“Why do you race?”
That’s the slogan for FCA Endurance, a running group that my husband and I have been a part of for several years (FCA stands for Fellowship of Christian Athletes). And it’s a really good question. In this article, I’m going to address it, but I also want to discuss the broader question: ”Why do you run?” Not just race, but run. People run for a wide variety of reasons – from losing weight and getting fit, to spending time with friends, to achieving goals, to winning awards, to having fun. And while these aren’t necessarily ”bad” reasons to run, for the Christian, they’re not the best reasons. I’m not saying that any of these should never be motivation for why we run, but I do want to remind us that these are all temporary motivators. For the remainder of this post, I’m going to share with you the four main reasons that I run, along with one reason I choose to engage in competition via racing. I’m calling it a Christian perspective on running.
Oh, and just a little side note before I continue – in no way am I attempting to make the argument that running is superior to any other type of physical activity. It is simply my favorite form of exercise (but maybe I can persuade you to love it just as much I do with this post 😉: 17 Reasons to Love Running).
A Christian Perspective on Running
I run because it draws me into the very presence of God.
The second half of Psalm 16:11 reads, ”…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” While not always easy or pleasurable (just like life in general), there is a certain “fullness of joy” that comes with running. Perhaps it’s because God made our bodies to move. Perhaps it’s because he created the endorphins that our brains release when we exercise. Or, perhaps it’s because we’re often more sensitive to his presence when we run.
I am keenly aware that God is Omnipresent. He is everywhere, all at once. Running in a certain location doesn’t bring me into his presence any more than standing in my kitchen or sitting in church. But there’s something, for me, that heightens my awareness of the fact that I’m in his presence when I’m outside. When I’m in nature. When my body is moving and releasing endorphins, and I’m surrounded by the beauty of his creation (especially running through the woods) – I am more acutely conscious of his presence.
Of course, this is less noticeable when running, for example, alone in my neighborhood or on a road around town, but it gives me time to be quiet before Him. To pray, to listen to Scripture, to worship music, or to a sermon or a podcast that fosters my relationship with the Creator of the universe. It’s spending time with the Lord in a way that’s different from sitting at my kitchen table in the morning. It’s not a substitute for that, but it’s one of the many ways I can delight in his presence.
I run because it stirs my affections for God and allows me to enjoy him more.
This next point goes hand in hand with the last. One of the reasons that running stirs my affections for God is because of the way that I’m more aware of his presence when I’m outdoors in his creation.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork,” David tells us in Psalm 19:1.
Getting out in nature – taking in the trees, the ocean, or the beautiful sunrise that HE created – moves my heart to worship.
I run because it connects me to other women from all walks of life.
One of the special joys that running has brought is a connection to other women. Women of all different backgrounds and of different ages. Women who I likely would have never had the pleasure of meeting had it not been for the common bond of running. Some of these women have a relationship with the Lord, while others do not, but God has used all of them – in one way or another – to impact my life in a way that’s drawn me closer to him.
I run because it keeps my body fit to be able to serve others.
Any method of regular, consistent exercise could work to keep my body fit and up to the task of serving others whenever a need arises (both at home and elsewhere). I choose running because I enjoy it, as I previously mentioned. But whether through running or another form of physical activity, being fit gives me energy to respond to the needs of others. I’m better equipped to help my husband and care for my children. It enables me to serve my church or my community in a more active and self-sacrificing way. And just as Jesus came to serve and not be served, so are we to have that same mindset.
In his book, Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul, Gary Thomas writes, “Laziness is an attitude that puts one’s personal comfort above all else – if I don’t feel like it, why do it? If it’s uncomfortable, why bother? If it’s not fun, what’s the use? Laziness ignores any sense of obligation and defines sin exclusively as something we shouldn’t do (conveniently forgetting all that we are commanded to do), and it ends up wasting our lives in a spectacularly nonscandalous fashion so that we don’t see just how destructive it is.”
When I’m sedentary, laziness prevails. I’m much more prone to have a ”what can you do for me?” attitude. My lack of physical activity fosters a spirit of selfishness and not a body that’s useful and prepared to do any good work.
I love this from David Mathis, pastor at Cities Church and executive editor for desiringGod.org:
“Precisely because ‘we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them’ (Ephesians 2:10), we want to cultivate our bodies so that they are a help, rather than a hindrance, in the cause of love. We want our bodies to be an aid, not a net neutral (and definitely not a drag), in readying us to sacrifice our own comforts and energy to do good for others, at home and around the world.”
Running is a way I can cultivate and steward my body so that it’s a help, rather than a hindrance, in loving my family and others through service.
A Christian Perspective on Racing
Sure, I could skip racing all together and just run for the reasons mentioned above. Many people do. Trust me, I’m the last person to say you have to race in order to be a “real” runner.
But, for me, having a race on my schedule adds an extra layer of motivation to help me fend off the laziness I’m so inclined to. When I race, I’m able to see the result of weeks or months of effort. But not every race is “good,” nor do I race every race I run. Some races are just for fun, while others are with a goal in mind.
I race because it gives me the ability to see the fruits of my labor and what the body God gave me is capable of.
Do I sometimes fall into the trap of focusing too much on the outcome of a race? Or on comparing my time to another’s? Absolutely. But, as a believer, I know that I must humbly submit these negative thoughts to the Lord and ask him to replace them with his truth.
The apostle Paul tells the Philippian church to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). So while a race can allow me to test my training and my fitness, if I find myself running due to selfish ambition (other translations use the word rivalry) or vain conceit, I know I have an issue.
One way this can show up, practically, is when it comes to other runners on the race course. Am I willing to lay down a PR or other race goal in order to help another runner in need?
The Bible doesn’t portray competition as inherently bad or sinful. In fact, in many instances throughout Scripture, competition is used as an illustration for spiritual principles. Rather, it’s the orientation of our hearts that can be problematic when it comes to competing and racing. We’re exhorted in 1 Corinthians 10:31, to do whatever we do, all to the glory of God. “All” includes racing and competing in running and endurance events.
In summary, as a Christian, I run for four main reasons.
- To revel in the presence of God
- To enjoy God more
- To connect with others
- In preparation for service
And I race because it gives me a goal to purposefully work towards and an avenue in which to bring glory to God.
If you are a fellow sister in Christ, I want to challenge you. Take some time to really think about why you run and why you race. Who or what is being glorified by your efforts? What might it look like for you to glorify God in all that you do (1 Corinthians 10:31) – including in your running?
Disclaimer: You should understand that when participating in any exercise or exercise program, there is the possibility of physical injury. If you engage in exercise or training I recommend, you agree that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily participating in these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself, and agree to release and discharge Running With Roots from any and all claims or causes of action, known or unknown, arising out of Running With Roots. Please speak with a medical professional before making any changes to your diet or exercise. I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. The views expressed are based on my own experiences, and should not be taken as medical, nutrition or training advice.