Running After Jesus With Joy

I’ve been having a tough month in terms of mental health. Things are going well in my life but I feel anxious, stressed, and glum.

One of the things I’ve learned is that even with all the tools I have for working through emotionally tough times the things I’m struggling with don’t just go away once you slap a little prayer and therapy on them (at least not all the time). You’ve just got to keep doing things that are healthy for you, allow yourself some time to rest, ask for and give yourself grace when you make mistakes, and keep moving forward. Patience, perseverance, and asking trusted people for help are key to getting through mental health struggles just as they are with any other trials we face.

The Bible talks about our Christian life as running a race. There are times when running this race that people get off track. For example, Paul wrote to the Galatians, “You were running well! Who interfered with you that you should not obey the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you” (Gal. 5:7-10, NET). Usually when the Bible speaks of getting off-track it’s talking about sin. But I think we can also apply part of what Paul says here more broadly–the things that hinder us from running are not coming from the God who calls us to follow Him. They’re coming from an adversary who wants to see us fail; one that we can resist with God’s help.

Image of a girl sitting with her head on her arms by a lake, with this quote: “Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ." the quote is by C.S. Lewis, from Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.
Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Running Away Isn’t Going to Help

Everyone deals with emotional struggles and mental health issues differently, and those struggles trigger different responses in different people. I tend to withdraw, and I often feel like I want to hide or run away from something. I need to be very careful that this doesn’t make me want to run from God as well.

We’re engaged in spiritual warfare. When we choose to follow Jesus, we’re picking a side in a battle. One of the lies that the enemy tries to tell us is that if you do something God might not like it’s better to run away from Him than run to Him and ask for forgiveness and/or help. Adam and Eve tried hiding in the garden and we’ve been using the same trick ever since. It doesn’t work any better now than it did then.

We human beings are always heading on a path toward either death or life, and it’s far better to run down the path to God rather than the path toward the devil. The only people who should feel like they need to flee God are those that hate him (Psalm 68:1). He’s frightening if you’re setting yourself in opposition to Him, and people who are doing things God hates might feel the need to run when He rises up to take action (Prov. 6:16-19; Is. 59:7). Even then, though He’s astonishingly merciful to people who stop running in the wrong direction and run toward Him instead.

The times when we feel most like running away from God are often the times when we most need to run to Him for help. Whether we’ve actually done something wrong or if we’re beset by groundless fears, heading toward God is the solution. In the first situation we can ask for forgiveness and receive His grace, and in the other we can ask for His peace and receive reassurance.

Image of an eagle flying over a mountain lake, with text from Isaiah 40:31, NET version: "But those who wait for the Lord’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without 
growing weary, they walk without getting tired."
Image by Ondřej Šponiar from Pixabay

Running With a Free Heart

God’s people are supposed to do the opposite of what people who hate him or don’t know Him do. Jesus’s sheep run from a stranger’s voice, not taking the risk of being led away from their real shepherd (John 10:4-5). We no longer run alongside people in the world toward “lewdness, lusts, drunken binges, orgies, carousings, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3-4, WEB). Many of us used to do those things (and if we didn’t do those we committed other sins) and God forgave us, but now He wants us to flee from sexual immorality, idolatry, and all other evil desires (1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 2 Tim. 2:22).

People who follow God know it’s safe to run to Him. We run to God for protection (Ps. 143:9; Prov. 18:10; Jer. 16:19). We run in the straight and narrow path lit by God’s word that keeps our feet from stumbling (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 4:11-12; Matt. 7:13-14). We run to Godly things and “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness” (1 Tim. 6:11, WEB). We run like our Christian life is a marathon that we’ll finish with Jesus running right alongside us.

I run in the path of your commandments, for you have set my heart free.

Psalm 119:32, WEB

I don’t think I’d ever noticed this verse before even though I’ve read Psalm 119 countless times. It might be the translation, since the Hebrew more literally reads “for you make wide my heart,” which can be translated as something like “thou shalt enlarge my heart” (KJV) or “you have broadened my understanding” (NIV). I like this “set my heart free” translation, though. It makes me think of running across a sunlit summer meadow laughing and full of joy. That’s the emotional landscape provided by running in the path of God’s commandments. While we’re not guaranteed happiness 100% of the time, we can be full of joy. Having a heart set free accompanies God’s spirit filling us with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23, NET).

Running Well With God’s Help

We can’t do any of this joyful running without God’s help. Our success doesn’t depend on our will to run, but on God’s mercy (Rom. 9:15-16). That’s a reassuring thing, especially when our will doesn’t feel up to the task of getting out of bed in the morning much less fighting an epic spiritual battle. We can’t win this race using our own strength, but we don’t have to. We don’t even need to try; we can just ask Jesus for His strength.

That does not, however, mean we shouldn’t strive to run well. We can’t finish the race without God compassionately setting us on the right path in the first place, but we also won’t win if we sit down and give up. God’s mercy and grace should motivate us to run with endurance toward the goal He sets for us.

Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win. Each competitor must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run uncertainly or box like one who hits only air. Instead I subdue my body and make it my slave, so that after preaching to others I myself will not be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-29, NET

There isn’t just one winner in the race that’s our Christian life, but we should still imitate the high motivation of a runner who wants to achieve victory. Here, Paul highlights the self-control and discipline with which he lives his life because he knows he can’t coast into the kingdom resting on his past accomplishments (Gal. 2:1-2; Phil. 2:15-16). He was highly motivated to stick with this way of life and keep moving forward with Jesus’s strength (2 Cor. 12:7-10; Phil 4:13).

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2, NET

When struggling with anxiety or other mental and emotional concerns, it helps to remember that our life is a long-term race with ups and downs. We’re not facing anything that faithful people before us haven’t dealt with as well (1 Cor. 10:13; Heb. 11:1-40). And we’re certainly not dealing with anything that’s too tough for our God. As we run toward Him asking for help, He will strengthen us to get through the tough patches and run the race set before us with resilience and joy.

Featured image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Running Toward the God Who Is Running to Us

Have you ever noticed how persistent God is when seeking a relationship with His people? He went looking for Adam and Eve in the garden after they’d sinned and hidden from Him (Gen. 3:8-9). He called to little Samuel four times to make sure He got his attention (1 Sam. 3:1-10). He helped Elijah do great things then followed him into hiding to speak reassurance in a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:1-8). He portrays Himself through the prophets as Israel’s husband, who loved her so much that He kept seeking a restored relationship even when she was unfaithful (Hos. 1-3). He’s the Father in Jesus’s parable who runs out to meet his prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24). God consistently makes active moves to initiate, deepen, and restore relationship.

This is a really good thing for us. How would we dare come before Almighty Yahweh, the Creator of the Universe, unless He wanted us there? Though we haven’t done anything to deserve His attention or desire, He makes it very clear that He wants us. He also makes it clear that His choice to seek relationship with us comes with an invitation for us to seek Him just as fervently.

Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help.

Hebrews 4:14-16, NET

Over and over, God calls people into relationship with Him. He’s so serious about building relationships that Jesus died in order to ransom us from sin and make a close, familial relationship between humans and God possible for all eternity. He will never run away or abandon us (John 10:12-15), and so we ought to run toward Him.

Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

Running To God

This idea of us running to God isn’t mentioned very often in scripture. It does, however, appear several times in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament writings. It seems that “running to God” is similar to the idea of boldly approaching Him, but there are a few other meanings as well. For example, in these two verses the focus is on running to God for protection:

Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord.
I run to you for protection.

Psalm 143:8, NET

Yahweh’s name is a strong tower:
the righteous run to him, and are safe.

Proverbs 18:10, WEB

Scripture also talks about people running toward God in response to His call. Isaiah talks about nations running to God. Similarly, in John’s gospel, he records that the Pharisees recognized “running” as the way people responded to Jesus (even if they didn’t think to link it with this scripture in Isaiah).

“Behold, you shall call a nation that you don’t know;
and a nation that didn’t know you shall run to you,
because of Yahweh your God,
and for the Holy One of Israel;
for he has glorified you.”

Isaiah 55:5, WEB

Thus the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing. Look, the world has run off after him!”

John 12:19, NET

Like the people Isaiah prophesied about and those whose devotion to Jesus worried the Pharisees so much, we also ought to run to God. When He calls us, we ought to respond eagerly. When we’re in trouble, He should be the first person we turn to. This topic makes me think of a song I first heard shortly after I started attending a Messianic congregation. I think music is one of the best ways to engage our whole selves in our relationships with God, so here’s the song, if you’re interested in listening to it:

Running With Faith

The Bible also talks about a specific way that we’re supposed to run. In this sense, “run” is used as a metaphor for how we live as Christians. Paul in particular uses this analogy several times to talk about how he lived and how we ought to live (1 Cor. 9.24-26; Gal. 2:2; 5:7; Phil. 2:16). Staying in a close, faithful relationship with God our entire lives requires the same commitment, endurance, and perseverance as running a race.

Therefore let’s also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2, WEB

This type of running isn’t something we do on our own. God runs to us, so we run to God, and then we run the race that is our lives together with Him.

Those who wait for Yahweh will renew their strength.
They will mount up with wings like eagles.
They will run, and not be weary.
They will walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31, WEB

Running To The Right Thing

Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay

There are a lot of things that we could run to other than God. Many of us ran toward the things of the word in times past, or currently struggle with keeping on-track running toward God. Even when we are running properly in a God-ward direction, people in the world around us will “think it is strange that you don’t run with them into the same excess of riot, blaspheming” (1 Pet. 4:1-6, WEB). The more we align ourselves correctly as we run toward God, the more it will look the the world as if we’re running in a very strange direction.

As Christians today, we should ask ourselves questions like the ones my dad brought up when I shared this study with him. “How can I run to God today? How can I draw near to Him? How can I become more like Him?” Those are the sorts of things which ought to be our focus as we discipline ourselves to run our race of faith the way Paul talked of in 1 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians: with self-control, with purpose, and with perseverance.

God runs to us. He persistently pursues a relationship with us because of His great love and desire to have us in His family. We also can run to God, boldly seeking Him out for protection and simply because we love Him. The more we run toward Him, the stronger our relationship will be and the less we’ll care about how odd our choice to pursue the things of God looks to the world. Then, as we stay close to God, we receive strength to keep running “the race set before us” without getting tired or discouraged.

Featured image by David Mark from Pixabay