without the proper training will leave me guilt ridden and down on myself.

James Bryan Smith, in his book The Good and Beautiful God, details a spiritual growth pyramid that places the narratives of Jesus at the top point, participating in community at the right point, and soul-training exercises at the left point, with the Holy Spirit in the middle.  Smith points out that all of these elements must work together to create a transformed person. Many Christians just focus on right thinking and community and leave off the training aspect. This alone will not create a Christlike person. Others focus on only the Holy Spirit and think that the rest will take care of itself. Spiritual exercises puts your thinking into practice and makes your time in community more meaningful.

Training is essential to completing a marathon and essential to growing spiritually. We do not try harder to be like Christ we train intentionally in the context of right thinking and a loving Christian community.

Running The Race: The Testing Ground

USMC Marathon

Image via Wikipedia

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

As a librarian by trade, I read frequently and find it easy to locate information on just about anything. So naturally, while training for the marathon, I have been doing a lot of reading and research on training techniques, race day strategies, and personal marathon experiences. But sometimes I have found myself more interested in reading about marathon training and running than actually training and running. I guess I enjoy making workout plans and learning about new techniques more than training itself. The fact of the matter is, the only way to test whether or not these plans and strategies work is to test them out in your training and running. Running is the testing ground for anything I read and research. I have to take what I have learned and put it to the test in my own experience, otherwise it is just words on a page.

Have you put Jesus’ teachings and the spiritual life to the test? Have you studied the Sermon on the Mount or I Corinthians 13 and put it into action to see if it works? I dare you to try it. I don’t mean attending another Bible Study or reading another blog but actually putting the words of the New Testament and things like the Ten Commandments and Psalm 23 from the Old Testament into action and test the Christian life.

I can read about marathon running and pour over articles and blogs but it is only when I take what I have learned and act upon it that the knowledge that I gained has any power. It may be time for you, as a Christian, to get into training. Quit learning about Christ and God’s work of redemption without testing it out on the track of life. Come and see that the Lord is good.

Running The Race: When I Became A Runner

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

Wednesday morning I became a runner. Sure, I have been training for a marathon for almost two months but it wasn’t until Wednesday that I became a runner. All signs pointed to me skipping a run that morning. I had stayed up too late watching a recorded playoff baseball game and my early morning workout schedule meant that sleep was going to be short. Then, as my alarm went off, the first thing I hear is the steady stream of rain drops on my roof. I am tired, it is raining. I tell myself that I don’t have to get out there today. But I remember something I had read the day before from Martin Dugard:

 Runners run. If you’re having one of those days where you want to rationalize not taking that first step out the door, remind yourself that this commitment renews itself each and every day. Then lace up your shoes and get out there.

So I took Dugard’s advice and laced up my shoes and put on a hat, to keep the rain out of my face, and ran around three miles. First, the rain was barely noticeable but then it began to pour but it didn’t bother me much because I knew that I had crossed a threshold and had become more than a guy in training but someone much more interesting, a runner.

To me, the spiritual application to the above discovery is pretty obvious. Through my daily commitment to God, even when life brings storms, I become a Christian in the truest sense of the word. But it takes a renewing commitment and realization that seeking first the kingdom is not a drudgery or a hassle but the absolute best thing that I could do for my life. Just as skipping out on a run would have been short changing myself, avoiding my responsibilities and dedication to God and his kingdom can keep me from fulfilling God’s abundant purposes for my life.

Running The Race: Christian Life Tracker

56/365 morning run

Image by kharied via Flickr

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

I have a sensor in my running shoe that can track how many miles I have run, at what pace I am running, and how many minutes I have been running. I then can upload that information to a website so I can chart my progress. Another site that I have found, called Daily Mile, allows me to enter my results for each workout in a Twitter like fashion. In Daily Mile, others in my social network can see my results and comment on my progress while I can do the same for them.

The ability to track your status and broadcast it to others keeps you accountable and makes it easier to set goals and see how much you have improved. Why isn’t there something like this for spiritual activities? Why can’t I track my daily Bible reading and let others know how I am doing? Why can’t I list prayers and then check them off when they have been answered? There are many spiritual disciplines that could be tracked and monitored and shared.

The reason we don’t have Christian Life Trackers is because we are afraid that we will become legalistic. Legalism occurs when you attach righteousness to spiritual activities.  When I think that I have to complete certain spiritual tasks in order to receive favor from God or, in most cases, the church then I am being legalistic. How exactly is tracking my daily Bible reading being legalistic? I am simply finding a tool that will motivate me to continue reading and help me encourage others who are trying to do the same thing. Sure, there may be a level of competition and one up-manship involved but the rewards to making our spiritual lives more quantified far outweigh the temptation for pride and power.

I enjoy watching my progress through my marathon training and keeping up with how others are doing as well. I feel a kinship to friends, and some strangers, who are putting in good work towards their goals and I enjoy celebrating when they achieve something extraordinary. Doesn’t this sound like something we should be doing as fellow believers? Let’s find a good way to track and connect our spiritual journey.

Running the Race: Feeling God’s Pleasure

Ian Charleson (foreground) and Ben Cross (left...

Image via Wikipedia

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

St. Irenaeus once said that, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” When I am running, I can’t help but think about this quote. Though there are times during training when I feel like I am dying there are also times when I feel more alive than ever. The breeze is blowing, my heart is racing, my legs keep churning, and my mind is alert to my surroundings. I am fully engaged in the moment and nothing is distracting my focus other than getting one foot to move in front of the other.

There is a famous line from Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell says that when he runs he “feels God’s pleasure.” I can’t tell you that I have reached such spiritual heights in my life but the sense of aliveness that I get when running is getting me closer to feeling God’s pleasure.

When Jesus says that he has come to bring us life and life more abundantly, he is not just talking about eternal life. He is talking about an existence right now that is full of the light of the world. I want my life to be this abundant and full of light. When I run, I am learning more and more what this Christian life can look like.

Running The Race: It’s Not About The Shoes

020 - Medals

Image by steelbyte via Flickr

On Dec. 4 I will run in the White Rock Marathon in Dallas. Once a week, I will provide my observations on the connection between the spiritual life and training to run a marathon. Please visit my White Rock fundraising page to honor my daughter and contribute to a great cause.

As I prepare for a marathon, I struggle with my motivations. It is hard not to be self-absorbed when you are training for a marathon. I don’t like talking about myself, normally, but I find that I am constantly talking about running and the marathon with my wife and others. I keep asking myself, “Is this all about me?” “Am I making this sacrifice to draw attention to myself?” Sure, I make myself feel better by raising some money for a good charity and to draw attention to my daughter but I am the one doing the hours and hours of training and I am the one who will receive the participant’s shirt and the completion medal. So, is it all about me?

I don’t want it to be. In fact, I think this whole experience will change me for the better. And if you have been reading this blog long enough you know that I am all about growth and change. Today, I read about having an inward focus on God and living well and beautifully by placing myself under the reign of Jesus Christ. This is where I want my focus to be; not on myself and my accomplishments but on God. There is nothing wrong with achieving something as hard as a marathon but I would rather do it because of the power and strength given to me by God. I want it to be about Him and not me. I want to run with God through this race.

Pushing forty crisis? My need for control? Need for attention and praise? Display of manhood?

I don’t know what initially sparked my desire to run a marathon but I know now that I will not complete it because of my shoes or my training or my innate physical ability. I will complete it because God desires for me to complete it and he has something in store for me in the process.