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“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”
(Matthew 10:16)

Why did people run? There is ample evidence in history that running in related to the need for food. Smaller animals ran away from larger animals. Larger animals ran to catch smaller animals. Animals ran away from human beings. Human beings ran long distances to corner animals and kill them. The San people of Africa gained the skills of running very long distances- sometimes a 100, 200 miles. The larger animals like tigers were fast. But, in long distance running they would get tired and would be cornered by the great Sana runners.

It required a lot of wisdom or its counterpart, shrewdness to do this hunter-gatherer economic and social task.

Jesus says, “You want to a good hunter-gatherer runner, learn from the snake. Also learn from the dove.”

The Greek word used for the snake, is also used in Genesis 3:1, where the snake is described as the most “crafty” of all the animals. However, this same Greek word is used in the rest of the Bible to describe a wise and prudent person, like Joseph in Genesis 41:33, 39. The Book of Proverbs uses this same word to describe a wise and prudent person- a model person (Proverbs 1:4; 8:5;, 12; 12:16, 23; and so on). In the Book of Proverbs itself, this word is used 13 times, as a good and positive role model.

Jesus uses the same word to describe the wise and prudent person who builds one’s house on a solid foundation, as against the foolish person who builds one’s house on a flimsy foundation. (Matthew 7:24)

The Greek word used of the virtue of the dove is literally purity of thought and purpose. Jesus himself is used as an example of this virtue in Philippians 2:15. In Matthew 16:23 Jesus rebukes Peter because he does not have purity of thought and purpose.

Human beings have been runners from the beginning of history. They have been like sheep running away from wolves. Good runners must learn the wise and prudent virtue of the snake, and the pure and purposeful virtue of the dove. That is what the Great Marathon Runner Jesus says.

A Prayer
A LORD as a run this marathon called life, help me become wise and prudent; pure and thoughtful.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.
Do everything in love.
(1 Corinthians 16:13-14)¬¬
¬¬
Marathon runners cannot be flimsy people. It is 26.2 miles. One has to develop a lot of virtues in order to be able to run and finish a marathon. The Apostle Paul enumerates some of these virtues in our Verse of the Day.

Be alert
The first virtue he stresses is alertness, or keeping one’s eyes open. This is especially true during the long training runs week after week. In training runs a runner encounters gutters, bad roads, fallen trees, and the such. If one is not alert and careful one can get badly injured. In urban areas one encounters cars- sometimes drivers who do not care, or are in a hurry to get to places. A runner has to be always alert for these bad drivers.

During the marathon, a runner needs to be very alert. There can be road ditches. Jackets thrown by thoughtless runners. Other debris. Marathon runners are not allowed to listen to music or anything which will keep them from being completely alert. The organizers of marathons want runners to be ready for emergency announcements or from alerts from fellow-runners. I remember instances when I alerted a runner about a danger I saw ahead of me. But, the runner was lost in some music, and fell down as a result of the lack of alertness.

Be resolute

The second virtue in our Verse of the Day is resoluteness. A marathon runner needs to be firmly committed to a training schedule, and stick to it. One cannot be loosie-goosy about this routine. It needs a lot of commitment. During the marathon run itself, a runner needs to tell oneself, “I am going to finish this marathon, no matter what happens.” There are several times during the run, when a runner is tempted to give up, especially when cramps set in, in the 16th or 20th miles. In the 21st mile a runner may hit the proverbial wall. During these times a runner needs to be resolute. A marathon runner needs to be stick-to-itive.

Be manly as a woman is in childbirth
The Greek virtue underlined here is literally “manly.” However, in the Bible, it is a genderless virtue. It is the courageousness which must be espoused by both women and men runners. In Joshua 1:6, 7, this is the virtue which Joshua the new runner-leader is asked to possess, “Be strong and courageous.”

More poignantly, it is the virtue of a woman who is going through labor pains during childbirth (Micah 4:10). This is the kind of courage and strength which is needed during the marathon run. Perhaps, women runners can teach their male counterparts a thing or two about running.

