It happens to marathon runners and Christians. The former are usually prepared, but the latter too often never know what hit them. Some runners merely fear it. Others are terrorized by it. But they all know it's out there and that it must be overcome. They know they must break through "the wall." "Hitting the wall" is a physiological phenomenon generally associated with long-distance running. More commonly it is connected with the increasingly popular marathon — a 26-mile, 385-yard race that has become one of the most grueling events in competitive sports. The wall is an invisible barrier, a physical and psychological wall of pain that can spell disaster for the runner who's not totally prepared to meet it. And the confrontation occurs with most of the race already far behind. To an experienced marathon runner the first 20 miles of the race are preliminary, a warm-up period in anticipation of the real challenge. Because inevitably, around the 20-mile mark, it happens. Some runners suffer extreme fatigue. Some grow dizzy and become totally disoriented. Others experience blurred vision and even advanced depression. But they all feel it. They all feel the weight of the wall on their tiring bodies. The urge to slow down, or to quit completely, overwhelms the runner. That's when they've "hit the wall." "Hitting the wall" may be more common to marathon runners, but it happens as well to those who are running the Christian race. For whatever reasons, after years of seemingly faithful and loyal service to God's Church, some Christians drop out. The Bible calls it "falling away." And that drop-out rate is prophesied to increase as we draw nearer to the end of this age. "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (I Tim. 4:1). "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first" (II Thess. 2:3). The drop-out rate in marathon races is expected to be around 20 percent, although some have had much higher percentages. The 1977 Mayor Daley race in Chicago, Ill., for instance, had a drop-out rate of 60 percent. The Church of God also has a drop-out rate, which right now is running extremely low. But what can we expect for the future? You will someday confront your own wall, and it is up to you to see that you're prepared to overcome it.
Breaking through the wall is never easy. But it may be easier spiritually than it would be physically, if you stick to the proper training methods. But first you must know how to recognize the wall in your own life. Technically, in the physical sense, the wall can be explained easily. In simple terms it is the maximum distance a runner can expect to go before the urge to slow down or to quit overwhelms him. It is the collapse point, characterized by a sudden decrease in performance, often occurring within a single mile. Spiritually, the wall is not as easily defined. Only God knows what finally causes one to give up and quit after having already run most of the race. But one thing is for sure, whatever the spiritual wall is, Satan is its builder. And it's high time for those who have remained faithful so far to zero in on the possibility of confronting their own "walls" somewhere down the line, for Satan is as a roaring lion, seeking those whom he may devour (I Pet. 5:8). We are warned in I Corinthians 10:12, "Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." And Paul again admonishes us to "stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle" (II Thess. 2:15). The first prerequisite for running the marathon is a training period of at least one year and a best time for six miles of at most 50 minutes. Going into the race on too little base conditioning will demand a tremendous one-time effort of your body, and you'll likely lose all satisfaction in the marathon for a long time — probably forever. Being in the best physical shape for such a demanding event is such a rudimentary principle that it is hard to imagine people entering the race who are not prepared. But it happens every year across the country. Amateurs who know little about the race and even less, about preparatory training leave the starting point and eventually are scattered all along the way. It happens in the Church as well: "Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. "While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut" (Matt. 25:1-10).
Goal is to survive
The reason for this negative approach is not to make you fear for your chances of entering into God's Kingdom. God wishes 'that all could be saved (I Tim. 2:4), and if God be for us who can be against us (Rom. 8:31)? The fact is, though, that even world-class runners will slip drastically if they train only once or twice a week. The body and mind are no longer in top shape, and the runner suffers accordingly. Most experts agree that the marathon runner should put in at least three hours of training a day to be in top form. It's the daily workouts that keep one in prime condition. The same is true for the Christian's spiritual condition. Daily prayer and Bible study are the key to being in the finest spiritual form. The more time you spend on your knees in fervent prayer to God (keeping in mind the balance that God — expects in your life) and in effective study and meditation on God's Word, the better your chances will be of breaking through your personal spiritual "wall." You've heard the exhortation to pray and study daily hundreds of times, but do you really understand the importance of this habit? It could mean the difference between finishing the course or dropping out along the way. The real beauty of the marathon is its pace. The marathon, like our Christian life, is a race of endurance. It is a contest where the ultimate goal is not necessarily to win but to finish — to survive. Runners who finish a marathon are winners no matter how many finish before them. The analogy between the marathon and the Christian race can be no more perfect than in this regard. Christians are not competing for a place in God's Kingdom. No one can be beaten out by another. Once God has chosen you there's only one way that you won't make it — if you give up and quit. "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matt. 24:13).
