What Nike and the Christian Life have in Common
My son is a cross country runner. He certainly didn’t pick it up from my wife or me—I go through little spurts of running then stop, and the longest race I’ve ever run is a 10k. But I’ve seen what real runners do. The amount of discipline and perseverance required to be a real runner is impressive and further confirms for me that I’m not one of them.
My wife asked my son how he stays motivated to train year-round, whatever the weather, pushing his body to the brink. His answer: running with other people. He has running friends who call to ask where he is if he overslept, who push him to run faster and longer than he would on his own, and who make it all a lot more fun than it would be otherwise.
The author of Hebrews famously talks about the Christian life as a race. And like being a real runner, the Christian life requires motivation, self-discipline, and perseverance to run it well. On our own, we might go through spurts that lack staying power. After all, it’s easy to drift away from living for Jesus’s mission in the world. We might get distracted, wonder why we started this race in the first place, and question if it’s still worth it.
What we all need in these times when we lack the motivation to continue is encouragement—someone reminding us to keep going, telling us we can do it, and running alongside us.
The beauty is God knows we need this kind of encouragement. He knows that humans struggle to stay motivated on their own. He knows we lose steam and can become deflated.
The Greek word for encouragement is “parakaleo”—to call from alongside, to urge, to comfort, to exhort. When I hear that I think of someone saying, lovingly, empathetically, “You can do it.”
What’s interesting about this is that God, the Holy Spirit, is described as a “paraclete” which is derived from that same word (John 15:26). It can mean encourager, counselor, or advocate. When we place our trust in Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. So, we aren’t ever running alone. God is with us—alongside us, calling us, urging us, comforting us, encouraging us to keep going. He understands the hardships. He understands the pain. And he is saying “You can do it.”
How does God encourage us? In all kinds of ways. Just like runners stop at aid stations along the course of a marathon for food, drink, and rest, God provides fortification through his word, through prayer, and through worship.
But another important way God strengthens us and prompts us is through the community of other runners, the church. As a church, we are called to join the work the Spirit is doing by encouraging each other.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
What helps us to hold on to the hope we profess in this passage in order to keep running our race? It is belonging to a community that is spurring each other on, consistently meeting together, and encouraging one another.
Running alone is hard. The good news is that no Christian is ever truly running alone because the Paraclete is there with us. But, without a community of runners to check in on how we are doing, who pick us up when we are tired, and who remind us why it’s worth it to keep going and stay the course, we miss out on an important means God uses to encourage us.
Who are your fellow runners in the Christian life? Perhaps a small group, a women’s group, or a men’s group?
If you don’t have a community, consider joining one. Perhaps, you are in a group, but need to open up about what’s really going on or make space to deepen a relationship with someone. Maybe you need to be an encouragement to someone else and spend time listening to how their race is going, telling them “You can do it”?
Whatever this next step may be for you, the Christian life is a race better run together.
You don't have to live the Christian life alone, and you weren't meant to! Attend a Small Group Preview to learn more about what life lived in community can look like.