It is worth noting that in 1980s only about 10 % of finishing runners were women. In the 2019 Chicago Marathon, 986 men finished, and 854 women finished. This is 46.41 percent of finishers. An amazing jump!

Be strong
The Greek word used here is used of Ruth in the Bible. This is the virtue which Naomi saw in Ruth (Ruth 1:18) and she said, “You go girl, you are going to make it in life.” It is the virtue which drew David to his friend Jonathan. In his lament at the death Jonathan, David exclaims, “Oh marathon runner, you were stronger than the lions!” (2 Samuel 1:23)

Love
The Apostle Paul stresses that the highest virtue for a marathon runner is “love.” It is the love of running. It is the love for fellow-runners. It is the love for people who come cheer to the runners. It is the love for people who do not like runners.

In the great poem of love, which one reads before this section, the Apostle Paul has already stressed that the greatest virtue is Love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

In the marathon run called life, if one does not have love, it will be a very tiring and futile run. Lack of love will make a runner give up. It is love which keeps a marathon runner enthused and running.

A prayer:
Oh Lord, please help me develop these virtues- alertness, resoluteness, womanly manliness, strength, and love, as I run this marathon called life.

By justice a king gives a country stability,
but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.
Prov. 29:4

There have been many news reports emerging out of newly independent countries, from all over the world. Zimbabwe is a beautiful country between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers. I was a student at the University of Delhi in 1980. Some of my close fellow-student friends were from Zimbabwe. I remember the excitement when Zimbabwe became a free nation. Robert Mugabe became the Prime Minister and the Head of the Government. There was much promise and hope. However, sadly he became greedy and corrupt. He became increasingly dictatorial and violent against his own people. It led to an 8 % recession every year. It impacted all the sectors of the economy- manufacturing, agricultural, service, everything. Robert Mugabe took the country down to become a horribly poverty stricken country during his 40 years of dictatorial rule. The same is true of so many other African countries- Liberia, Central African Republic, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, etc. Common people die of hunger, while the political leaders have cash stashed away in Swiss banks. They themselves lead lavish lifestyles, and live in huge fortified palaces.

This contrasts with other African countries like Ethiopia, where the last few years have seen a consistent GDP growth rate of 8 % -11 %. This year the Ethiopian president was given the Nobel Peace Prize. Another crucial figure was South African president Nelson Mandela. Much in contrast to other heads of states, he refused to be president for more than one term, after he won the fight against apartheid. He famously said, “The first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact of society if you have not changed yourself . . . Great peace makers are all people of integrity, of honesty, but humility.” He was not greedy for wealth and power. He wanted peace and stability for his people.

A good runner, especially a lead runner, has to be a person of integrity, and honesty. A runner who lacks integrity and honesty cause oneself to come to ruin, and takes other fellow runners down with him/her.

Justice, integrity, and stability go together.

Injustice, corruption, and poverty go together.

A prayer:
Oh Lord, today, please help me to be a person of justice and integrity.

Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.
For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
(Hebrews 10:35-36)

I write this blog with the exciting news that for the first time in history an athlete- Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, has broken the 2 hour barrier of finishing a marathon. He ran the Vienna Marathon, 26.2 miles in 1 hour, 59 minutes, 40 seconds.

Eliud Kipchoge already holds the official record of 2 hours, 1 minute and 39 seconds, which he set at the 2018 Berlin Marathon.

Also, I write this blog on the 2019 Chicago Marathon Day. A woman, Kenyan Brigid Kosgie has broken the women’s world record. She won the Chicago Marathon with a time of 2 hours, 14 minutes and 4 seconds.

Amazing Kenyan runners!

Long distance running is quite different from short distance running. Short distances are over quickly. An athlete runs 100, 200, 400, 800, 1500 meters rather quickly. It is done and over with. Long distance running is very different. It is 10,000 meters, 42,195 meters ( 26.2 miles, a marathon), 50 miles, 100 miles, 200 miles, and so on. A sprinter usually cannot run a marathon. Usain Bolt, the famous fast 100/200 meters athlete has never run a marathon.

