The Wrong Question

Real runners are intense. True believers are too.

They don’t ask How slow can I go and still call this a run? They’re figuring out what to throw off to go faster and harder and longer.

What’s wrong with this music? This book isn’t bad, is it? Will this Mountain Dew hurt me? and Isn’t this movie okay? 

My sons ask me those. And it’s way easier to spy problems in someone else than in myself. Still, I don’t have to look too hard to find the same wrong questions coming from me.

How much is too much Breyer’s mint ice cream? Is scrolling this long on Facebook okay? Does glancing at these magazines really hurt anything? and Is reading this book until midnight a sin? 

I’m starting to see those are the wrong questions. At least if you’re a runner. If you want to finish strong.

Please don’t get me wrong: It’s not like I don’t ask them. I’ve asked each and every one of those. More than once, because taking no for an answer one time wasn’t enough.

But I’m starting to realize that Is it a sin? is not the right question for a runner.

Asking, What’s wrong? is wrong.

Weights And Sins

Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so close. Throw off what hinders and the sin that entangles. Hebrews 12:1.

Two things impress me about this one verse.

First, is the language of every weight. Not the burdensome, obviously sinful, really heavy ones. Every weight. Anything that bogs me down from running my faith race. For me, it’s weights like scrolling Facebook and counting followers and looking at likes. Weights like paging through home magazines and clothes catalogs and mindlessly eating mint ice cream.

All these, I’m learning, leave me feeling just a little more wistful, a little less thankful. Weights are also known as hindrances or encumbrances. Same idea. They’re the thoughts and actions that weigh us down. That keep us from looking to Jesus.

Second, weights are distinguished from sins. Of course, throw off the sins. But, I’m gleaning that when the author of Hebrews used the word weight he meant something different than plain and simple sin.

We all know we’re supposed to throw off our sin. We must throw off lying and stealing and gossip and pride. While they’re not the same- weights and sins- they have the same effect on a runner in the end.

But identifying clinging sins isn’t what this post is about. It’s not about asking, How much can I get away with? How much is okay? 

Which means a lot of us may be asking the wrong questions.

The Wrong Questions

I’ve definitely been asking the wrong questions. Maybe it’s because we’ve been duped into thinking it’s heroic to carry, to run with, as much as we possibly can. How much of this can I do before it becomes sin? Life on the edge, you know.

As if slogging along with mud-caked tennies, and heavy-weight sweatpants and layers of hoodies with the dog’s leash in one hand and an iPhone in the other deserves applause. Because, you know, at least you’re out there on the trail. Running…er, jogging…er, strolling. As if.

Or maybe it’s because we truly don’t stop and feel the weight of the weight. Maybe it’s just how do things. We just read this or watch that. We’ve always listened to this or eaten that. We just go to bed at eleven and rise at five. We just wear double hoodies and always take the dog and listen to those tunes on our iPhone. We don’t know how fast we could go without all those. We don’t notice the weight.

Lay aside every weight means we’ve got to stop asking. What’s wrong with it? We’ve got to quit asking, But is it a sin? or Will it hurt anyone? 

No. Those are the wrong questions. Those are not the right questions for runners.

The Right Questions

Runners are intense. They’re intense about diet and intense about sleep and intense about training. They’re always looking for ways to gain an edge. They’re always asking, What will make me faster? What will make me stronger? What will help me endure?

They read experts for answers. And they experiment- Did the gel pack help? Did the extra light-weight shoes help? They make a way to train, come cold or heat or snow or rain.

Run with endurance the race marked out for you, looking to Jesus. Christians are runners. And reading tips from the experts and experimenting a bit might be helpful too. Because we are runners who want to race fast and hard and, mostly, long.

Long enough to say with Paul, I have I have finished the race. So we’ve got to ask the right questions. Questions like: Does this slow me down? Does this help me press on or get in my way? How does this help me run?

