Is it a Marathon or a Sprint?

March 29, 2012

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Which one of these statements describes your life? Is it a:

– Marathon or a sprint?
– Drive through coffee or waiting for it to brew?
– Sit down restaurant or fast food?
– An Atm or walking in and seeing the bank teller?

Perhaps the harder question to answer would be, is it :

One good, record-setting season or a lengthy, consistent, high performing, championship career?

I’ve been reading Jim Collins’s book, Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All. He identifies successful companies as ones that take the “20 mile journey.” They don’t merely look for the quick fix, or even seek to capitalize on all a moment may hold. Instead, they seek steady, incremental growth over the long-term. This is common among the best companies.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Successestimates that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in something. Mastering our craft is not the result of a sprint.

Recently I was interviewed in Life Overseas, the blog of Laura Parker. She asked: What is the biggest mistake new missionaries make during their first year on the field? My answer was: “Missionaries often attempt to hit the ground running rather than taking time to plant roots and build relationships. Many things start fast, but fizzle out quickly. Start with an attitude of “what can be learned” rather than “what can I give.”

The longer I have been at this thing called missions, I see that slow and steady wins the race. I may have a few flash in the pan, newsletter headlines along the way. But the goal is to see something outlast me.

This takes time.

A friend of mine recently consoled me about my increasing age by saying, “40’s is when you do something.” I think he is on to something. In our 20’s we explore and investigate. In our 30’s we choose a path and start to gain some skills. Finally, after all the preparation, we are ready to do something; something significant that God has for us.

God is very much one who thinks for the long-term.

In Deuteronomy 20:19-20, God tells the Israelites to go in and possess the land. These people have seen the miraculous deliverance of God many times in their lives. They may be thinking He will just wipe out their enemies. Look instead what He says:

“When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siege works against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.”

Is God really this concerned about the trees?
No, He is concerned with the future.

It would be much easier to wipe out all the trees as they capture the city. God, who knows the future, sees they will be hungry and these fruit trees will be of benefit to them. Something which slows them down in the present, becomes a blessing in the future.

God is the God of the supernatural, but he often chooses to walk with us in the journey.

Will your journey be a sprint; full of eye-catching headlines, with nothing lasting to show?

Or, will you pursue steady progress, content with a gradual forward movement, over your lifetime? As we do this, we leave behind a legacy for the generations after us.

Life is a marathon. Let’s run faithfully and consistently. Let’s strive for high performance over our career rather than “one great year.”

God is patient. Are we?

Photo: by mattsches at Creative Commons by Flckr.
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Chris

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A missionary teacher for 24 years currently living in South Africa. I am a recovering superhero, daily in need of the grace of God