The most positive thing a Christian can do is negative split their life.
Sound counterintuitive? Sound wrong? If you know anything about running, you’ll know that a negative split is a great thing; indeed it’s what you are looking for in a race. A negative split is when you do better, run faster, in the second half of a race than in the first half.
Something kicks in and you finish strong.
And, since you asked, for a rare occasion in a half marathon I negative split my race last weekend at the Perth Half Marathon, with a final ten km of 40 minutes and five seconds (if that means anything to anyone).
Usually I am grimacing by the 15km mark of a 21.1, but not this time:
Didn’t get passed. Passed a few people. Felt strong. A negative split.
The curious, and sad, thing was watching a fellow runner staggering along on the side, injured, or just having blown up, shouting and yelling about how useless he felt in life. As my wise coach says to me: “Running is a great servant and a terrible master”.
So what about negative splitting your Christian life? What about making the second half stronger, more purposeful than the first half of it?
I say that in the light of being a Christian long enough to see peers either seemingly struggle to reach the finish line and settled into a low grade anger or cynicism, or give up altogether and go down some sidewalk. It’s not unusual for me to meet 50 to 60 year old men who, having started the race with joy and endurance, go into positive split territory or leave the faith altogether, and all the time getting closer to the finish chute.
I am 51 next month (where did that celebratory lap at turning fifty go?), and it strikes me that the lure of the world, and the lure of an easier life never goes away for the Christian. It’s something you never imagine at 25 when you look at the fifty year olds in church. But it’s true.
Jesus intimates as much in the parable of the soils, in which the two middle soils, the rocky and the thorn-bound, fail to produce the fruit that God was always calling His people Israel to produce. Only the last soil runs a negative split, so to speak.
This struck me forcefully reading 2 Kings 11 and 12 which we’re preaching about on Sunday. King Jehoash is wonderfully saved from death by one of his half-sisters and grows up to be king, under the instruction of the godly priest Jehoiada. He initiates some reforms in Judah that lead people back to temple worship of God.
But ch12 tells us, strangely and tragically, that Jehoash’s servants conspire against him, and at the age of 47, they kill him. It seems such a waste. Such a random act.
Until we read the corresponding chapters in 2 Chronicles (Chronicles fills in the details of the kingdom of Judah that 1 and 2 Kings glosses, focussing particularly around the life of the temple in Jerusalem).
Turns out that killing was not such a random act.
Tragically, King Jehoash had the worst of all negative splits. After being guided by the godly priest Jehoiada for so long, Jehoash starts to heed the advice of the local Judah princes instead after the priest dies.
What starts off in his reign as temple worship and dedication to God, turns to idol worship, as 2 Chronicles 24 says this:
The king listened to them. And they abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols.
After being wonderfully rescued from death, and being given a task to reform Judah, Jehoash abandons the race.
Worse still, after the death of the good priest Jehoiada, the king refuses to listen to the counsel of Jehoida’s own faithful son, the follow up priest, Zechariah. The text records this ugly turn of events:
20 Then the Spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, and he stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God, ‘Why do you break the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.’” 21 But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord. 22 Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son. And when he was dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge!”
It’s the most negative thing of all – a positive split! Indeed it looks like he did not even finish the race, because we are told next that his servants conspired to kill him. What a waste of a life that God has preserved so miraculously at the start.
And what a contrast to Jesus. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament is a call to a bunch of Christians who are mid-race and look like either staggering over the line in a burnt-out positive split or, worse still, not finishing the race at all and abandoning Jesus!
Hebrews is about running that race. And it’s full of exhortations to keep going:
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Heb 12:12)
It then lists the things that stop people finishing the race: bitterness, a lack of peace among God’s people, sexual immorality.
Those are just some of the things I see, as I get older, that head off Christians down the wrong route altogether. And it seems to be increasing as we hit hardening secular times.
The hearth gods of comfort and ease lure even the most steadily running Christians. In the hardest races I run there is always that little voice inside saying “Give up, pull over to the side, it’s not worth trying to finish now.” So too in this race of the Christian life.
But here’s our confidence. We’ve got a racing champion whose sole intent is to get us there. And he’s run the race before us and beaten everyone’s PB, in fact he ran the perfect race. Which is why Hebrews encourages us:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, 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, 2 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.
In Christ, victory has been assured. He is the true winner. Our victory is not our own, it is his victorious race which he empowers us with and calls us to emulate.
We can run a negative split not because “Impossible is Nothing” or whatever, but because in our victor Christ there’s a prize beyond this age that will make all the hard training, the mid-race mind-games and the fear of not finishing, fall by the wayside.
How are you going mid-race?
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