Long distance running is an endurance sport. It is a sport which has been run from the beginning of human history. The ancient San people of Africa ran for days together to hunt for animals. They outdid the much larger and fierce animals with their endurance running.

The Bible talks about long distance runners who were the most important people in the armies of King David and others- e.g. 2 Samuel 18. These were the bearers of the good news or bad news. Interestingly in the Bible, they were usually African people. These were endurance runners.

The Bible always juxtaposes endurance running with hope. This is quite clearly seen in several Psalms in the Greek translation of the Bible. It uses the same word which is used in our Verse of the Day, “you need endurance.” Here are three of the many examples: Psalm 9:19, “The poor shall not be forgotten, the hope and endurance of the poor will not perish;” Psalm 62:5, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; for my hope and endurance is from him;” Psalm 71:5, “For you, Oh Lord are my endurance and hope, my trust O LORD, from my youth.”

All marathon runners develop endurance, in the hope they would finish strong.

How do marathon runners develop endurance?
Here are a couple of things endurance scientists observe.
Endurance requires building aerobic capacity. Long distance runners usually develop larger hearts and decreased heart rates, which enables them to use oxygen efficiently. Long distance runners perform at around 75-65 of peak aerobic capacity. Short distance runners perform at closer to 100 % of peak. Long distance runners also increase their endurance by running at their lactate threshold. This means, they become good at clearing lactic acid, and reusing it to fuel their muscles. Endurance runners practice good carbohydrate loading. These are also called glycogen stores.

In this marathon run called life, the Bible gives us the tools to develop a good “aerobic capacity,” a good “lactate threshold,” and good “glycogen stores,” so that we may run the “the endurance race set before us, looking to Jesus, the great the starter and finisher.” (Hebrews 12:1, 2).

In this marathon run called life.
He is our hope.
He is our endurance fuel.
He is our aerobic capacity builder.
He is our lactate threshold booster.

A prayer:
Oh Lord Jesus, the great marathon runner, as I run this race, please help me build my endurance, in the hope that I will finish strong, holding your hand.

The reward for humility and fear of the LORD
is riches and honor and life.
(Proverbs 22:4)

Running marathons has taught me several lessons in life. Two of these are found in this Proverb- fear and humility. In fact these two virtues are at the heart of the whole Book of Proverbs.

A marathon is a marathon. A runner, no matter how many marathons she or he has run may never take it lightly. Fear is a good thing. If one does not fear the marathon one can make foolish decisions. One student of mine decided to run the Chicago Marathon, just on a whim. He got up in morning of the Chicago Marathon, and decided to run it. He had not trained for it. He had not registered for it. He just decided to run it. Of course, he was 19 years old. Sadly, he was badly injured and had to drop out of the whole semester.

Fear is a good thing.

Running marathons has also taught me humility. It is 26.2 miles. One has to train for many, many miles. Each training run teaches the runner much humility. The marathon itself is a humbling experience. This is especially true when a runner reaches the 16-21 miles distance. This is when cramps set it. This is when dehydration can make running very hard. In the Boston Marathon, this is when one reaches the Heart-Break hill. This is when a runner starts asking questions like, “Will I be able to finish? I do not know if I can do this?” It takes a lot of humility to accept one’s limitations.

The Hebrew words for “fear” and “humility” are very telling.

The Hebrew word for “fear” is yirah. In the Hebrew Bible this usually parallels the phrase, YHWH Yireh, which in Genesis 22 is translated “The LORD will provide.” Literally it is, “The LORD sees.” In Genesis 22 Abraham obeyed God, when he asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac. In response God says, “I know that you fear God.” (Genesis 22:12). Abraham calls the name of the place, “YHWH Yireh, literally, the LORD sees.” (Genesis 22:14).

In the Hebrew Bible, when one fears God and situations. These are occasions to see God.

When you and I fear God, he sees our condition, and we also see him with greater clarity. This is what happens in a marathon race.

The Hebrew word for “humility” is anah. It is a word which is often used to describe people who are subjected to oppression and slavery. As a result of systemic oppression these people are calledanav. They are driven to a state of extreme poverty (Psalm 9:12, 18).

