Are you so irrational? After you started with the Spirit, are you now finishing up with your own human effort?
-- Galatians 3:3
Legend has it that about 500 years before Jesus proclaimed the Gospel, a professional courier named Pheidippides completed the world's first marathon. After the Greek army's decisive victory over the Persians at a place called Marathon, he was dispatched to share the good news with the people of Athens. Pheidippides faithfully ran more than 20 miles to his destination. And after announcing, "Rejoice, we are victorious," he dropped dead from exhaustion.
These days, thousands of runners compete in marathons all over the globe (but with less fatal results). And many of them prepare by adhering to special diets that will power them over the finish line. In her Runners World magazine article The Healthy Runner's Diet, Liz Applegate recommends a regimen of seeds, fruits and vegetables, plant foods with their skins intact, milk and milk products, foods originating from cold water (like fish and other seafood), meat and poultry...or eggs from free-range or grass-fed animals. These powerful foods, says Dr. Applegate, promote good health and peak athletic performance for long-distance runners. And what many marathoners well-know is that eating the wrong foods can mean the difference between victory and dropping out of contention with miles still left to go.
This principle also applies to Christ-followers. After all, our faith journey isn't a sprint or even a jog. Instead, it's a long-distance adventure that's in many ways a marathon. There's also a link here to food. But rather than literal physical nourishment, it actually relates to spiritual fuel. As Believers, a goal for our lives is to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. But if we're constantly feeding ourselves with negative influences--like poor choices in relationships and entertainment--we shouldn't be surprised if we follow our old sinful natures from time to time. Expressions of jealousy, bitterness and frustration are common examples of what can happen when we're not consuming the right spiritual foods for going the distance.
As the Apostle Paul explained it to the Galatians, "Our sinful selves want what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit wants what is against our sinful selves. The two are against each other, so you cannot do just what you please."
It's obvious that every Christ-follower--just like every runner in the famous Boston Marathon--needs to prepare for the long and demanding race ahead of them. Rather than carb-loading to maximize energy storage in our muscles, we need to follow a determined spiritual regimen that will help see us to victory.
The first step is to begin with a constant prayer and a continual awareness that we can't make it without the Holy Spirit living within us. Rather than living one day at a time, we're to proceed moment-by-moment. Second, let's deliberately filter our thinking. Do the movies we watch, the websites we visit and the friends we make feed our Spirit or our sinful nature? Finally, we need to die to ourselves every day by constantly looking out for traps and obstacles in our lives that could run us off the track. In 2 Timothy, Paul writes that his spiritual diet and rigorous training paid off for his faith-journey:
"I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. At last the champion's wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me. The Lord, who is the righteous judge, is going to give it to me on that day. He's giving it not only to me but also to all those who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance."
Whether you're a brand-new Christ-follower or you've been a believer for years, the old saying holds true: You are what you eat.