A race of patience
The important thing to keep in mind as we race toward the high calling of Jesus Christ is that there's no need for fast tempo running. Like the marathon, the Christian race is a race of waiting, of patience. "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1). Marathon runners must work to increase their physical stamina in order to go beyond the wall and finish the course. One of the principal stamina theories adopted by experienced runners is applicable to Christians as well. It is called the theory of collapse, and its basic tenet is that one can run three times one's normal average training distance in a race without reaching a collapse point. Thus, in order to complete the 26.2 miles of the marathon without collapsing — or "hitting the wall" — the average training distance should be 8 1/4 miles every day. There is no definite formula or length of time set by God that would enable us to be in excellent spiritual form, although we are told repeatedly to actively pray, fast, study and do good works. These things require a certain amount of time every day. Whatever your specific routine may be, the more time you spend earnestly beseeching God for His strength and mercy and forgiveness and His intervention in world affairs, the more prepared you'll be when adversity or tribulation comes along. And it will come.
Crowns for the victors
The example of dedication, courage and extreme discipline practiced by marathon runners in their quest for a corruptible crown is an exemplary one. How much more dedication, courage and discipline should our efforts display as we race toward the very Family of God? "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run" (I Cor. 9:24-26). You have been called to run a great race, Will you make it most of the distance and then just give up when you're faced with trials you think you can't overcome? Or when Christ appears will you receive a "crown of glory that fadeth not away"? To a great extent the answers to these questions will depend on your spiritual preparation and on your ability to break through "the wall" — to endure to the end.
You Are in a Race to Enter God's Kingdom
If you do these things you'll make it. Here's why some have dropped out in the last two years.
In his second letter, chapter I, the apostle Peter recorded step-by-step instructions on how to endure to the end and reach God's Kingdom. If we follow this formula, nothing can stop us from finishing our spiritual marathon. Starting in verse 5 is a list of things we need to acquire: "And beside this [beside the fact that we have these great promises], giving all diligence [that requires work and effort, without ever quitting], add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. "For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind... Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, ye shall never fall" (verses 5-10). Let's understand these eight traits. "And beside this... add to your faith." We have to have the faith of Christ. We have to believe God exists and that the Bible is His Word. We must also have faith in the precious sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which makes it possible to be forgiven of past sins. We need faith that Christ is the Head of the Church and that He rules it. The second trait that Peter mentions is virtue. The New American Standard Bible translates this moral excellence. To have virtue or moral excellence, we have to obey God's law. That will produce moral excellence in our lives. Some of those who have left the Church found that their sins finally caught up with them. Peter next mentions that we must add to virtue knowledge. He is referring to knowledge of God's truth, which we acquire by the study of God's Word. Some have neglected regular, daily study of God's Word, which should be an important part of our lives. Peter next says that we should add to knowledge temperance. The New American Standard translation says self-control. Some people are not in control of themselves or their emotions. We need to control the pulls of the flesh — the wrong desires and thoughts. We are instructed to bring our thoughts into subjection to Jesus Christ. After temperance comes patience. This is translated perseverance in the New American Standard Bible; and the Revised Standard Version has steadfastness. We need to develop a calm and uncomplaining attitude, persevering no matter what. The next trait we must add is godliness. This means that we should have more and more God's character as time goes on. We need to follow Jesus Christ, who set us an example (l Pet. 2:21). Going one step further than that, we should follow His ministers as they follow Him. As we draw closer to God spiritually we will become more like Him. The seventh item Peter mentions is brotherly kindness or brotherly affection as the Revised Standard Version says. We are called the Philadelphia church, which means "the church of brotherly love." We need to realize that we're all brothers and sisters in Christ and express affection in how we' act toward each other and what we do for each other. The last or eighth trait Peter mentions is charity. He's not writing about the kind of charity where people give money or goods to the poor. It certainly might include some of that, but it really means love in modern English. This word comes from the Greek agape. I Corinthians 13 explains what this love or agape is. It is the kind of perfect, outgoing concern God feels for His creation. "For if these things [all eight traits of character] be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacks these things is blind" (II Pet. 1:8; 9). Verse 17 of the third chapter of — Revelation tells us that the church of Laodicea is blind. That particular church is not adding these eight essential traits of Christian character to their lives. Such people cannot see very far ahead and have forgotten that they were purged from their old sins. "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (II Pet. 1:10, 11). This section of instruction from Peter gives us the keys to keep from falling away! We can't just work up these traits of character. We must have help from God. We should be spending a lot of time in prayer each day, and as we pray for others and for God's Work, we should also ask our Father to help us abound in this kind of godly character. God has given us His Holy Spirit — which is the Spirit of power — to help us to do these things and to have this kind of character. We must exercise all the traits in Peter's checklist if we are to finish our spiritual marathon.