Here are some right questions I want to be asking myself more and more:

  1. Does this help me know Christ and his resurrection power?
  2. Does this help me seek the things that are above?
  3. Does this help me be strong in the Lord?
  4. Does this help me grow in self-control?
  5. Does this help me be thankful?
  6. Does this help me show God’s love to those around me?
  7. Does this help me behold the glory of the Lord?
  8. Does this help me perfect purity and holiness in the fear of Christ?
  9. Does this help me grow in the grace of Jesus?
  10. Does this help me seek the Lord and his strength and presence?

In short, do my choices- how I spend my time, the food I eat, the words and images I set before my eyes, my thought life- do these help my fight the good fight of faith and me run the race set for me, with endurance and looking to Jesus?

That is the question: Does this help me run my faith race? 

Does this make my faith stronger and add stamina while I run? Does this help me keep looking to Jesus? Does this help me show love? Not how many sins can I avoid? But how can I be fleet-footed in the way of holiness? Does this help me run?

John Piper calls those sort of questions “maximal righteousness” questions.

Those are the right ones. For runners.

3 Tips for Running Fast and Hard and Long

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1

I’m a runner. Since 8th grade track I run for fun. (Mostly.) And after three decades of running, I’ve learned a few lessons about spiritual runs from pounding the country roads.

1. I run faster when I don’t overdress. 

Running is miserable when I’m too hot. Running in long pants on a 60 degree day would not kill me. It’s no sin, but it would- I know this– it would keep me from running. I overheat and I slow down and I walk. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stripped of a sweatshirt and stowed it behind some roadside weeds to recover on the way home.

Too much gear is a bad thing. It slow me down. I don’t get as far and I sometimes turn right around. Throw off everything that hinders…run. 

2. I run longer when I plan my runs beforehand.

If I leave my runs to chance, they’ll be short if they happen at all.Even after 30 years, running still doesn’t sound good, nestled in bed at 5:30 am.  I can’t leave my runs to my moods or to chance. So the night before I check the weather app and select the right clothes for the weather, right down to my grey chenille gloves- if it’s between 30-50 degrees and my sleek black headband if it’s below 40 degrees.

Then I set my alarm, knowing I’ll roll right out of bed and hit the road. Don’t leave knowing Christ to chance. Run the race set before you, looking to Jesus. 

3. I run harder when I know I’m being watched.

And I don’t just mean in races. Oh, sure, the last 400 hundred yards of my marathon- the 200 crowd-lined road- was definitely the fastest. But mostly I mean my daily runs on the on the country roads when the neighbors or out or a car’s coming. I tell myself, Go hard till you go passed those folks. Pick up the pace till that car goes around the corner. 

I always kick it into higher gear when I know someone’s watching me run. We have witnesses in heaven-and some on earth-watching us run. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…run. 

The Danger of Asking the Wrong Questions

Weights are hindrances. They’re anything that slow us down or turn us from our goal. They’re not sin in and of themselves. They’re perfectly legitimate. Like Facebook and ice cream and even exercise. But they can all become weights. Hindrances, when we cling too tightly to them.

Good things loved inordinately cease to be good things. They become idols. When we keep asking the wrong questions, meandering, wondering what’s the slowest we can go and still call it a run- we might just drift. And drift is a dangerous thing.

John Piper tells a warning story he calls, Destined for the Sky?

I’ve told the story once before of the vulture who spotted the corpse of a fox on a big hunk of ice floating down the river toward Niagara Falls. He flies to the ice, lands, and begins to eat the fox. He watches the falls approaching and hears the warnings of danger, but he tells himself that he has wings and is free and does not need to pay attention to such warnings. He is destined for the sky. At the last minute he finishes his feast and spreads his wings but he can’t fly because his talons have frozen in the ice and he is dragged over the falls.

Eating a fox carcass is not, for a vulture, a sin. It’s good thing. But Mr. Vulture didn’t stop and ask if eating fox on ice would help him fly. Drifting through life without earnest pursuit of Christ, without asking the right questions and being resolved to live by the answers is dangerous. At least for runners.

There are lots of good things that if loved too much or feasted on too long become idols. Idols lull us, deceive us, and in the end, disappoint us. Idols keep us from running with endurance, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith.

We must ask the right question. How will this help me run?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…

Hebrews 12:1

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