I hate running. It hurts. It’s laborious with little to show in the waistline. It’s embarrassing thinking about everyone watching my belly bounce and my red blotchy face pulse and gasp for air. In my whole life I’ve only found two ways to run that actually bring me enjoyment. First, when I run in a sport I’m running with purpose. I’m running to kick the ball, or dribble and pass the ball, or catch the frisbee or football so that my team will score. I can do this. This satisfies my competitive edge. However, simply walking outside and going for a run; that has never appealed to me- until recently. I found a second way to run and enjoy it. I run with a friend. I need someone to push me a bit; to pick up the pace when I slow; to feel the burn with me; to keep me accountable to wake up early and actually do this exercise thing. I need someone to run beside me who may or may not look more ridiculous than I do.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

This is not the only place Paul uses sports and competition as an analogy of the living the Christian life, but it speaks to me this morning after my run. In those times when we find it difficult to pray, or study, or love people the way that we’ve been taught, we can find at least two ways to do it and enjoy it. First, plug in. Plug into a church in a way that means more than attendance. Get active in service. Join the choir or praise team or audio/video team. Join the youth workers. Teach children. Volunteer at the soup kitchen, the homeless ministry, or the after-school ministry. Visit the sick in your church. Find somewhere to serve where you can use your gifts and skills and where you can be all that God has created you to be. Second, practice your discipleship in a group. Find a small group, a Sunday School class, a Bible Study, some close community that can keep you accountable in your relationship to Jesus and to others. Jesus meant for our discipleship to be done in community. Close community pushes us, challenges us, helps us to actively engage the hard questions of our faith, and gives us a platform to think out loud in a way that, hopefully, doesn’t make us look/sound ridiculous. Jesus had twelve close disciples. And even among them he had three that were his tight friends. We all need this kind of community. I am convinced that if we have these two elements in our lives, service opportunities and small group community, that living our Christian life will be much more fruitful and enjoyable.

Friends, walk/run in the blessings of God’s grace this week.