Hey all, I decided to post a recent paper I wrote about God, running, and Psalm 119...enjoy!
Psalm 119 is a Psalm that is loved or feared, well studied or completely ignored; it is the Psalm that is usually not read unlike so many of its counterparts. Those who have studied this Psalm though have often come to a new depth of loving and trusting God’s Word, yet, in contrast, there are still those who fear and ignore it because of its length. Within this paper, we will examine the Word of God, specifically Psalm 119. We will also examine my own personal experiences with running and how those experiences relate to the study of God’s Word, who God is, and one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Being a distance runner, I regularly run for long periods of time which allows me plenty of time to listen to podcasts, think, pray, and also, for the purposes of this paper, meditate on God and His nature. I recently went on several runs where I focused on the words of Psalm 119, specifically verses 30-32, and how one’s relationship with God is like running. I also focused on how the implications of applying the mind of the runner to one’s spiritual life would not only enhance the individual’s personal relationship with Christ but would also deepen their understanding of who God is.
James Montgomery Boice wrote in Living by the Book that as we study God’s Word we must acknowledge the fact that, “God must be our teacher, yet there are nevertheless things that we must do” (40). In Psalm 119:30-32, one finds three key verbs that help the believer to know what to do with God’s Word and how to live. These three verbs are: choose, hold fast, and run (KJV). Three simple verbs can be the means to living out the words of Psalm 119 and relating to God. In a similar manner a runner must also choose, hold fast, and run as they train for the race that is set before them.
If one is to run in the way of God’s Word, they must first make a conscious choice to follow the training plan that He has laid out for us. One must choose to follow the commands of God to truly be able to, “Draw nigh to God” (KJV, James 4:8). Matthew Henry said in his commentary on the book of Psalms, “That those who will make anything to purpose of their religion must first make it their serious choice…We must choose to walk in this way, not because we know no other way, but because we know no better way” (692). In much the same way a good runner does not casually run, but chooses to follow a plan laid out before him so that he can improve in his running abilities. As I was recently running ten miles, I was thinking about the relationship between running and God, and I realized how one must daily make a conscious choice to follow the plan laid out before him, or there will be no improvement. If this is true for running how then can a man expect to see any improvement in his spiritual life without daily choosing to follow God’s plan, His commands that He has placed before us?
As we discuss the ability to choose, it is also seems evident that God’s will is also apparent in one’s ability to exercise his will to go on a ten mile run. When I made the choice to run ten miles, my will, or my resolve to see it to completion is what kept me going. Wayne Grudem in his book, Systematic Theology, similarly writes about God, “God’s will is that attribute of God whereby he determines to bring about every action…” (221). In a similar manner to what Grudem describes I chose to exercise my will and study Psalm 119, to run the spiritual race set before me as the Apostle Paul alluded to in his epistles. I also chose to exercise my God given will to run ten miles. When one chooses to exercise his will in these ways he will begin to get a glimpse of the nature and character of God.
As one chooses to walk in the commands of the Lord, and he begin to make this decision daily, “holding fast” to those very same commands becomes a natural byproduct of the consistent choice that has been made. In his Psalms commentary, Henry says, “I have stuck to thy testimonies…I have chosen them, and therefore I have stuck to them” (692). It is during my long runs that my premeditated decision to go for a long run helps me to stick to the training plan so that I do not falter. Even in the course of researching this paper, the temptation to quit a long run was strong, but the decision to run long had been made, and that helped me to hold fast to the training plan. James Boice additionally comments, in Living by the Book, that the same Hebrew word for hold fast in verse 31 of Psalms 119 is also found in verse 25 and that it literally means “to cleave.” He goes on to talk about how just as the Psalmist cleaved to the dust in his humiliation in verse 25, so now after making the choice to follow the commands of the Lord he is able to cleave to promises of scripture that will help him to run well because he stands humbly before the Lord (40-41). Whether running physically or spiritually, one must cleave to the plan set before him. It is only by choosing and cleaving that the runner is able to live out the last verb of our set of three: run.
