“The power of the LORD came upon Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel” (1 Kings 18:46).
Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking to a most exceptional (some would say “crazy”) group of people. Before me were men and women who were less than an hour away from stepping to the starting line to run, depending on their race, either 13.1, 26.2 or 31.1 miles.
The occasion was the Cowtown Marathon Pre-race Worship Gathering. For the first time the Fort Worth event was scheduled for Sunday. Organizers thought it would be appropriate to offer a worship opportunity for participants prior to the race, and I was invited, along with our worship band, to lead out. For the last several years I have run in the event, but this year I could not. But yesterday morning I was glad to be able to stand before a room full of courageous individuals to hopefully encourage them about doing something extraordinary.
As the band led us in singing worship songs, I scanned the crowd of worshippers and was reminded that each of them had a story. Some were running a long-distance race for the very first time. Some had battled injuries or illness to get to this day. Some would run hurt, not knowing if they could finish the race. Some felt as strong as ever and were shooting for a personal record. Some were running in honor of, or in memory of, a friend or loved one. All were attempting something extraordinary.
There are so many parallels between running and life. More particularly there are so many parallels between running and the Christian life. I did not want to miss the opportunity to lift my listeners’ thinking beyond the physical realm to the spiritual. I chose one of my favorite Old Testament stories. The powerful prophet Elijah had just concluded his showdown with Israel’s evil King Ahab and the false-prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. The king jumps in his chariot and races off for his winter palace in a place called Jezreel. God and his prophet still have unfinished business with King Ahab, so Elijah does something truly extraordinary – he takes off running to try to arrive at Jezreel ahead of Ahab’s chariot.
The faces of the marathoners lit up when I explained to them that the distance from Mt. Carmel to Jezreel was about 25 miles, just shy of the distance of a marathon. Elijah was attempting to run that distance faster than a horse-drawn chariot could travel.
I pointed out to my running friends three things that enabled Elijah to do something so extraordinary:
First, Elijah had determination. I Kings 18:46 says that he ran “all the way to Jezreel.” An assignment from God awaited him there, and he would not stop short of it. Rarely does anyone ever attempt and achieve something extraordinary without such determination. I reminded the runners that it isn’t necessarily the fastest runner who has the most determination. I confessed to them that my most memorable marathon was the one where I ran the slowest time. I experienced an injury several weeks before the race, and wasn’t able to continue training as I needed to. But others had already purchased airplane tickets to be with me at the race. I couldn’t let them down. I was determined to show up and run, no matter how long it took to finish. My goal was not to compete, but to complete.
Second, Elijah made preparation. The Scripture says that before he ran Elijah tucked his cloak into his belt. This meant that he had to tuck his outer robe-like garment into his sash or belt in order to keep the fabric of his robe from entangling his legs and feet as he ran.
No one ever does anything extraordinary simply by thinking about it. They prepare for it. A student dreams of walking across the stage to receive a college diploma, then he/she prepares by going to class, studying and completing their assignments. A runner dreams of getting the finishers medal at the end of the race, then he/she prepares with months of training runs and other workouts, fitting their bodies to go the distance.
The Apostle Paul understood the clear parallel of this to the life of a Christ-follower: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (I Corinthians 9:25). It isn’t enough for us to dream of being a passionate follower of Jesus Christ. We must prepare ourselves through the various disciplines that lead to spiritual formation.
Third, Elijah had inspiration. Something internal propelled him forward. The primary factor in the prophet’s ability to do this extraordinary thing – to run twenty-five miles faster than the king’s chariot – was the fact that “the power of the Lord came upon Elijah” (I Kings 18:46). Elijah did what he could in the way of preparation, and then he trusted God to give him the ability to do the extraordinary.
This ability is none other than the power of the Holy Spirit that came upon certain individuals in Old Testament times, enabling them to do what they could not otherwise have done. We see this power in the New Testament in the Holy Spirit’s indwelling and empowering of persons who have received the gift of eternal life. The power of the Holy Spirit strengthens believers to fulfill the high calling of God in Christ.
Remember this: The power of God only flows in the direction of His purpose. Elijah could lay hold of the power of God because he was striving for the purpose of God in his life. The prophet was on mission for God, and the power of God always accompanies the mission of God.
As I watched the runners leave the room and head toward the starting line, I thought of how many of them would finish the race that day, only to go home to another “race.” Some would return to the search for a job, having been laid off in the down economy. Some would return to a vigil sitting at the bedside a dying loved one. Some would return to a struggling marriage, fighting to keep it alive for another week.
God never calls us to attempt extraordinary things without His power to help us. That power is available to those who put their hope in the Lord. “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).