(a three minute read)
I’ve just come off a long weekend with 50 other men. It was called Returning Sons, clearly a reference to Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son, who returned to his father after a period of, well, let’s just call it ‘questionable living.’
Anyway, these types of Christian retreats are always uplifting, inspirational, meaningful and memorable. We cook meat. We burn stuff. We camp out. We sing and pray together. We prophesy over one another. We cover old ground and dig up new. Long-time friendships are rekindled and new ones are born. We breathe in fresh life and leave renewed because we take much time to praise God and reverence Him.
But then what?
As I write this, it’s now Wednesday – the third day. And one of our tribe, Jake, just posted this on the group chat:
‘This is about the time whether to choose to keep the momentum going or to drop back in to cruise mode and make it “just another conference”.’
Oh, ain’t that the truth! Thanks Jake, for shaking my tree. I attended Returning Sons for exactly that reason – to get out of cruise mode. In modern Britain, living a middle-class life, it’s way too easy to cruise.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul makes an observation, followed by indispensable advice:
‘Do you not know that all those who run in a race run, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain it. Everyone who strives for the prize exercises self-control in all things…’ 1
Keep your eye on the finish line, but know you get there in part by exercising self-control. It’s hard to do that alone.
A simple reading of these verses suggests a sprint, where one runner finishes first and gets the gold. But life (like Scripture) is deeper and more nuanced than this.
In my school years I was a long-distance runner, part of a cross-country team. Sure, we all wanted to finish first in our six-mile (now 10,000 meter) race. We worked and worked to get our times down. But more important than getting the trophy was helping the team win.
Cross-country works like this: The lowest scoring team wins. The first runner across the line gets one point, the second two points, and so on, through the first five runners on a team. If I’m the sixth or seventh finisher on my team I don’t score points, but I can keep my adversary from scoring points by displacing him to a lower finishing position.
You can see there is individual strategy here as well as team strategy.
Like my Christian life, I run the race, but I run with multiple outcomes in mind. I have to manage my own race (with self-discipline) and be aware of what my body is doing and what it’s capable of doing.
At the same time, I need to encourage my brothers as I run. My teammate Scott and I were well-matched in ability, so we’d run as a pair, egging one another on, keeping one another going, and pacing ourselves.
Finally, I need to keep an eye on my position in the pack. Where am I in the overall group – am I top five? Was I top five on my team? Was I ahead of the top runners on other teams?
I can’t win a team race alone. I need my brothers. Our relationships are valuable and vital. Some are ahead of me and some behind, but we are together.
It’s the same in the Christian life. We run the race, but we are only victorious together. You’ve heard the folk wisdom: if you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.
Again, the apostle Paul refers to this teamwork in his letter to the Romans: ‘I always thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all…2 ‘For I long to see you…so that you may be strengthened…’ 3 This is so that I may be encouraged together with you by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.’ 4
So back to Jake’s question: Do I ‘keep the momentum going or drop back in to cruise mode?’
This is set against a larger backdrop, namely whether I am a producer of Godly relationships and encouragement, or merely a consumer of them. This investment – to be a producer – is vital to my growth and success. I need to keep after it and stay stuck in. If I invest in a weekend away for a transformational experience, I must allow God to change me through it. And keep changing me. Otherwise it’s merely transitory.
The choice is mine to keep the momentum going. I’m the one who is running the race. When I look back I lose. I must press on.
‘Brothers…this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’ 5
To successfully reach forward, I have to regard where I am with all honesty, and find men to share that with. Iron sharpens iron5 it’s true, and it’s also true that iron left to itself will rust and become useless.
Thanks and honor go to all the men in my life who help keep me sharp and rust-free. You know who you are, and you know that I love you.
1. 1 Corinthians 9:24
2. Romans 1:8
3. Romans 1:11
4. Romans 1:12
5. Philippians 3:13-14
6. Proverbs 27:17
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