Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Finish Stronger than You Started

Thank you Jesus for another 6 miles on the road today! This is day 2 of Janathon, a challenge to do some form of exercise every day for the month of January and blog about it.

After Monday's and Tuesday's 12 and 13 mile runs, I woke this morning to the sound of pouring rain. When I checked the computer, it looked like the rain would be moving out so I decided to opt for a very uncharacteristic afternoon run.

That worked out well because my mother-in-law's car needed a new water pump. Putting off my run to the afternoon gave me time to play mechanic a little. Now all is well and good with her car, and I finished with time to hit the road around 3 this afternoon.

I was feeling the miles of yesterday and the day before when I took my first steps, but managed to loosen up and get the first mile in in a respectable (for me) 10:18 pace. By then everything seemed to be clicking, but I still didn't want to push too hard. That's when a thought popped into my head and I decided to try something new on this run.

Hang around runners a while and you'll eventually hear the term "negative split." In the simplest terms, it means to finish a race stronger than you started it. A lot of runners have told me the surest way to manage a PR is to manage a negative split.

I never have. Usually, the second half of my races are run much slower than I started. That's because you're always feeling good at the start of a race, like you can run the whole race with blazing speed. But dashing out that first part of the race usually catches up and leaves me running slower and slower as the race wears on.

Today, I decided to see if I could manage negative splits on my 6-mile training run. Since I started at a moderate pace, it turned out not too difficult. My mile splits are in the table shown and gave me on overall average pace of 10:15 for the 6 miles.

I managed my negative splits today, but I'll consider myself a mature runner the day I can manage it in a marathon.

While I was running, contemplating the benefits of this negative split idea, it dawned on me that God had planted the idea in my head.

It dawned on me that the idea of finishing stronger than one starts is not only something that applies to running. Especially important is how it applies in our Christian walk through life.
"Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." -- James 1:4

Our Sunday School teacher has addressed this several times over the past few months. He talked about how new Christians often jump in with both feet, trying to serve everyone, everywhere, doing everything. They want to convert everyone they know, right now!

The problem comes when the Good News they're sharing isn't palatable to those they're trying to help. These folks have just discovered the greatest secret in the world and they want everyone else to see it too. But a lot of folks just aren't ready to accept it. This can be really discouraging to a new Christian, burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit, and excited to bring everyone they can into the Kingdom of God.

In the past couple of years, I've seen this very thing with two former students. Both were kids who, when I first met them in 10th grade, were as much the opposite of a Christian as anyone I've ever known. Both were hard core drug users, regular party animals with absolutely no respect for authority at all, not for authority on earth or in Heaven.

The first ended up expelled in his sophomore year. He was also nearly killed in a car accident caused by his abuse of alcohol and drugs. The next year, when school started, I was dismayed to hear he was coming back. That's how bad he was the year before.

But the accident had shown him the Light. He came back a different kid, on fire for the Lord, adamantly opposed to kids abusing alcohol and drugs. He did everything he could to lead others to Jesus and away from the destructive path that nearly killed him.

But I clearly remember a day when he came to school terribly upset. When I pulled him aside and talked to him, he told me how hard things were at home. He came from a home where drug and alcohol abuse were the norm. Church wasn't even a thought. He was upset this day because he was trying to get them to follow him down the path that had set him free, the path to Jesus, and they wouldn't follow. He was totally discouraged.

The second kid was one I fully expected would end up in prison. It was this past fall at a cross country meet when I first heard the good news on him. Another former student asked me if I'd heard that this kid was a Christian, on fire for Jesus.

I couldn't believe it. When I got home, I jumped on Facebook and looked him up. We were Facebook friends and I saw his profile hadn't been updated in some time. I searched his name and found a new profile, one that was open even though we weren't connected. It was him and it was active and he was definitely on fire with the Holy Spirit!

I immediately sent a friend request and soon learned he is attending church and planning to enroll in Bible college. He plans to be a youth minister! Talk about a turnaround.

A few weeks later his girlfriend asked to talk to me. She told me he was discouraged because an old friend of his wasn't receptive to becoming a Christian. Just like the other young man, he had found the best thing that ever happened to him and he wanted everyone else to have it too. Only problem was that not everyone wanted it.

Both these guys are still doing great and continuing to work for the Lord. I have no doubt as they mature in their Christian walk, they'll become ever more effective and will continue to serve our Lord.

But their struggles early in their life as Christians are normal. That's why it's important they (and all of us) always work to become more mature as Christians, so we can finish the race stronger than we started it.
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." -- Ephesians 6:13

If we're to manage that, it's going to take work and lots of it. It doesn't come easy. We have to train. How?

We train by arming ourselves with the word of God. Study it, learn it. Don't just trust random Bible verses posted on Facebook to give you the truth. Some of Satan's best helpers misuse and misinterpret the Bible to teach false doctrine and lead people astray.

Read the Bible daily, find a church that preaches from the Bible, attend Sunday School, and discuss everything you learn with your Christian friends. I firmly believe that if you honestly seek the Truth using this approach, God will reveal it to you.

It takes time. It takes effort. It takes discipline. But if we can finish our Christian life stronger than we started, we and all those we encounter will be better for it.

So let's hit the Word of God like a runner hits the road. Let's make this negative split happen in our Christian life!

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

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