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TONY ELDER: Being close to God is a marathon event, not a sprint

Tony Elder

Tony Elder

Last weekend I ended up watching a little more football than I usually do. That was due in part to getting much of my work finished beforehand, along with the fact that there were some interesting games being played.

But admittedly the greatest factor was probably that my wife was out of town for the weekend attending a wedding, leaving me in the position of not needing to give consideration to her alternate preferences for TV viewing.

Since I watched portions of several different games, a common factor jumped out at me. I know that teams tend to come out of the locker room all fired up with energy and enthusiasm to play the game. But it seems that some take it to a different level -- one that's hard to maintain for any length of time.

Early in the game a player might make a decent routine play and jump around celebrating as if it was the greatest accomplishment since Franco Harris' "immaculate reception." Or after a team makes a first down or stops the other team from doing so, they act as if they had just won the Super Bowl.

I noticed that some of those teams that were so pumped up and performed so well early in the contest eventually lost their initial energy and enthusiasm, allowing their opponent to gain the momentum and, in some cases, even win the game. It served as a reminder that a football team has to be prepared to play all four quarters. An enthusiastic start is good, but there also needs to be a mindset of enduring till the end of the game.

In His parable of the sower, Jesus compared some people to seed that falls on stony ground. They immediately spring up, initially receiving God's word with enthusiastic joy. But because their roots don't go deep, they only endure for a while, inevitably withering away in the heat of hard times.

The Bible also compares the Christian life to a race -- not a sprint, but a marathon -- encouraging us to "run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).

I'm not suggesting that there's anything wrong with spirited enthusiasm or with us trying to give 100 percent effort in our walk with God. But we need to remember that we can't survive simply by focusing on superficial emotions -- we've got to get our spiritual roots down too.

And while we seek to run hard at the moment, we've also got to realize that we need to run in such a way as to finish the race well.

The Apostle Peter reminds me of one of those football players. He often came out with an unbridled outburst of energy and enthusiasm. He boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of the living God; he bravely jumped out of the boat to go to Jesus walking on the water; and he enthusiastically declared that he would never forsake Jesus.

But before the game was over in those situations, he was being rebuked for letting Satan use him; he was fearfully sinking amid the waves; and he was denying that he ever knew Jesus.

Some of us may need more of the enthusiasm and energy of a Peter. But we also need the stability that he was lacking at that point. We need to remain faithful in the long run.

One time God told Israel and Judah, "your faithfulness is like a morning cloud, and like the early dew it goes away" (Hosea 6:4). Does that describe our lives in relation to God?

Let's not shy away from getting fired up for God. But at the same time let's not mistake one victory or one setback as the end of the game. We need to keep running and remain faithful for the full four quarters.

The Rev. Tony W. Elder is pastor of Wesley Community Fellowship Church. He can be reached at 770-483-3405 or by email at RevTElder@aol.com.