Inspiration, Encouragement & Instructions
". . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
Strengthening Your Mind - Taking thoughts captive on the racecourse and in life
This is part of the, Run For Your Life, series of posts written to encourage those of you who already run, and inspire those of you who are thinking about picking it up. But even if running is nowhere in your past, present or future, I pray something about the message or the reflection questions will relate to your life. Links to other posts in this series are on the sidebar (or at the bottom of this page, if viewing on your phone).
If you have been running for any amount of time, you are keenly aware that training runs and racing are vastly different in strategy. When heading out on a training run, even if it is a speedwork or double-digit-distance day, there may be set in your mind a goal for pace or distance, but the pressure is far less than when lining up for a race. When training, it's just you and your goals, and maybe a friend or two out there putting on miles.
In contrast, race day running is preceded by the measuring of food and water intake, the stowing away of gels and water into a race belt, pre-running the course in your mind and managing nerves that could bulldoze a rhino if let loose from your mind and muscles to run at full force in a single direction.
Harnessing nerves and preparing for the mental challenge of race day is hard work. Training runs, even some of the most challenging ones, do not replicate race day, making it hard to train the mind to handle the pressures that come with aiming to perform at one’s best in competition. And yet, as the years have slipped under my running feet, I am realizing more and more how it is the mental battle that needs winning in order to reach peek performance. However, knowing this and performing as if I really believed it, are distinctly different.
Because training my muscles is easy, well, at least when compared to training my thoughts. To train my muscles and lungs, I print out a training plan, I adapt said training plan to my life’s schedule, and then I (mostly) execute the plan. I run 800s on Monday, a tempo run on Wednesday, get my long run in with friends on Friday and run a few other miles in between.
Check. Check. Check.
But a training plan for the thoughts in my mind, I don’t have one of those. What would it even look like?
Maybe I should make one. Better yet, maybe you should make one for me and share it.
But really, it is hard to train one’s mind for competition because you are likely the only one who knows what happens in the screaming silence that devours the miles of a racecourse. The longer the race, the more endurance needed in winning the mental battle every runner faces between the start and the finish line. This remains the reality, no matter how well trained a runner’s muscles are, it is her head that will likely determine the numbers on her watch at the end of the race.
Many of us know this mind-over-matter truth. We know this is true in the non-running portion of our lives as well. What we think, how we process the days behind us and what we tell ourselves about our abilities to cover the day ahead, determine the pace at which we will move forward. And yet, there is no training plan to print off and execute for this component of our journey toward overcoming battles of spirit, mind, and body.
So, what are we to do?
How do we frame our muscle and heart-rate training into a strategy that will also train our thoughts to get strong too?
We practice taking thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) all the live-long day. (Preaching to myself, friend!)
Did you know you have the power to agree to or deny entry of your thoughts into your mind’s sanctuary of truth?
Yes, you get to decide to let lies be masked as truth or to cast them out and replace them with a truth that is just that, truth. You can decide to let doubt be your guide or push it aside with optimism and hope.
For example, when I am exhausted and this thought comes to mind, “You don’t have enough energy to keep going. Just do that later. It won’t matter either way.” I can deny the thought, and replace it with something like, “No. That isn’t true. I have trained for this. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. And if he has me on this course today, and has put a goal in my heart, then through Him, I can do this. My muscles and lungs are well trained, I am choosing to believe my mind muscles are strong enough too.”
To be clear, it is not simply will-power and mind control that gets a runner to her goals. Both muscle and mental strength are necessary. The training miles help the mind to be confident in the muscle's abilities and strengthen a runner’s capacity to be honest with herself. If I don’t put the hard days of speedwork and double-digit-mileage in, I won’t be telling myself the truth when I say to my negative thoughts, “You’ve put in the time. You are strong. You’ve got this.” Because if I haven’t trained hard, then those are unfounded “positive” thoughts, not based on reality.
How does all of this relate, then, to our day-to-day race of faith?
We have power in the Holy Spirit to conquer all the battles we face, whether they be spiritual, relational, emotional, or physical. There is no doubt about it, God’s word, the Bible, is full of promises for our good. And we all have a race we are called to run toward heaven, one that is hallmarked by fixing our eyes on Jesus and bringing other people with us to meet him. But dang, that finish line seems a long way off, doesn’t it?
We can get weary and lose our focus so easily because this race, this one we walk by faith, is in so many ways opposite of the races we run on roads. When I run races with my feet, there is a distinct difference between training days and race day. There is a 12-week plan, and then a race day. Living for Jesus and sharing the Gospel with others seems a lot less clear cut. One hour you might be training and the next hour the race is on. The ebb and flow of training and race are not nicely printed out for us on a calendar.
So, how do we do it?
How do we get spirit strong and mind strong for our day-to-day lives?
We train our mind and spirit to be strong enough to handle the race. We make the spiritual disciplines our “workout” routines and we consistently prepare for the next race. We might not know when race day is, but we can trust that we are ready for it because we have put in the mileage of praise, worship, prayer, fasting, forgiveness, memorizing of Scripture, and calling on the name of Jesus to be our sight. The more time we spend in these routines, the stronger our ability to also train our thoughts to deny lies and find strength in truth.
But just like it would be a lie to tell my thoughts my legs and lungs are strong when I haven’t trained them to be, so too my spirit and mental strength. I can’t fight back the doubt and fear that comes to hinder my relationship with God and others with truthful thoughts if I haven’t spent time submerging myself in time spent with the source of truth, The Trinity. I won’t have a well of hope to draw from if I haven’t spent time filling the spaces of my heart with praise, prayer, and Scripture. Just like I can’t call on muscles that aren’t worked hard enough to be made strong when I am in the middle of a race, neither can I call on a power source that I haven’t spent time with.
Both training and racing are running, but the body and mind must perform differently in each scenario in order for the runner to meet her goals. Certainly, the training prepares one's muscles and lungs for race day; it also prepares her to have strong truths with which to fight against the doubtful thoughts that will try to take her of course when she hits a wall.
We train not just for the strength to move our legs as fast as they can go, we train also to remind ourselves that come race day, we can confidently press on toward the goal with perseverance that overcomes from the power given to us in Christ to take every thought captive and turn it over to the obedience Christ. So that in all things we can rely on truth to fuel our thoughts and determine our capacity to cross the finish line successful in heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Keep running my friend. Keep training and racing and believing that you are capable of all things when you set your mind on Christ and submit to His training plan for your life. Lean into the Holy Spirit as your guide and don’t quit practicing the spiritual disciplines taught in the Bible. The finish line just might be closer than we think. Let’s spur one another on, all the way there.
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Her family and friends know her as, Jaci. She is the wife of a pastor, a mom of four, writing and communications education instructor, a visionary and an avid runner. As a firm believer in the power and effectiveness of the body of Christ united together to live out the Great Commission, she holds fast to this verse, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Of equal importance to her are these words, "...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Posts in the Run for Your Life, series: