The New Testament writers often use the image of a race to describe the Christian life. In part this is because the writers wanted us to know how much was at stake. If athletes take their training and discipline seriously for a temporary race, how much more seriously should we treat a race with eternal rewards and consequences.
One of the best examples of this "running imagery" is Hebrews 12:1-3:
"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
I think there are several important lessons about the Christian life to draw from this passage. I call them my five "E's". (One is actually an “I,” but that's not as helpful of a mnemonic device! Ha!)
ENTRY: The writer of Hebrews gives us the image of a coliseum full of witnesses cheering us on as we run. This should give us great encouragement as we consider the lives of those who have gone before us. It should also give us a sense of responsibility. This is a long race, and this is our leg. The baton is in your hands: how will you run your leg of the race? When you pass the baton on to the next generation, will they be able to use the lead you gave them, or will they be making up for lost time?
ENTANGLEMENT: Runners do everything in their power to reduce wind sheer and increase their speed, from shaving their heads to wearing special clothes. Athletes know that wind sheer will exhaust their bodies and cut down on their speed. As Christians, we must similarly avoid entanglements that will slow us down. If we try to pursue Christ with lives full of sin, we will find ourselves exhausted and our progress slow. We can become discouraged easily.
ENDURANCE: The lives of most Christians look a lot more like a series of sprints than a marathon. We get excited and run for a while, then suddenly we stop when things get hard or the racing gets rough. Later we may get excited again, but eventually we again give in to discouragement or frustration. The Christian life is a slow and steady race. In a marathon, some miles are easier than others. During some miles a runner is simply flying down the path; other miles he is clearly struggling to give it all he can. Similarly we must be prepared for the long haul. The Christian life will not always be easy, and we must be ready to run till the finish.
(E)NSPIRATION: Good runners don’t look from side to side or behind them while they run; they look straight ahead. They know that this is the best way to maintain a quick steady stride. If you look behind you, you automatically start slowing down. If you look side to side, you may have trouble staying on the path. A good runner stares toward the finish line and runs hard toward it. Similarly, our inspiration for running ought to be that Christ is waiting for us at the finish line. He endured the race Himself, and now He waits to celebrate with us. Do not look behind to see where you have been or focus on your difficulties. Do not look side to side to compare your performance to other runners or your life to theirs. Look straight ahead and stay focused on Christ. This is the only way to guarantee that you will stay on the path and run swiftly.
EXAMPLE: A good runner studies the techniques of successful runners in order to learn from their examples. As Christians we have been given the perfect example to follow. Christ successfully ran the race ahead of us and ran it flawlessly. By studying His life and imitating Him, we will run the race victoriously.