Running With Heart and Soul
How doing hard things taught me to experience more of God’s glory.
I’m a pastor and church planter that likes to run marathons, and since 2010, I’ve had my eyes fixed on the Boston Marathon. For those who don’t know, the Boston Marathon is coveted among runners. Unlike many races, you can’t register, pay the fee and receive an entry bib number; you have to run a particular pace in a previous marathon to qualify. The time qualification is based on age and gender.
Several years ago, I wondered if I would be able to qualify for the Boston Marathon since the qualifying time reduces with each age group. After I turned 50, I attempted to do what seemed impossible: qualify for the Boston Marathon with a time of 3hrs 25min pace (7:29 per mile) or better. Through this experience, God revealed to me how to persevere through suffering and the feeling of triumph when you seek His glory in physical and spiritual things.
When we planted Edge City Church (EFCA) five –years ago in Long Island, New York, we initiated a ministry called Heart and Soul, focused on health and wellness. There is a direct link between our spiritual and physical life. The apostle Paul tells us that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, so we must care for them (1 Cor 6:19). He encourages Timothy that spiritual training is of great value while admitting physical training or exercise also has value (1 Tim 4:8).
Christians normally care for the soul (which is a high priority), but from my observation, at times they neglect to care for their physical health. The goal of Heart and Soul is to encourage anyone who wants to be active to be in a community that cares for both body and soul. At Edge City Church, we want to intentionally nurture and develop these areas of our lives as a habit for life.
A reflection of my running journey
Heart and Soul is a reflection of my running journey. Endurance running entered my life when I saw a photo of my wife and me at a wedding we attended early in our marriage and ministry. The stress of ministry was visible both on my face and waistline. Something moved within me so that I could be healthy enough to fulfill my duties as a dad and pastor. At first, I started jogging. Eventually, I entered a local 5K race. The experience was so satisfying I moved up to a 10K and then a half marathon.
I wanted to stop at a half marathon, but how could I? It felt like my job was half done because there was a full marathon looming in my mind. I eventually gathered enough willpower to endure the 26.2-mile race. I learned that I could overcome challenges that seemed overwhelming and paralyzing.
I transferred this confidence into my ministry during the ebb and flow of church leadership. The more I trained, the deeper I connected with God in the early years pastoring a local church. This was my initiation to connecting distance running and spirituality nearly 25 years ago.
I transferred this confidence into my ministry during the ebb and flow of church leadership. The more I trained, the deeper I connected with God in the early years pastoring a local church.
After planting Edge City Church, my desire was to encourage people to be active and move from the couch to a mile and beyond. This is what motivated me to begin Heart and Soul. We’d meet on Saturday mornings at a local high school track and train as a group for an upcoming race. Committing to show up is half the battle. The other half is the work of training with a community of like-minded runners at all skill levels to walk, jog or run. We welcome people of every fitness level so that personal goals can be measured and achieved.
Heart and Soul for missions
As the momentum increased for Heart and Soul, I wanted to leverage the ministry to support missions. We hosted an unofficial 5K race around Hempstead State Lake Park near our church and to our surprise, it was well-received and well-attended. Our inaugural race gave us a template to turn the fundraiser into an annual event.
This is our third year of hosting a 5K to raise funds for the missionaries that we support. Everyone who participates in the Heart and Soul 5K – whether they are walking, jogging or running for a personal record – are challenged to do hard things. When their goals are met, they earn a gift of confidence and a renewed boldness for God to engage in the challenges of what life throws at them.
Heart and Soul as a lifestyle
Before we planted Edge City Church, I was pastoring a church that I loved and enjoyed serving. With factors beyond my control, our once fruitful ministry was being threatened at the foundation. Rather than fracturing the body of Christ, the Lord reminded me of the vision of Edge City Church that was dormant for nearly seven years. I imagined a comfortable ministry in my 50s while I prepared for retirement, but God had other ideas. Instead, He plunged me head-first into the unknown of planting a church in New York with few resources.
Around this time was when I had my eyes set on running the Boston Marathon, which seemed as difficult as starting a new church. Qualifying for Boston meant having a time that far surpassed my fastest marathon personal record. Planting a church meant trusting the promises of God to accomplish what seemed impossible to many. Both were hard things that I embraced with faith and trepidation.
With sleepless nights and the unimaginable stress of uncertainty, my familiar rhythm of regular training and running carried me into the arms of Jesus when I had no one to turn to. The more I ran, the more I received downloads from the Father for the church’s next steps. Perhaps it was the endorphins, but those moments of suffering taught me to persevere and embrace difficult challenges because God would be with me every step of the process.
After planting Edge City Church and leading the Heart and Soul ministry, I now intentionally look for hard things. I’ve learned from my time with God in training that embracing the uncomfortable and unknown is where I will experience God’s glory.
The momentum of Heart and Soul was what carried me through one of the most difficult times in planting a church. Before, if I had the choice between the easy street and the road less traveled, I’d choose easy without question. After planting Edge City Church and leading the Heart and Soul ministry, I now intentionally look for hard things. I’ve learned from my time with God in training that embracing the uncomfortable and unknown is where I will experience God’s glory.
It took some time, but last year I ran a PR (personal record) of 3hrs 20min to qualify for Boston Marathon at age 55. To my surprise, I also qualified to run the popular New York City Marathon based on time qualification which was a pleasant surprise. I will run my first NYC this year and Boston the following year.
I don’t want to stop there. I have plans to run an ultramarathon (any footrace over the traditional marathon distance) at the end of this year, train for another Ironman and continue to qualify for Boston annually. Why? To worship God and glorify Him with my heart and soul, as long as God gives me health.
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