Marathons & the Big Picture

Over the past week, I’ve watched a few video clips of Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge running last Sunday’s Berlin Marathon where he set the new world record for men of 2:01:09 (Sunday 25th September 2022). I’ve only run one marathon at a much slower pace and watched with amazement as I join in the accolades for this superb athlete.

The running theme leads me to quote the author, Gordon MacDonald, who wrote in his book A Resilient Life:

“In the great race of life, there are some Christ-followers who stand out from all the rest. I call them the resilient ones. The further they run, the stronger they get.” (page vii).

This theme of going the distance is something which the apostle Paul speaks about in his second letter to the Thessalonians. In 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 he commends them for their steadfastness and faith; and he thanks God for their faith which is growing and is resilient.

Of course, to finish a marathon one needs to have the big picture from the outset. In 2 Thessalonians 1, the apostle Paul paints the big picture of what life is all about. He picks up on the great themes of the judgement of God, the kingdom of God, the vengeance of God, the glory of God and the punishment of eternal destruction – and he reminds them of these huge issues so that they will keep pressing on. That their faith will be resilient.

Paul’s words here raise a question for us: ‘What are you living for?’

You see what you are living for – your life-direction – is critical if you are going to have any growth or depth to your faith and life. If you are going to grow spiritually then your life will have direction and a determination from the Lord. The prophet Jeremiah knew this – his book opens with these words of the Lord: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.’ (Jeremiah 1:5)

But so many people’s lives are aimless. They fit more into the category of that wonderful little conversation which Lewis Carroll relates that Alice had with the Cheshire cat. Maybe you remember it – she asks: ‘Would you please tell me which way I ought to go from here?’

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.

Again, to quote Gordon MacDonald: ‘There is no pathway to resilience in this exchange. There is nothing special about the thought of a person who talks like this.’ (MacDonald, p 41.)

Paul writes to the church at Thessalonica aware that they are experiencing much affliction as they stand for the Christian faith. He writes about the big picture because he wants them to see that their journey has a purpose and destination: ‘that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering’ (1:5).

‘This is where resilient people begin: with the biggest possible picture of things they hear God speaking into their lives. When there is no big picture – if you’re just like Alice’s ‘I don’t care’ then life is a bit like a bunny track – lots of furtive darting to and fro, plenty of motion but little direction.’ (MacDonald, p 42.) No growth happens that way. Do you want to grow in life – to be heading to what is eternal? Then reflect on Paul’s words in 2 Thessalonians 1. And make this your ‘big picture prayer’:

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

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