Learn a Marathoner's Mentality

by Bert Downs

A Christian must be a finisher, not of sprints, but of marathons. In a culture that values the initiator's approach to leadership, it's important to grasp that God is looking for leaders who are finishers.

What you can learn from a runner:

• Train to be a marathoner. "Run with endurance the race set before [you]" (Heb. 12:1). This is not a once-in-a-while training, but a disciplined, everyday kind of approach through which the runner seeks to build spiritual muscle and stamina for the stages of the race ahead. A runner begins with the end clearly in view, envisions the stages of the entire race, and prepares for each.

• Anticipate the stages. There are several stages in a race: The euphoric stage in the beginning when adrenaline and excitement prevail. This stage fades into a routine stage in which the body and mind are functioning smoothly and the race is going as planned. The struggling stage is when many runners hit the proverbial wall. The urge to quit dominates. Many would-be leaders stop at this stage and begin to look for another race to start. The true marathoner fights through and enters a finishing stage in which the finish line comes clearly into view and there is a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment.

• Build endurance. Endurance comes only when you're willing to persist through the discipline, pain, joy, laughter, tears, and determination that training requires. This grows from a steady determination to be a finisher and adopting a corresponding approach to life. For the spiritual marathoner, endurance is something always being developed. "Run in such a way that you may win; but I train my body and make it my slave, lest possibly after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27).

• Discover the purpose of endurance. The agony of the endurance-building process is pointless unless there is a purpose. First, the runner who finishes the race brings glory to God, even as Christ brought glory to Him. Second is the accomplishment of God's purpose for your life, and His working in you. Spiritual maturity comes from purposefully training to run the race God has set before you.

• Develop the focus of a finisher. It's easy to quit. The spiritual finisher fixes his eyes on Jesus, hears His words of encouragement, runs as He ran: focused on the purpose, not distracted by the inevitable distracters, and aiming for the reward.

• Shed everything that can hold you back. There are things that, left unattended, can hold you back-even cause you not to finish the race: Unproductive habits, poor self-discipline, material possessions…. Whatever your list of possible encumbrances, it's an important one, and it must be realistically faced and purposefully dealt with.

• Welcome Christ's discipline. A marathoner develops a life characterized by discipline, not wanting to waste energy or time by heading in any direction that isn't toward the finish. He eagerly receives direction from the coach-direction that gets him back on target when he has strayed and keeps him on target and focused on the finish. "My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord, or loathe His reproof, for whom the Lord loves he reproves, even as a father, the son in whom he delights" (Prov. 3:11-12).

• Run for the crowd. A great throng of winners, finishers, have gone on before you (Heb. 12:1). There is a great crowd running with you, right now, even though you don't often think of fellow believers in that way. There is an even greater group who may run after you. Run for all of them. Don't let them down. Think of the ones who have set the pace in front of you, the ones running beside you and watching and following your pace, and the ones who will follow. Run for them so that like Paul you can say, "Imitate me, even as I imitate Jesus Christ."

Bert Downs is president of Western Seminary in Portland, Ore. In the past he has served as executive vice president of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries.

Randal Roberts is special assistant to the president for operations and assistant professor of Spiritual Formation at Western Seminary, Portland.

From Lessons in Leadership:

Fifty Respected Evangelical Leaders Share Their Wisdom on Ministry, Randal Roberts, ed., (c) 1999.

Used by permission of Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Mich.