[Matthew was a member of the SMI team for 10 years before departing to pursue his passion for fitness. His first book, The Body Tithe Devotional, is designed to encourage Christians through a 90-day fitness or health journey. I asked him if he would return to SMI occasionally, adapting one of the devotions from his book to the lifelong financial journey SMI members are on. - AP]
For those new to running races, the rookie mistake is to start too fast. And who can blame them? After 18 long weeks worth of training, it’s finally race time. When the gun goes off, a gush of anticipation overwhelms them. All the pent-up nerves. The pre-race jitters. The flashbacks of smacking the snooze button before that 5: 30 a.m. tempo run. The communal adrenaline spike from the thousands of other runners feeding off one another. It all results in an impulse to come out of the gate all-systems-go. The newbie thinks, “Why not capitalize on this burst of energy? I feel amazing.”
At first, “amazing” sustains you. You’re doing something you never thought possible. The crowd is cheering you on. Runners are still smiling. You look fantastic in all your running garb. At this speed, you’ll crush your goal time.
Somewhere along the road, though, “amazing” betrays you… at mile four, or six, maybe mile eight, if you’re lucky. Now you just feel “good.” You think, “’ Good’ will do.” And it does . . . until it doesn’t. Then, “good” tags out for “okay,” but “okay” doesn’t last long either. “Okay” vacates to make room for “not great.”
Soon you are feeling more bad than good. Eventually, the evil cousin of amazing—“ miserable”— claims squatter’s rights in your calves, quads, and hamstring muscles for the remainder of the race. If you finish at all, you swear off ever doing another race again. This downward spiral could have been avoided had you learned the fine art of pacing.
Throughout the Bible, we are trained with example after example on how to live the Christian life. Paul recaps a handful of them in Hebrews 11 and in 12: 1. He implores us to use their examples to spur us on before giving us this sage advice on running:
“. . . let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” —12:1b–2a (NIV)
Sin hinders us. It trips us up and weighs us down. Strap a dumbbell to each foot and try to run. That is sin. Cast it aside, however, and you’re more free not only to survive the race, but thrive in it.
As for our strategy, we have but one pace to run the race. It’s not, however, so much a speed, such as fast, slow, moderate, or swift. Our pace is a mindset and that mindset is, as Paul tells us in Hebrews, “with perseverance.”
Some translations say “endurance” and others say “patience.” The point is we never give up. Races are long, hard, and grueling. Therefore, it’s not about how fast we run, but about how we run . . . period. We should run with determination, purpose, and single-mindedness. Our pace is perseverance.
Keep in mind that although we’re all running the same race, we all will have different routes. My race will look different than yours. Yours is different than your best friend’s. Our goal, however, is the same: consistently surrendering our heart to God and following Him in obedience.
We can only do this by setting our hearts and minds on things above. By “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” Only He can direct our paths. Only He can supply our needs. Only He can perfect our faith.
When it comes to the race of stewardship, there are two things that kill most people’s financial progress. The first is the inability to be honest with themselves about their efforts. The second is lack of perseverance. People start fast but burn out faster. They lack the determination to keep going no matter what.
The truth is that the majority of budgeting tools and plans to get-debt free will work for most people. People just quit the race too soon. People don’t persevere.
However, when we adopt the mindset that our money does not truly belong to us (Psalm 24:1, Deuteronomy 8:18, Matthew 25:14-21), things change. Our goal becomes to consistently honor God with the wealth He gave us, whether modest or great, and trust Him with the results.We do this regardless of how tedious the budgeting or slowly the debt declines. We do this no matter how the markets behave or how quickly the retirement account grows. We do this no matter how easy it is, how good it feels, how fun it is, or how fast it happens.
When we commit to honoring God with finances no matter what, it is much easier to establish a healthy attitude toward possessions, wealth, and generosity. When we fix our eyes on Him, we no longer focus on the obstacles in the way. Or on the false timetables we create. Or on getting as financially secure as possible as quickly as possible. Fixing our eyes on Him enables us to persevere and to want to persevere.
If we trust Him with the race, we can trust Him with the pace.
Daily Spiritual Exercise: There is only one pace that produces a financially healthy outcome: perseverance. For the Christian, there is only one source that can sustain that perseverance.
Read Hebrews 11–12:3 out loud as part of your Bible reading for the day. You’ll read example after example of the persevering faith of some of the Bible’s greatest heroes. As you read it, let it serve as a reminder that the gun has sounded. The race has started. If we are to run in such a way as to get the prize, we will have to persevere. Only He can empower us to run without growing weary...without losing heart.
The Body Tithe Devotional can be purchased at Amazon.