Thursday, September 04, 2008

Running With or From the Pack?

The other night we watched the Olympic Womens' Marathon. Romania's Constantina Tomescu won the 26.2 mile race. She took a gamble and it paid off.

For the first 1 1/2 hours the pack of runners (about 25-30) stayed together and ran a slower pace than normal. Shortly after this Tomescu bolted ahead of the pack and held her lead for the final 45 minutes. Sometimes she was as far as 1 minute ahead of the pack. This was a gutsy move but one she has done often in previous marathons. However, no one from the pack chased after her until it was too late. The silver and bronze medalists narrowed the gap to 20 seconds but Tomescu was already on the track kicking it in for a finish.

I guess I appreciated Tomescu's race. Maybe it is because I tended to do that in races. You feel good, you bolt ahead, and hope the training pays off. Sometimes you crash and burn, sometimes you win. Tomescu's effort was risky because the pack could watch her. If she looks back, they see her as being tired and fading. She has no one to push her so she is tempted to slow down. It is mentally challenging to keep focused ahead and wonder where those behind you are. Fortunately the people on the side of the course tell you how far ahead you are. That helps, but you still wonder. Tomescu, however, kept a small pill of smelling salts to keep her focused on her pace.

Why do you leave the pack?

The pack is in a rut. The pack is going slower than record pace. The pack is being controlled by one or two people. The pack is waiting the inevitable--when two or three people with incredible speed kick the last 1/2 mile and leave everyone else in the dust. If you don't have leg speed, it is a matter of time until they leave you behind.

Running with the pack is safe. However, running with the pack forces the ones who feel strong, on that day, to slow down. They do not run their best race. They run someone else's race, usually the one or two in control of the pack.

I used this analogy in the sermon today. I believe that God is looking for people with the guts to bolt ahead and leave the pack. I believe that God has called people sometimes to break away from the pack. I believe that there are many in the church who have heard God's call to go for it and bolt into a life of evangelism, outreach, and incarnation. However, some listen to the voices that say "stay with the pack..."

I understand that we need to be united. I understand that we need to stick together. But I also understand that sometimes packs are controlled by people who are worried about how they finish, not how they run the whole race. Packs can help people get to the end, but they slow many others down.

We live in a country where Christianity is both declining and disrespected by many of those who are not disciples of Jesus. Partly (from what I hear from them) it is because we run in packs (called cliques) and holler at others to slow down. The packs reinforce traditions and ways of "running the race" that no longer work. But, the pack seems safe. However, when you run in a pack those who are faster have to slow down. You never run to your potential. You may finish, but you always know you could have done more. Packs can help some people run a good race, but packs can also cause people to run someone else's race--not God's.

Is there a spiritual application here?

You tell me.

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