Christian: Will You Negative Split Your Life?

The most positive thing a Christian can do is negative split their life.

Sound counterintuitive? Sound wrong?  If you know anything about running, you’ll know that a  negative split is a great thing; indeed it’s what you are looking for in a race.  A negative split is when you do better, run faster, in the second half of a race than in the first half. Something kicks in and you finish strong.

And, since you asked, for a rare occasion in a half marathon I negative split my race last weekend at the Perth Half Marathon, with a final ten km of 40 minutes and five seconds (if that means anything to anyone). Usually I am grimacing by the 15km mark of a 21.1, but not this time: Didn’t get passed.  Passed a few people.  Felt strong.  A negative split.

The curious, and sad, thing was watching a fellow runner staggering along on the side, injured, or just having blown up, shouting and yelling about how useless he felt in life.  As my wise coach says to me: “Running is a great servant and a terrible master”.

Finishing Strong?

So what about negative splitting your Christian life?  What about making the second half stronger, more purposeful than the first half of it?

I say that in the light of being a Christian long enough to see peers either seemingly struggle to reach the finish line and settled into a low grade anger or cynicism, or give up altogether and go down some sidewalk.  It’s not unusual for me to meet fifty or sixty-year-old men who, having started the race with joy and endurance, go into positive split territory or leave the faith altogether, and all the time getting closer to the finish chute.

It’s not unusual for me to meet fifty or sixty-year-old men who, having started the race with joy and endurance, go into positive split territory or leave the faith altogether. The lure of an easier life never goes away for the Christian.

I turn fifty-one next month (where did that celebratory lap at turning fifty go?) and it strikes me that the lure of the world, and the lure of an easier life never goes away for the Christian.  It’s something you never imagine at twenty-five when you look at the fifty-year-olds in church.  But it’s true.

Jesus intimates as much in the parable of the soils. Alongside the rocky and the thorn-bound soils, only the last soil holds up—runs a negative split, so to speak.

The Quitting King

This struck me forcefully recently as I read about the career of King Jehoash in Kings 11 & 12. Jehoash is wonderfully saved from death by one of his half-sisters, and grows up to be king under the instruction of the godly priest Jehoiada. He initiates some reforms in Judah that lead people back to temple worship of God.

But 2Kings 12 tells us, strangely and tragically, that Jehoash’s servants conspire against him and kill him at the age of 47. It seems such a waste. Such a random act. … Until we read the parallel chapters in 2 Chronicles and hear the backstory.

It turns out that killing was not such a random act, after all.

Jehoash had the worst of all splits.  After being guided by the godly priest Jehoiada for so long, the king started to heed the advice of the local Judean princes instead. What starts off in his reign as temple worship and dedication to God, became idol worship. As 2Chronicles 24 puts it: “The king listened to them. And they abandoned the house of the LORD, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols.”

After being wonderfully rescued from death, and being given a task to reform Judah, Jehoash abandons the race.

After being wonderfully rescued from death, and being given a task to reform Judah, Jehoash abandons the race.

Worse still, after the death of Jehoiada, the king refuses to listen to the counsel of Jehoida’s son and (faithful) heir, Zechariah.  The text records the ugly turn of events like this:

Then the Spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, and he stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God, ‘Why do you break the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.’” But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord. Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son. And when he was dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge!”
(2Chronicles 24:20-22)

What a terrible split!  It looks like he did not even finish the race because, we are told next, that his servants conspired to kill him.  What a waste of a life that God has preserved so miraculously at the start.

The Ultimate Runner

But what a contrast Jesus provides. When the author of Hebrews writes to Christians who are mid-race and in danger of dropping out, his exhortations move from the example of former believers, to warnings about sin, and finally to the one who ran the perfect race:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:1-2)

Hebrews 12 goes on to list some the things that stop people finishing the race: bitterness, divisiveness, sexual immorality, worldly-greed (vv12-16). These are things that I too have observed as race-killers. What’s more, their dangers seem to be increasing as we hit hardening secular times. The hearth gods of comfort and ease can waylay even the most steady Christian runners—just as, in the hardest races I run, there is always that little voice inside saying “Give up, pull over to the side, it’s not worth trying to finish now.”  

The hearth gods of comfort and ease can waylay even the most steady Christian runners. There is always that little voice inside saying “Give up, pull over to the side, it’s not worth trying to finish now.

But here’s our confidence.  We’ve got a racing champion whose sole intent is to get us there.  And he’s run the race before us and beaten everyone’s PB. In Christ, victory has been assured.  He is the true winner.  Our victory is not our own, it is his victorious race which he empowers us with and calls us to emulate.

We can run a negative split not because “Impossible is Nothing” (or whatever), but because Christ has gone before us. When we run with him we share in the prize he has already won—a prize beyond this age that will make all the hard training worthwhile; all the mid-race mind-games and the fear of not finishing, fall by the wayside.

How are you going mid-race?


Photo: pxhere.com
First published at https://stephenmcalpine.com

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