Joshua Stewart's picture

By Joshua Stewart, Pastor Goodwill Church, New Paltz, NY

Reprinted with permission of the author.

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This past weekend, I participated in my first Spartan Race with a group from our church. For those unfamiliar with these races, they are regionally-staged events that combine terrain distance running with a variety of physical and strength challenges. They have become wildly popular, and have spawned a number of similar competitions like the Tough Mudder, the Warrior Dash, and even one where zombies chase after you (no, not real zombies).  

I must confess a couple things. One, I was not sure how this would go. Over the past few months, having grown frustrated with my lack of physical health and stamina, I have committed myself to a regimen of proper diet and fitness. However, I knew full well that I had not prepared adequately for the rigors of the Spartan Race. And two, I have always struggled with sloth. I know this may come as a big surprise, but part of the reason I remain so busy is because I have to, because my propensity to stop and remain stopped is overwhelmingly present in my life, and always has been. So the prospect of the Spartan Race, quite honestly, was an intimidating challenge.

Let me put this simply and bluntly: this race changed my life. 
I needed this race. 
I needed a new perspective, and I got it.

The last few weeks have been a painful time for me. In the midst of a very fruitful yet busy season of ministry, my mother was involved in a horrific car accident, walking away with only a broken hand. However, the hours following the accident (awaiting the full battery of test results) were among the most stressful in recent memory. Added to that were litany of other personal, relational, and ministerial strains that brought me to the starting gate of this race hobbled, beaten, and in need of personal triage. As we began the rapid ascent up the first hill, something happened in me. 

It was a picture of the human race. 
It was the Spartan Race of this Earthly life.
It was as if God was giving me a tangible illustration of my life as a follower of Christ.

The Bible speaks with regularity about the race of life. Paul’s writings, most prolifically, capture the analogy of our journey from birth to death, and the comparisons we can make to a distance running event. You’ve heard the expression, “Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” I think that’s wrong.

Life is a Spartan Race.

As I traversed the steep hills and jutted valleys of Tuxedo Ridge, God gave me a tangible vision of the human experience. There are none of us that have it easy. There are none exempted from the pain and weariness of the confines of this Earthly existence. With every step, I recognized the need for intentionality and care because, at any moment when I least expected it, I could lose my footing and crash to the ground. 

There are countless analogies of the Spartan Race and the Human Race, but here are seven major takeaways, seven deep correlations I drew from running my first Spartan.

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So often, in the journey of life, we forget that there are seasons, chapters of our lives that pass before we know it. Nothing is permanent, and yet with the mindless monotony of daily routine, we sometimes feel trapped, believing that we will never escape. Let me assure you that we are moving forward, and that the present trials will not be permanent nor pervasive. You will overcome, and when you do, another obstacle awaits. And with every challenge conquered, you are one step closer to home.

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For many of us, the highest goal in life is safety. We live guarded lives of self-preservation and, in doing so, insulate our souls from both joy and pain, from both agony and ecstasy. I am often reminded of the quote from the movie Braveheart, eloquently delivered by Mel Gibson: “Every man dies; not every man really lives.” A defensive posture in life serves nothing, but the belief that we will conquer, we will be victorious because we journey with the Victor by our side, will carry us through every painful, muddy trial.

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One of the pleasant surprises of the race is the camaraderie that arises amongst strangers throughout this grueling competition. Along the journey, there are people encouraging others who are struggling, and lending a helping hand to those in need. It represents the best of humanity, but also the best of what the Church is intended to be. When people ask me if they “have to” attend church to be a Christian, I am intrigued. Why would we want to endure this blood-stained, tear-filled, faith-fueled journey alone? We would do well to realize that we aren’t alone; Christ is with us, in the form of His Spirit and His Church.

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Much of our modern experience encourages us to cut corners. But the Spartan Race doesn’t allow for it. With every obstacle I came to, it demanded confrontation. To avoid the obstacle, to attempt a shortcut, required an equally (or possibly more) difficult exertion of energy than simply confronting the challenge head-on (in the form of 30 Burpies). It teaches an important life lesson: every shortcut, in an attempt to derive immediate benefit, leads to long-term detriment. In the Spartan, as in life, love and ministry, there are NO shortcuts. (To read how many of these same life lessons are packaged into a similar race experience for children read CG Victory - Serious Adventure, No Kidding.)

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Spartans come in all ages, shapes and sizes. One of the intimidating things, if you are a first-time Spartan like I was, is to see a variety of people who appear, on the outside, like they are more prepared than you are for the rigors of Spartanhood. If there is one thing that destroys a person’s dignity, it’s covetousness. It is believing the lie that, because someone else appears to have more than you have, you are lacking. The Spartan spirit, much like the Christian ethic, is that each person has what it takes to run the race and finish the course. The victory is not in the swiftness with which you run the race, but instead in the overcoming spirit with which you accomplish your goal. Some are faster than others, but each one runs the race according to their skill, ability and endurance. In the end, all those who finish receive the same medal.

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If you are in the race, you’re “all in.” Recent Christian sentiment has dealt extensively with the mantra of being “all in.” It is a response to the tepid Christianity that has marked the Western world of the past fifty-to-one-hundred years. However, I realized something as I ran the race: “all in” is not about attitude or performance. It’s about reality. If you are alive, if you are living and breathing, you are “all in.” This is especially true in family life. You have no choice. The race is on, and you are struggling and fighting and scrapping to move forward. Often, we load on the “shoulds” of life, thinking that we need more commitment or a better attitude or a deeper faith. When the Apostle Peter informs us that, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness,” we begin to see the picture of what it really means to be “all in.” We have no way out; the race is on and we are in it. And God has equipped us with everything we need to win the prize. It’s guaranteed by His grace.

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The last one hundred yards are the best. Your body having surrendered long ago to your stubborn will, sees its redemption just ahead. The crowd is cheering you on as you arrive to the final, quite fitting obstacle: the fire jump. With the cramped legs of exhaustion, you hurdle over the flames of death, feebly unable to lure you into their eternal hold. You cross the finish line and immediately receive a medal, an embrace and the assurance that the race is finally over. Heaven promises to be just like this: incredible joy at the tangible reality that it was all worth it. 

Two days removed from the race, my body still feels the effects. But my soul is stronger than it was on Friday. I didn’t give up. I made it.

And so will you. 

Journey on, Spartan of God. The race is long and hard. But the prize, the high calling of bringing glory and honor to God through your life’s journey, is eternally worth it.

AROO!!! (the Spartan shout)        Read more of Joshua Stewart's Blog postings.

This article appears in the October/November 2016 issue of Faith & Fitness Magazine. For more content about intense forms of training go to the Intense Intents section of our Training Department.

About the Author

  • Joshua Stewart's picture
    Joshua Stewart is the Branch Pastor, Goodwill Church - New Paltz. He has his Bachelors of Science from Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business and his Masters of Divinity from Nyack Alliance Theological Seminary. Joshua’s passion is to see lives authentically transformed by the person and power of Jesus Christ. Fluent in Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, it is his heart’s desire to see Goodwill become both a multicultural local expression of the body of Christ. Married to his college sweetheart, Denise, for over 20 years, they have three children.

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