During the summer I was able to watch some of the Olympics on television and I joined with many other Brits in cheering Mo Farah to gold in the 5,000 m and 10,000 m. I am fascinated by long-distance runners. They look so thin and under-nourished that I often wonder how they ever manage to last one lap of the track! “Exceptional levels of aerobic endurance” are required to win these races and it was amazing to watch these athletes.

Two things have made me ponder on longevity this week. The Christian life is more like a marathon than a sprint, I feel. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to ‘run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us.’ Running is an image Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 9 to talk about our race of life, but I don’t think he’s talking about sprinting. In all the verses on running, there is an emphasis on perseverance and endurance and the sheer agony of it at times. Any athlete will know all about pushing themselves to the limits and beyond. The Olympics have given us visible evidence of what that looks like.

Thw two things that have made me reflect on long distances this week are wedding anniversaries and a concert I attended last night.

Marriage is a lifelong commitment. It’s not about short-term thrills or a quick fix. This year I have had the privilege of sharing in the joy of a golden wedding anniversary and, last weekend, a ruby wedding anniversary. Today is my own silver wedding anniversary. I am immensely grateful to know people who have been loyal to their marriage vows and who have seen God help them through the pleasures and agonies of married life. God is interested in our perseverance and commitment. To have perseverance, commitment and love modelled in front of you is the easiest way to understand why God likens His relationship to the church to that of marriage. In today’s society we desperately need good role models for marriage and I salute those around me who have seen Christ’s love in their own everyday, practical lives.

Last night I attended a Michael Card concert in Maltby. Michael Card has been involved in Christian ministry in song and through Bible teaching for 32 years. I first encountered his music when I was a university student. His writing on the ‘scandal of the Cross’ and on paradox have shaped my life and helped me to understand some of the great mysteries of faith. Last night we listened to 23 of his 393 songs and I was touched by this sense that when we persevere with God, when we listen attentively to His Spirit over a number of years, when we give everything to Him, we can achieve so much that is beyond our wildest dreams.

For those of you who are interested, the 23 songs were:
* Soul Anchor
* El Shaddai
* God’s Own Fool
* Come Lift Up Your Sorrows
* At His Feet
* A King In A Cattle Trough
* A Better Freedom
* How Much More a Servant Could He Be?
* My Old Man
* How Can I Answer No?
* In Memory of Her Love
* The Things We Leave Behind
* Sea of Souls
* I Have Decided
* Why?
* Jubilee
* Immanuel
* Come to the Table
* The Paradigm
* I Will Not Walk Away From You
* All That Was Lost
* And Can It Be?
* Benediction

What I love so much about Michael Card (apart from his sheer ordinariness and lack of glamour!) is the fact that each song becomes an incentive to study the Bible more, to seep yourself in God’s Word and investigate for yourself these amazing stories and truths. Imagination and an amazing facility with lyrics (I can’t imagine any other writer entitling a song on blind Bartimaeus ‘the paradigm’!) open up a wider world of mystery for me. I feel immensely privileged to be able to listen in to these conversations.

So today, I would urge you all to persevere. Long-distance running is (if I’m brutally honest) quite often pretty boring. There must be stretches of the race when you feel that there’s little point in pounding your body so much and if it ever can be worth the pain just to reach the finish line. But as Paul says, “I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor 9:27) The prize is worth it. Honestly. Keep running.