The last half-marathon race I ran was the first (and only) half-marathon in which I raced to place. With the prospect of finishing in the top fifteen as something that looked doable given the previous years’ winning times, I put myself through a two-month training program with the hopes of winning my first ever medal in a running event. By race-day, I was in the best endurance-running shape I have ever attained, and in far better shape than when I ran my first half-marathon nine years earlier. I was rigorous in my preparation—from my strict adherence to the training program to my meticulous diet. I had never launched out of the starting blocks of a race feeling that focused and that ambitious about doing well.
By the middle of the race, I was exhausted. In fact, I was far more exhausted by that point than I was in my first half-marathon. It wasn’t because I had used the wrong strategy. It wasn’t that I had eaten the wrong pre-race meal that morning. It was simply because I was running faster and competing harder than I ever had in a race.
When it comes to endurance sports, I’ve learned that no matter how well-conditioned and well-prepared you are, one thing is for certain: if you run to win against evenly-matched competition, you will get tired. This is what distinguishes endurance sports from just about every other sport: by the end of the competition, one hundred percent of the participants are exhausted. You won’t just get tired at the end of the race: you will be tired in the middle of it.
There’s no way around this reality, and the only way through it is, well, through it. In other words, the solution to fatigue is endurance. It’s for that reason that sports like distance running condition athletes both physically and mentally. Succeeding in such a sport requires endurance and perseverance. I’ve known plenty of endurance athletes over the years, and the common denominator among them is that they have an extremely high threshold for physical pain and mental distress. I’ve often wondered if that’s the reason why, in the world of high school, it’s not surprising to see the top endurance athletes also become class valedictorians. Endurance and perseverance are needed for both academics and athletics…and all of life.
It’s for this reason that the Christian race is compared to a marathon and not a sprint. Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” This race of faith has many participants. Many enter the race with excitement. Many look impressive at different points in the race. But at some point, the race gets tough and the soul becomes weary. The afflictions, persecutions, pleasures, and worries of the world will tempt even the seemingly strongest believers to quit (Mark 4:17, 19).
Think about how many times you’ve seen those who seem so fervent about the gospel as a youth, only to forsake the faith as adults. At the same time, I can think of a number of people who were never outwardly impressive in their personality, who didn’t appear competent in the eyes of others for leadership positions, and who were socially awkward, but who decade after decade after decade followed faithfully after Christ, and who are still serving in the church, spreading the gospel, and committed to a life of obedience.
It is for this reason that Christ reminds us that only those who persevere till the end will be saved (Mark 13:13); while it’s good to be excited about the Christian faith, it is of far greater value to endure in the faith amidst the emotional ebbs and flows. For while many will start, only a few will finish. So, when it comes to the race of faith, Christians must remember that spiritual fatigue is no excuse to stop or quit. I’m not suggesting that Christians don’t need seasons of rest and refreshment. But if more saints would simply recognize that being tired is not the reason to quit but rather the opportunity to exercise endurance, much more will be accomplished for the kingdom of God and the furtherance of the gospel.
So do what you need to in order to finish your race of faith. Pace yourself. Remove encumbrances. Get encouragement. Don’t take on more than you are able. Be careful with how much you commit yourself to, lest you find yourself unable to follow through with your commitments. But whatever you do, don’t quit. You have no option to quit, because there’s no one in heaven who quit the race. May we all be able to, when the time of our departure comes, say what the apostle Paul said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:5).