I have an old and rare edition of The Pilgrim’s Progress – Bunyan’s allegorical classic of the Christian fleeing to the Celestial City. A road movie to end all road movies!
It sounds strange, but as I train for the City to Surf half-marathon (raising money for City Bible Forum btw) it’s this story that encourages me to keep running on. To see life as a journey is WAY too Eastern for me, but a marathon (er, half-marathon – Ed) seems to fit Christianity so much better, especially in light of Hebrews 12
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, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Bunyan certainly had this in mind didn’t he? But a minor exegetical point first, the witnesses are not witnesses OF us, but witnesses TO us, of the gospel path to run. There is still a certain loneliness that the long distance runner in the Christian faith experiences, and that’s the loneliness of your own thought life. So much of our life is shaped by the silence inside our heads. Listen to the witnesses before you listen to the things that would way-lay you.
So when I am running and feeling tired, my thoughts of running towards the Celestial City propel my life. I want to keep going. I have met several post-fifty year olds in the past few years who have chucked it all in – no longer believers in Jesus – and they seem so happy about it! Keep running! Why lose it all now!
At 45 I am (on average) over the half way point of life. That’s the 10.55 turning point in my training run, just up the trail past Sam Drucker’s store in Parkerville (that’s what it’s called folks!). What do I need to do? Finish well. Don’t get tripped up or waylaid by Listlessness or its Siamese Twin, Lust. Those things never go away, they simply become more sophisticated. The regret of giving up late in life will haunt you for eternity.
The trail I run has lots of byways – they all whisper Vanity Fair to me. The rotting bridge which the steam train used to run along doesn’t exactly have a troll under it, but Giant Despair is always lurking. Sometimes I DO wish I had a running companion – a Hope – who pushes me to go under 4:30 a kilometre EVERY kilometre!
I know, I know, it all sounds a bit twee, but if the Shema and its instructions are to be taught along the road (Deut 6), then while running is so often a past-time in which we are left to listen to ourselves – the constant tooing and froing of our private thoughts – then speaking to ourselves is a great counter.
And then there’s the joy of finishing. For me it’s the trail head at the top of Morrison road when bushland suddenly gives way to suburbia. It’s a joy that Jesus – our forerunner – has experienced, and one which will be ours when we reach the Celestial City