Running a marathon enables the runner to experience, in some measure, what the poor and the persecuted experience. The oppressed people are always trying to run away from the oppressors.

I often wonder why the best marathon runners come from the oppressed people groups of Africa.

Running marathons is truly the best way to learn these two crucial biblical virtues: Fear of the LORD and humility.

A Prayer:
A LORD, as I run this life’s marathon, please help me learn how to fear you, and to live a humble life, so that I may see you with clarity, and so that I may know the suffering of the poor.

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
(2 Corinthians 7:1)

A marathon run is not merely a body thing. It is a mind thing. It is a soul thing. It is a spirit thing. This is especially true when a marathon runner reaches the 21st mile or so. At that point the body has endured its limit, and the mind and soul take over. Therefore a marathon runner needs to train the whole being- the body, soul, and mind for the marathon run. If one has only trained the body, one has done inadequate training.

During my marathon training, I would reflect on passages of the Scriptures related to life as a marathon journey. I find this very helpful, especially during those last stages of the marathon when the body has endured the maximum, and when the mind and soul takes over the run. I find that it helps me stay focused and sharp for the finish.

A marathon runner also needs to be mindful of what one eats- physically, mentally, and spiritually. Unhealthy food can lead to very unpleasant runs. I know of marathon runners who ruined their marathon, just because they ate the wrong food the night before the marathon. I know of marathon runners who ruined their marathon because they were going through emotional and spiritual lows in the days leading up to the marathon.

A marathon runner needs to be mindful of what one eats mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. One can set aside bad thoughts only for so long. In those later stages of the marathon run, when the body is all beaten up, a runner needs the spirit and the mind. Healthy mind and spirit results in a good and strong finish. Unhealthy mind and spirit makes the runner give up. I have known some runners to have given up because their mind and spirit was not healthy and strong.

A marathon runner cannot do this just days before the big marathon. This has to be a way of life. It must begin many months before the big marathon- at the beginning of the marathon training. One must cleanse oneself of all bad food- unhealthy carbs, unhealthy fat, and so on. One must consume good food- good carbs, good protein, and so on. One must take steps to cleanse the mind and the soul. Each training run must an exercise in cleansing the mind and the spirit.

All this will make for an enjoyable marathon run.

This is precisely what our Verse of the Day is asking us to do- “cleanse yourself from everything that contaminates body and spirit.”

A prayer:
Oh Lord, as I run this great marathon run, I come to you. Please cleanse my body, mind, and spirit, so that I can run this race well.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
(Hebrews 10:23)

When I begin a marathon race, I the race with a great amount of respect. It is a marathon. It is estimated that for every 1,000 runners who register, and perhaps train, 820 of them start the marathon. Of these about 650 will finish. This means 35 % of the registrants and 20 % of the starters do not finish.

One of my colleagues at North Park, heads the medical tents of the Chicago Marathon. He is a very busy person. He, and his team have to attend to so many casualties during the course of the marathon, and at the end. He always tells me, “Boaz, run well. Run hard. Finish strong. But, I do not want to see you in my tent.” Of course he is joking! He usually adds, “Well I have not seen you in my medical tent in the past, and I do not expect to see you at the end of this marathon!” Joking aside, he is right. He sees many, many athletes at the end of the Chicago Marathon. And, I always keep this in mind, when I begin a marathon.

Thankfully, I have the lead runner, the pace setter, with me, running right beside me. The lead runner makes sure that I am well during the long, 26.2 miles.

This is the lesson our Verse of the Day underlines. In this marathon called life, Jesus the great lead runner is always faithful to us. Sure, it is a marathon, and there are many moments of discouragement and despair. But, one thing we can always be mindful of- this great marathon runner will always be faithful to us. Among his last words to his disciples, the Risen Lord said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the race.” (Matthew 28: 20)

Praise:
Oh Great Marathon Runner, Jesus, my Pace Setter, thank you for your faithfulness to me in this marathon run.