As I have run recently, there are things such as soreness, scheduling issues, and life’s pressures that would keep me from continuing to run well, but I cast those things off so that I do not veer from my training plan and that I might see my goals accomplished. Verse 32 of Psalm 119 says, “I will run the way of thy commandments.” He who has chosen to walk in the ways of the Word, and then holds fast to the Word, is empowered to run in the command of the Lord. Hebrews 12:1 speaks to this very topic, “…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” (KJV) As we fix our gaze on the run set before us, we become able to say as the Apostle Paul did in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my race, I have kept the faith.” (KJV) In running, as in faith, when the choice is made to run according to the training plan and then one hold fast to that plan even in the hardest of runs, the natural progression of events leads to running well the race that has been set before us to completion.
All of this talk of running begs one to ask, why run? Ultimately I am inspired to run because when I run, and I am focused on God, I sense the glory, honor, or pleasure of God. The great missionary to China and Olympic athlete Eric Liddell is quoted in the movie “Chariots of Fire” as saying, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” Like Eric, I also know God made me for a purpose, but when I run, and I have dedicated it all to Him, I get a taste of the glory of God. It had been some time since I had connected with the Lord in this way on my runs, but in the course of my meditating on God in a recent run I again came to a place where I knew the glory of God. Grudem says in his book Systematic Theology, “The greatness of God’s being, the perfection of all of his attributes, is something that we can never fully comprehend, but before we can only stand in awe and worship” (221). As I ran for this project, I once again gained a sense of the greatness of God, and as I ran, I worshiped. In nearly the same way, as we run the spiritual race set before us the glory of God is revealed to us and we come to a place in our spiritual race where we too stand in awe and worship.
Psalm 119 brings before the reader the value of the Word of God and how, through choosing to follow its commands and holding fast to them, we are able to run in those commands. The man who would live out the three verbs found in verses 30-32 will begin to experience the Glory of God. He will find the power to run the race to its end. In reference to running the race Eric Liddle also had this to say, “Where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within. Jesus said, ‘Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you. If with all your hearts, you truly seek me, you shall ever surely find me.’ If you commit yourself to the love of Christ, then that is how you run a straight race,” “Chariots of Fire.” When one purposes in his heart to choose, hold fast, and run he will surely run a straight race to its completion.
In running, one trains for numerous hours, runs hundreds of miles, usually all for the goal of peaking, running their very best, at one big race. The training is not the point, but a means to reaching a goal. During the training, something happens to the runners mind set though where they begin to get a glimpse of what the big race will look like, and then they begin to delight in the workouts tasting the prize that is set before them. In a similar fashion following the commands of God is not necessarily the point of Psalm 119, but the means to the end of running a race that is pleasing to God. We run the race that brings us into fellowship with Him where we might gain a glimpse of His good nature and glory. The commands of His Word are important as they reveal the nature and character of God, but as we train ourselves in them we begin to delight in them, and as we delight in them we also delight in Him. It is then we are able to glimpse the Glory of God and the end of the race. It is when we begin to delight in the Lord in this way that we are able to live out the words of the Apostle Paul found in 1 Corinthians 9:25-27, “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things...I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means…I myself should be a castaway” (KJV). The glimpse that we gain pushes us to finish well the race set before us. This glimpse of the glory of God is, of course, but a foretaste of the prize that awaits those who run well and finish the race as we will stand before the King and behold him in all of His Glory. It is on that day we will be assured that all of the training that went into running the straight race was worth the pain and suffering that is endured to see the race to its completion.
Through the course of this paper we have examined Psalm 119, running, and how they both relate to God and our relationship with him. We have also examined my personal experience with running and how it has taught me about the nature and character of God, and how to grow in a deeper relationship with Him. In conclusion, we have seen how one can relate to God in something as simple as running and even gain a glimpse into the nature and character of God pushing us onward to the prize we have in Christ Jesus our Lord (KJV, Philippians 4:13).