Discipline: Running the Miles

by Larry Hehn on May 20, 2011

Rosie RuizOn April 21, 1980, Rosie Ruiz was the first female runner to cross the finish line in the Boston Marathon. She posted the third-fastest time ever for a female marathon runner (2:34:52).

That on its own was amazing, but even more astonishing was that she had hardly broken a sweat in the process.

Officials from several checkpoints along the course had no record of Rosie running past.

Race photographers couldn’t find Rosie in any of their photos.

But, about half a mile from the finish line, some spectators did see Rosie sneak out from the sidelines and sprint to the finish.

Sorry, Rosie.

Half a mile is not a marathon.

Needless to say, officials stripped Rosie of her “victory” and awarded the prize to the real winner, Jackie Gareau.

What Rosie failed to understand is that you don’t win the race, if you don’t run the miles!

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize?
So run to win! – 1 Corinthians 9:24

The apostle Paul knew what he was doing when he used the above analogy in his letter to the people of Corinth. They were no strangers to athletics. Every two years they hosted the Isthmian games, which were second in scale and importance only to the Olympic Games.

Athletes who competed in these games had to sign an oath at least ten months prior to their event, swearing off certain foods and committing to intense physical training, focusing their lives on one thing and one thing only – winning their event.

What was their incentive for such dedication? A multi-million dollar breakfast cereal endorsement, their own line of athletic wear and accessories, maybe even a fragrance named after them?

No! They didn’t even have gold, silver or bronze medals back then! The prize they competed for was nothing more than a pine wreath that they wore as a crown, and bragging rights for the next two years.

Paul’s point?

If athletes are willing to discipline themselves, deny themselves, go through all these struggles and all this discomfort for a worthless pine wreath, how much more should we as followers of Christ be willing to endure for a prize that will last forever?

No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening – it’s painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. – Hebrews 12:11

Can we have a quick reality check here? The Christian life, the life that God calls us to, the life of discipline, is not easy. It is not comfortable. It is not random. It is not stress-free.

The Christian life has purpose. Our sinful desires battle against that purpose. We’d much rather jog half a mile with Rosie than run the miles with Jackie Gareau. But like an athlete in a race, we must exercise spiritual discipline and run the race in order to earn the prize.

And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. – 2 Timothy 2:5

For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.  – 2 Corinthians 5:10

Ultimately we have two choices. We can submit to the pain of discipline, run the miles, and reap a harvest of right living. Or we can avoid the pain of discipline and reap a harvest of regret.

Which one will you choose?

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” – G.K. Chesterton

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason May 20, 2011 at 1:37 am

“The Christian life, the life that God calls us to, the life of discipline, is not easy. It is not comfortable. It is not random. It is not stress-free.”

Exactly. Bingo. Perfect. Some fourth exclamation of support.
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Larry Hehn May 21, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I appreciate the support, Jason!


Brandon May 20, 2011 at 10:35 am

Thsi was an awesome post!
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Larry Hehn May 21, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Thanks, Brandon!


Jess May 20, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Wow, there you go posting on something I’ve been studying alot again. Good post. Now if you post something on a certain chapter in Romans I may have to assume you’re the guy who hacked my old email last week. I gots my eye on you.


Larry Hehn May 21, 2011 at 4:01 pm

No worries, Jess. I like all of Paul’s letters a lot, but right now I’m studying 2 Timothy!


Carla May 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Great Post! I love the running analogy to faith that Paul brings up so much. It is so true, and it’s something I remind myself of when the going gets tough.

When I was in Tanzania I ran a lot. When I ran on the cattle trails near a remote village all the kiddos who were tending the cattle or walking to collect water would say, “Pole ya mazawazi,” when I ran past, which loosely translated means I’m sorry/sympathetic for your exercise. They could not comprehend why I would run without a purpose. Only men ran to get to another place, not to end up at the starting point, and I was a woman running, it boggled their minds that I would put my body through that for no reason. But I did it for fitness, something difficult to understand when food is limited and daily life is a chore. But I always think of that time when I think of our walk with Christ. Many on the outside don’t realize why we stay faithful, they don’t see the point in the things we do, but we know that there are great rewards for this race that we run and we don’t need worldly approval.
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Larry Hehn May 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Well said, Carla. Thanks so much for sharing this!


Shelley May 20, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Great post, and it definitely spoke to me…convicted me, even.
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Larry Hehn May 21, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Glad to hear it, Shelley. I write posts like this mostly because it’s something I need to apply in my own life. It’s always nice to hear when it speaks to others as well.


Jon May 20, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Great post! I definitely want to be running those miles. It’s not easy, but I know there is something far greater for me at the end.
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Larry Hehn May 21, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Keep running for the prize, Jon!


~Brenda May 20, 2011 at 9:06 pm

I just finished running a major race (called homeschooling). My prayer is that I ran it well, but I know without a doubt there were times where I flat out sat out of the race.

Loved reading this post. Very nicely written with a good point.


Larry Hehn May 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I salute you for homeschooling, Brenda – that’s no small feat!
Whenever I start to get discouraged by thinking about the things I missed, I have another look at Philippians 3:12-14 . Press on!


Clay Morgan May 22, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Paul’s metaphors are always spot on and timeless. I really like the way you took this one with the cheater example. We do try to sneak in those shortcuts eh? Great thoughts Larry.
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Larry Hehn May 23, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Unfortunately, it seems to be my default mode – trying to do as little as possible to scrape by. Yep, Paul often hits me where I live. Thanks, Clay!


Rich Langton May 23, 2011 at 7:52 am

This is great Larry. I especially like the part where you says ‘you don’t win the race, if you don’t run the miles!’ I like it because it is exactly what so many people try to do and I am constantly telling myself not to do…. my thinking is that the destination is the journey. Without the journey, there is no destination!
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Larry Hehn May 24, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Right on, Rich. The journey may not be fun or glamorous, but it builds and shapes us so we are truly ready for the destination when we get there.


Cindy Holman May 24, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I hate to admit it – but I like being comfortable – hard work is well…WORK. Daily discipline is not comfortable – the denying of ourselves for the better good – sounds good on paper but it is not what my will and heart really want. I’m a musician and it took years of study myself to teach piano and voice lessons – all the pain of going through what it took to get a four year music degree – was NOT easy – took years of grueling practice and discipline. I see my very lazy piano students who do not like to practice – who does? I only know the results and I guess that is what Paul is talking about. It’s good for us.
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Larry Hehn May 24, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Great analogy with music, Cindy. I remember being dragged to piano and guitar lessons as a kid. I “wanted” to be able to play the piano or guitar, but was never willing to put in the hours of learning and practice to get there. I think that’s why I have such an appreciation today for those who have, and do.


Jim F May 25, 2011 at 6:47 am

I love the illustration here Larry and I am going to have to used that for sure.
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Larry Hehn May 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm

You got it, Jim. Thanks!


HopefulLeigh June 9, 2011 at 11:17 pm

That was a good reality check! There are definitely some areas that I need to be more disciplined in and part of that is examining my motivation and then giving it a kick in the butt.
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Larry Hehn June 10, 2011 at 8:24 am

Keep kickin’, Leigh!


Terri April 26, 2013 at 2:01 am

Thanks for the challenge…huffin’ and puffin’…phew (sweat of the brow) work…! It’s for sure excellence is not comfort zone stuff. 🙂


Larry Hehn April 28, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Nope, but it’s worth it!


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