Once upon a time, I ran a few marathons. Four, to be exact. I ran two in Nashville, one in Memphis, and one in Tucson. And while all four of them were unique, they were also the same. That is, each one was 26.2 miles, and if you’ve never made the choice to do such a thing to yourself, let me sum up my personal experience of what a marathon is:
A marathon is when you pay money to feel terrible for several months.
I’m kidding, of course… sort of. Because I really did feel terrible each and every time. I personally have never experience that mythical moment of a “runner’s high”, when you are filled with renewed energy and a sense of euphoria. Instead, at about mile 20, I felt like my internal organs were shutting down. And about mile 23 I was sure that this is what death felt like. But I finished the race… and, in one instance, I passed out in the parking lot. But eventually anyone, including me, recovers from that kind of thing. And when I finished the fourth one and could finally get out of the bed, I found my way to a computer and checked my time.
It was bad. Really bad. And I remember thinking, I can do better than that. So I immediately searched for my fifth marathon and signed up it.
I started the training process over again, until a few weeks later when the alarm clock went off and I woke up to hear the sound of rain drops falling outside. It was then I realized that I just don’t like running that much. So I went back to sleep and didn’t run again for a year.
Upon reflection, I think that happened because I realized my “what” had outpaced my “why.” Under the weight of the circumstances of that morning, my “what” collapsed.
Of course, it wasn’t always that way. With the first races, my “why” was about achieving something I thought was beyond me. It was about pushing limits. It was about setting a hard goal and working toward it. But that “why” didn’t last. And when your “what” is a particularly big thing, your “why” better be big enough to sustain it.
It occurs to me that this is why Paul always seems to tie his commands in the New Testament to the gospel in the New Testament. The commands are the “what;” the gospel is the “why”:
Love, as Christ has loved you.
Forgive, as Christ has forgiven you.
Serve, for Christ has served you.
Take the last place, for Christ has taken it for you.
It’s important to see the link between these two things because if we don’t, we will always be crushed under the “what”, because the “what” is exceedingly difficult. Impossible, even. Because Jesus won’t allow His followers to settle for the minimum; He’s always moving us toward more. He isn’t interested in us only loving the people who are kind to us; we are to love our enemies. He isn’t interested in us just leading churches and business and families; we are to lead through serving. He isn’t interested in us just writing an occasional check; we are to be generous to our own detriment.
These are hard things. And perhaps we can bear these “what’s” for a while, but there will come a day when we just don’t feel like it any more. The “what” will be too demanding; too unreasonable; too painful. The weight will be too heavy and the cost will feel too great. It’s in that moment that we need a might “why” to keep us going.
Fortunately for us, we have the mightiest “why” imaginable, for no matter “what” is required of us as we follow Jesus, Jesus has already done more. Not only that, but in the “why” we find grace to make up for what we lack in the “what” over and over again.
Don’t let your “what” outpace your “why,” friends. But also remember that when your “what” falls short, which it will, your “why” is there to catch you.