“Congratulations! You trained for this.”
We were sitting on the floor, my running buddies and I, hanging on every word our coach shared. It was our final Saturday before The Race. For many of us, it was our first 5K race. For twelve weeks we had braved messy weather and scheduling conflicts and shin splints. We had learned first-hand what our coach meant when she said, “Just getting to the starting line is the hardest part.”
Now, we were almost there.
“There will be those who start out fast, but then you’ll see them walking later in the race. Don’t be one of those people.”
Like seed springing up on rocky ground, I thought.
“Hold your pace,” she continued. “You’ve been training long enough to know your speed. Find the people you normally run with and keep pace together.”
Encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day draw near, I thought.
“Most of all, have fun.”
The joy of the Lord is my strength, I thought.
I learned many things from that twelve week training program. About perseverance; about camaraderie. But the one that surprised me the most is the one that should have been the most obvious.
Until that moment, I always believed that if you were a runner you simply laced up your shoes and ran. Sure, I had friends who talked about cross-training and weekly mileage charts and workouts. But that was only for the serious runners. It never occurred to me that they trained not because they were serious runners; they were serious runners because they trained.
Suddenly, I was a serious runner, too.
I learned quickly that those who cross the finish line strong are not those gutting it out on raw talent alone. Rather, it’s those who have honed their natural abilities through practice and preparation. Seeing only the flash of brilliance at the finish line is a bit like admiring the flash of an astonishing flower without stopping to ponder the soil in which it grows. True gifts grow over time.
Maybe your natural talents have nothing to do with running. I’ll let you in on a secret: neither do mine. But whatever talents we do have are given to us unhoned, like raw running ability or the seeds of that astonishing flower. God has entrusted us with something of great potential, but that potential will never be realized if it is not properly trained. What’s more, God calls us to not only develop our physical talents, but our spiritual talents as well. “Train yourself for godliness,” Paul wrote to Timothy, “For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8a).
God instills the gift of potential godliness in each one of us. This gift gives us the knowledge of Christ not only as our savior, but also as our partner. He is the one we try to match, stride for stride, as we cross life’s starting line. It is his voice we listen for as we navigate the course. It is his persistent encouragement we cling to in the dark stretch of the race.
When nurtured over time, this hint of godliness develops (slowly) into the likeness of Christ within us. Similar to a physical seed that has the potential to grow into something beautiful, so this spiritual seed has the potential to grow into something greater than we can envision. Such growth, however, takes work. It takes intentionality. Paul does not say simply to become godly. “Train yourself for godliness,” he says.
As Christians, we train for more than the 5K race next weekend. We train for the race to eternity. We should not leap from the starting gates unprepared. Nor should we leave our gifts encased as seeds. We are called to develop the physical gifts God has given us in this life. And we are called to grow our spiritual gifts into the promise of the life to come.
In God’s kingdom, training matters.
Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate admissions for Purdue University and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s word. Now that she finished her first 5K race, she also calls herself a runner. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org and @minimustard.