Over the weekend I ran a marathon in South Dakota. It was hard!
I have a goal of running a marathon in each of the 50 states by the time I am fifty. South Dakota was the seventh state. I have a little more than a decade left to reach my #50by50 goal.
The marathon that I ran over the weekend, the “Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon”, was both awesome and exhausting. It was 26.2 miles following what used to be a train line, and ending in the historic town of Deadwood, South Dakota.
The first half of the marathon was practically all uphill. We started by running downhill for the first mile and a half, and then climbed nearly twelve hundred feet of gain over the course of the next twelve miles. It was brutal.
After that first mile and a half of downhill, which was on paved road, the course switched to gravel trail. Instantly I began to collect little rocks in my shoes. With each step the pebbles pounded more and more into the bottom of my foot. I have blisters and bruises all across the bottom of my foot. I can honestly say that I have never experienced that before.
To make things a bit more interesting, we had 20-30 mph headwind. As we were marching up the trail, higher and higher, the wind just kept blowing harder and harder directly into my face. I noticed early on that several people had tucked in behind me to shield themselves from the fury of the relentless headwind—they were using my body as protection.
No worries… What are friends for, right?
Honestly, it would have been easy to just give up. Running that marathon was hard work! But I knew that a sweet reward was coming…
Just beyond the halfway point, the trail turned from uphill to downhill. I couldn’t wait for that moment! And when it came, it was glorious!
I finished the marathon in 3 hours and 26 minutes, and finished 14th overall.
Even though every step of that first half was hard, the whole experience reminded me of something the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians.
Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.Galatians 6:9, ESV
Of course, Paul was not talking about running a marathon, but I think there are similarities that are worth considering.
The similarities also remind me of a story I heard a couple of years ago while traveling around doing prison ministry in Alabama.
I met a man there who grew up wanting to have nothing to do with Jesus. His grandmother prayed for him constantly, but he didn’t care. All he cared about was drugs and money. From the age of 14 he spent his time in and out of correctional facilities for crimes ranging anywhere from theft, to possession of drugs, to selling drugs. It seemed that he was always in trouble. He didn’t care that he was in trouble—he only cared about the fact that he got caught. He never felt bad about the crimes he was committing, he only felt bad about not committing them more carefully so as to avoid getting caught.
His life motto was, “Live by the drugs, die by the drugs.”
The first part of his life was like that South Dakota marathon. It was an uphill battle, into the wind, on rocky terrain.
Everything changed in this man’s life when he stepped beyond even his own moral line and took the life of another human being.
Suddenly, he felt the weight of all of his sin. He was burdened beyond belief with the blood of another. He felt like he would be a fugitive until death. There was no help for him. He didn’t realize it at the time, but he was experiencing the words of Proverbs 28:17.
If one is burdened with the blood of another, he will be a fugitive until death; let no one help him.Proverbs 28:17, ESV
Unable to live with himself, he decided to end his life. What better way to do it than to overdose on the very drugs that had gotten him into this situation, right?
He made a plan and intended to carry it out, but then the unexpected happened. A young girl knocked on his door and asked if she could talk with him. The young girl, undoubtedly prompted and empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, shared the gospel with the man, who put his faith in Christ!
That amazing woman managed to block the fury of Satan’s relentless attacks, protecting him, and pointing him to the only person who could protect him for all of eternity—Jesus!
After their conversation, the man did not follow through with taking the drugs. Instead, he slept peacefully. He woke up the next day, took a shower, and drove himself to the sheriff’s office to confess to his crimes. He turned himself in.
He found no help by way of having his crimes erased, but he found true help in the form of knowing Christ, of putting his faith in Christ alone for salvation, and of knowing that he had been forgiven for ALL of his sins through Christ’s work on the cross!
The man is now out of prison, He has been pastoring for years, has led many other people to Jesus, and is actively involved in prison ministry, himself.
God is so good!
The man’s mantra is no longer “Live by the drugs, die by the drugs”… but is now the powerful words of the Apostle Paul: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”