Growing up, I wasn’t much of an athlete. I ran track because all my friends were on the team. I was so slow that on one particular long run, even my coaches packed up and went home by the time I finished the course. With this glimpse of my running background, you can imagine my surprise when God called me to run a marathon. I stuck my fingers in my ears and pretended I couldn’t hear Him. Surely, He knew I wasn’t a runner. My memories of being the last one standing as I crossed the finish line came back to haunt me all too vividly. He wouldn’t stop speaking to me about running a marathon, so I took a leap of faith, registered, and joined a local running group.
Running a marathon sounds like a strange “call,” but in hindsight, God was teaching me several spiritual lessons by getting my attention through doing something bigger than anything I could do in my strength.
As I laced up my brand-new tennis shoes on the morning of our first “long run” with my new running team, I meditated on Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Little did I know, the chapter where this famous verse resides was about to come to life.
When I arrived to meet the group, we had to share with the coach our race pace. I had no idea my race pace, so I gave him what I thought I could run a mile in—big mistake.
I was assigned to my self-proclaimed race pace group, and not even a mile in, I was panting like a dog searching for water on a hot Texas day. My coach ran beside me and said, “Rachael, you can’t run at this pace for 26 miles. I need to move you back to a different group so you can finish the race.” While it was humbling to go to the back of the bus, it made my training and race day enjoyable.
I have learned much about running since completing this race and several others. RPE (rate of perceived exertion) is what my coach used that day to get me in the right group so I could finish my race. During exercise, a good way to gauge your exertion is by using this scale. A low number, like one, means I could do this activity for hours and carry on a conversation, while a ten is equivalent to a sprint where I can not speak. My RPE was around a 6 in my first group, but when I dropped back to the correct group, it shifted to a 3-4. This empowered me to keep running the race set before me with endurance.
We are all in a spiritual race. We see in Hebrews 12:1 this reminder to “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
The best way to run with endurance is to stay in tune with our spiritual RPE from Philippians 4. In this scenario, RPE stands for Rejoice, Pray/Practice, and Embrace.
Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Notice it doesn’t say, “Rejoice when everything is going right, and you have no troubles.” If we want to run our race with endurance, it will require a heart posture that rejoices even when things are hard.
Pray & Practice
Philippians 4:6 reminds us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I get told often, “I don’t know how you do it all.” I used to take offense at this statement, as though it felt like they were judging my schedule. But now I say, “I know, right? Only God could empower me to do all these things!” As we make our requests known to God, His peace empowers us to keep going when, in our own strength, we would have quit.
Paul goes on to remind us in Philippians 4:8 to practice what we witnessed Him do, thinking only on things that are true and worthy of praise. He knew to be finishers, we would have to learn the art of taking our thoughts captive and making them obedient to Christ.
Remember how I shared that my coach moved me to a slower running group so I could succeed? This line of thinking is backward from what we are taught in culture. From a young age, we are sent messages to run faster, do more, and go farther. While dreaming big is from God, how we get there is up to Him. My goal was to finish the marathon, not win a trophy. Paul’s final reminder to us in finishing our race is to embrace every situation.
He says in Philippians 4:11-12, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”
And just after this sermon, he says the verse we have all recited, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
This verse is so much more than a cute coffee mug inspiration. It’s a reminder that our spiritual RPE (rejoice, pray/practice, embrace) empowers us to receive the strength we need in Christ to keep moving forward.
Keep running, my friend. The finish line is worth the intentional RPE.
Rachael Gilbert, MMFT, is a wife, mom, trauma-informed therapist, owner of BBC Health, and podcast host of Real Talk with Rachael. She combines her clinical expertise and personal experience to help women overcome fear and insecurity to walk confidently in their God-given dreams. A frequent speaker and article writer, Rachael lives near Dallas with her husband Matt and their three children. www.rachaelgilbert.com