Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Lesson From Nerves On Race Day

Not too long ago, I ran a local 10K race. I run to try to keep in shape. I wish I loved it. I don't. So, signing up for a race provides a little added incentive to stay motivated and push myself.

The race was set for 9am on a Saturday morning. On Friday night, and even more so on Sat morning, I had some butterflies. I was a little nervous. "What is this for?! This race means nothing. There's nothing at stake. I have nothing on the line here...except...my pride. Ugh."

You see, I want to be impressive. I want to be a success and not a failure. If I perform well, then I will be esteemed -- in the eyes of those I signed up with (a couple of Bethel guys), in the eyes of other runners ("Nice time!" or "That's respectable."), even in the eyes of my kids ("Way to go, Dad!").

If I perform poorly, then I will be condemned to the outer darkness of ho-hum hack jogger-dom. I will draw no attention whatsoever to myself. I will not be accepted in the circle of decent runners. My kids might even say something like, “That’s okay, Dad. We love you anyway!”

So, if I perform well, THEN I WILL REALLY LIVE! If I perform poorly, I’ll perish -- at least my pride and reputation will be dealt a death blow.

So, there I was. Nervous. I’ve invested a bit of me in this running bit and now I want to be vindicated. I want to be pleasing in the eyes of others, not a failure or a novice. I offer up my body and hope my sacrifice will be acceptable.

As I was running along in the race, I was thinking about all of this. I was thankful for the window to my heart that this little race afforded. It's so easy for my identity to be wrapped up in/hung up on the wrong things. I need to be reminded of the gospel and believe it everyday. I am spring-loaded to justify my existence by my own performance.

Remember the old movie, "Chariots of Fire"? In it, the Olympic runner Harold Abrahams is set in stark contrast to his main competitor, Eric Liddell. Abrahams' identity was bound up in his success or failure as a runner. He said (of the 100m race),
I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence. But will I?
Liddell, who was a committed Christian, whose identity was secure in the love of Jesus Christ, said,
God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.
If we are in Christ, we have nothing to prove. We don't have to justify ourselves. We don't have to impress the "judges" all around us and win their approval and accolades. We have One Judge. And united to Christ by faith we already have the verdict spoken over our lives. "There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." Because we are in Christ, the Father's approval of him is ours, "This is my beloved son/daughter, in whom I am well-pleased."

So, we do not run frantically in order to gain God's approval. We need not run slavishly to gain the approval of others. We run confidently by faith because we already have God's approval. We thus run free from the yo-yo effect of being ruled by our approval ratings.

When we remember the gospel, we are steadied when we fail and guarded when we succeed. We are not utterly crushed with shame and disappointment when we fail. Failure cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ. We do not think "think we're someone" when we succeed. Success cannot merit us the love of God in Christ. At the core, who we are is secure only in Christ. 

Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
So, let's run the race that's set before us, not seeking to justify our existence, but enjoying the warmth of God's pleasure that is ours because of Jesus. 

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore...let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

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