The Runner’s Heart (Part 1 of 3 in “The Runner Series”)

I well remember the burn.  I remember the shin splints.  And I remember the moment I said, “I hate running.” 

It was track season, my junior year of high school.  The coach was making us run long distances, and to a sprinter, that was awful.  I had been a speedy little kid.  I had won some races and some ribbons (and even a fifty-cent piece).  I had done well in some other races although I did not win.  And then there were some races where I wondered if I should have just stayed home that day.  Yes, my relay teammates may still be upset at me (thirty years later) for accidentally disqualifying us at the district meet (all because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time).  You win some, you lose some.  And some you don’t even qualify in apparently. 

Anyway…there is something else I remember which brings me to this particular article you are presently reading. 

I remember the heart that was needed for running.  Not just a strong heart muscle that could propel a body to the finish line, but the inner heart—the passion, the drive, the mental fortitude, the competitive spirit.  You train, you prepare, and you enter the race.  And then, you run for the prize.  You run in such a way that you may win. 

When you run a race, you know there is an end to it, a finish line; but that end may not be in sight.  There may be twists and turns in the racecourse.  There may be falls and injuries to your body.  There may be high hills and low valleys.  And sometimes, the pain is too much.  Every ounce of your body screams for you to stop, to quit, to give in, to give up.  But it is then that the runner’s heart needs to kick in.  The faith needs to be rekindled.  The mind needs to remember the hope of the finish line.  And then you dig in.  And you dig deeper.  And sometimes you cry tears.  And sometimes you cry words.  And you keep on keeping on.  And suddenly, you crest the hill, round the bend, or enter the last lap, and there it is: what you have been striving for is now within reach.  And then your heart pulls ahead of your body.  You push through to the end, and you hear the words “You did it. Well done.”  For the joy that was set before you, you finished the race.

My brothers and sisters, the Christian race is like this.  Sometimes, we want to just sprint on through to the finish line and cross over into heaven.  We want to avoid the burn and the shin splints, the hills and the tears.  But the reality of life is that it is not a sprint, it is a marathon.  And the course is sometimes filled with difficulties.  Sometimes, we need to dig in for more faith and cry out for more help.  We might want to quit, to give in, to give up.  But remember our example—Jesus.  He did not quit, give in, or give up.  He dug in deep, surrendering His will to the will of the Father.  He pushed through the trials and walked up the hill of Golgotha.  For the joy that was set before Him (eternity with those who would believe in Him), He endured the cross.  He completed the course that was laid out before Him. He crossed the finish line. His race was well done.  His heart for us won the prize of atonement unto eternal life.

And now, He waits to welcome His own into their eternal home, awarding their faith in Him with eternal life.  Press on my brothers and sisters.  We can do this.  Let’s not grow weary.  Have faith.  Long to hear the words “Well done.”  Trust what you cannot see but know in your heart.  Cry out when it hurts.  Cry out for help.  Remember your training.  Hydrate with the Living Water.  Nourish yourself with the Bread of Life.  Be energized by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Remember the joy that is set before you.  Keep the faith.  Stay the course.  Finish the course.

I am cheering you on and praying you through.  See you at the finish line!

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it. (1Corinthians 9:24)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2)

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (Galatians 6:9)

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7)

©Original text and photo Francee Strain, February 14, 2021

Scripture verses taken from the New King James Version, © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.

Hearts of Stone

Have you ever had a heart of stone?  I have.  There was a point in life when I was burned out.  I had more to do than I could do.  More places to go than I could go.  More people to see than I could see.  Too many irons in the fire and too much on my plate.  I had no feelings.  No joy.  Seemingly nothing to look forward to.  Nothing that is except work…and more work.

Those were difficult days.  How did I wind up in such a circumstance?  How did I get so lost?  What became of the me that used to be?  What became of the relationship with God that I had enjoyed?  Frankly, I left it behind in pursuit of other things.  I let Him hang by a thread while I grasped on tightly to the hands of everything else besides Him.  I let go of His heart.  And I let go of my heart.

I knew that I needed to come out of this type of life.  I wanted to come out of this type of life.  But how could I do it?  The answer came when I read the words of Ezekiel 36:26 which say, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”*

The summation of the answer was that I needed a heart replacement.  Who could perform such a surgery?  I certainly could not do it–I was stuck–stuck in a rut, stuck in a pattern of living that was not pleasant and that was not true living.  Only God could perform such a surgery, so I asked Him for it.  I began to pray.

I prayed that He would take my heart of stone and turn it into a heart of flesh.  And that is exactly what He did.  I went from being a rock in the dirt to a living, breathing, fire of spirit.  Before I knew it, I went from wanting nothing to wanting everything.  I was filled with zeal, passion, hope, and overflowing love.  I wanted to do.  I wanted to live.

Yes, He took my heart of stone and made it beat again, feel again, live again.  And He can do the same for you.

And now my heart of stone is external, a heart-shaped stone that lies in the field in front of my house.  When I walk past it, instead of seeing a heart of stone, I see a heart of love. My mind’s eye sees a memory of what once was and is filled with gratitude for what now is.  That heart of stone reminds me of the love of a Great Surgeon who can make all things new, including hearts of stone.

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Francee Strain, August 2017

*(Ezekiel 36:26 KJV, emphasis mine)

Photo by Francee Strain