Dear Brethren,

I took up the challenge to run my first marathon on 31 May 2008 Sundown marathon event which was the first night marathon in Singapore. It started on Saturday midnight and by God’s grace, I completed the grueling 42km run in 5 hour 41 min. The satisfaction in crossing the finishing line was tremendous at that point in time after running nearly 6 hours. However, the spiritual lessons learned are more lasting and impactful to me and I would like to share them.

1. The Christian life is not a 100m sprint but a marathon

I am sure we hear this phrase being mentioned very often by preachers in reminding all of us that we need a lot of perseverance and endurance to run well the Christian race. Only after running a ‘real’ marathon of 42km then it really sinks into me what it means that the Christian life is a marathon race. It is indeed tough, demanding and often I feel like giving up along the way. The reality is that all of us can complete a 100m race, some faster while others slower, but not so in a marathon. After 4 or 5km, I already saw people walking and I wonder how they can complete the entire 42km. Make no mistake about it – the Christian life is indeed a long and difficult journey and we must run with patience and endurance (Heb 12:1b).

2. Preparation and Training are very important

When I signed up for the marathon, I was very proud to think it is quite easy to run 42km. I can run 1 round Bedok Reservoir at 4.3km effortlessly so I reason a marathon is about 10 rounds the reservoir which should be fine for me. I was given many warnings by experienced and concerned people that I should train often and run up to 30km a few times before the marathon.  Thank God I started to take heed. I tried running 5 rounds the reservoir and my head was spinning in near fainting spell after that run. I knew I could never complete my marathon with such minimal preparations. I trained harder and realised it was not easy at all. I vomited after a 21km run and another time at 24km my leg suffered from cramp. This was the furthest I ran in training at 24km.  I was already very exhausted and ‘half-dead’. At those moments in training, I told myself maybe I should give up running the marathon as I would never be able to make it. In reality those preparations and trainings were keys to build up my endurance and equip me well for the marathon run itself. Without them, I would never be able to complete the marathon race. On hindsight, I should have trained earlier and much harder for the marathon.

In our Christian life, we need to be trained and prepared too for the Lord’s service. Daily Quiet Time is very important. Do not despise such simple preparation. Study the Bible and take every opportunity to learn God’s Word. At every opportunity, serve the Lord especially in simple and quiet way. Do not go for the glamour to serve in prominent areas or thinking it is the ‘big’ things that matter. When the training and preparation are done, God will lead and help us through the “marathon’ – the big thing that He wants us to do for Him. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness as the training period before being called to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land. The process in training is humbling as we see how weak we are and how little we can do for God. It is when we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor 12:10b).

3. Support is very important

It would not be possible for me to run the marathon all by myself without support and encouragement from friends. Thank God I have a trainer who monitored my progress and ensured that I follow the training schedule rigorously. My trainer would not allow me to slack and pushed me hard. Without it, I would not be ready for the marathon race. The support and help from my trainer are tremendous encouragement to me. On the race day in the afternoon, a brother came to give me a bottle of ‘yong sim’ he personally boiled to boost my energy level. I believe there are others who prayed for me too that I am not aware of. God sent all these helpers and supporters so that I can complete the marathon. During the run, there were many race guides who would cheer us on and tell us not to give up. I also saw friends of runners who were stationed at different location to pass drinks, new t-shirts, and even food to their friends who were running. Such supporters also sacrificed their sleep and showed great care to support their runner friends.

In the Christian race, support, love and care from brethren are important. When times are good, friends are everywhere and seem to treat you well. It is only when you are struggling in the race, then you really know who are your true Christian friends who are still there for you and support you on and sacrifice their ‘sleep’ to ensure you do not give up. Though they be few but thank God for those whose care and support for me that is keeping me going in this long difficult marathon Christian race (Prov 17:17).

4. The last 10km is the most difficult

I was running relatively well up to the 32km mark and then I was really exhausted and wanted to give up. People were walking at that stage already and others have given up the race. In fact, my last 10km took me about 1.5 hours to complete as I was running at a very very slow pace and my whole body was drenched with sweat. There was literally no more strength to run the last lap. I have to pray very hard, push myself and stay strong mentally and focus on reaching the finishing line.

Most Christians start well but do not end well. Indeed, the last lap in the Christian race is the most difficult and challenging. It is also at this junction that most Christians have stopped running and given up. When we reach our later stage in life and have accumulated sufficient earthly treasures, it is easy to trust these riches than to trust God. When we see enough ‘politics’ in church and Christians at odds with each other, it is easy to be discouraged and to quit. When we have served many years, we can easily soothe our conscience to say “soul, take thy ease”. How easy to fall at the last lap!

We must endure to the end for Christ’s sake. He is our Saviour and the lover of our soul. Even though we are weak and discouraged and we fail, we must continue to run the Christian race till we reach the finishing line and enter our Heavenly Home. I can tell you the sweetness when I crossed the marathon finishing line – it is done, it is over, I made it…I raised my tired hands as I crossed the finishing line with a big smile on my face. When we reach heaven and finish our pilgrimage journey on this earth, I cannot imagine the joy and the sweetness in our soul to see our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and to be with Him forever and ever. I know this joy will be millions and billions times better than what I experienced crossing the marathon finishing line.

With fear and trembling, I hope I can say like Paul when I reach my earthly finishing line that “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).

Elder John Leong