The Spirituality Of Running

by Michael J. Klassen

Over the last two years I’ve run in two marathons. The first marathon, I fractured a bone in my foot midway through the race and hobbled the last 13 miles to the finish line. I wrote about it in this post. The second marathon I nearly collapsed on mile 17—the result of fighting a flu bug the previous 10 days. Marathons accentuate every weakness in our body.

After my near-collapse last June, I felt entirely burnt out on exercise. Seven years of consistent running and weightlifting left me with zero desire to work out. As a result, I did very little to stay in shape over the last four months. Finally, two weeks ago, I re-launched my training regimen.

But about that same time, I discovered a side-effect from my work stoppage: my heart felt a bit harder. I’m not referring to my physical heart, although I’m sure my cardiovascular system needed a tune up. My heart—the center of my emotions, self-awareness, and hidden place with God—seemed a little stiff.

What difference does running make on our heart?

Running and Spirituality In the Bible

Running and spirituality have a great deal in common. First of all, it’s the most prominent sport in the Bible. Paul must have been enamored with running because he referred to it throughout his writings (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Galatians 5:7, 2 Timothy 4:7).

But think about it: training for a long run requires repeated long runs. Leading up to my marathons, I ran for three to four hours at a time. No computer. No cell phone. No television or work to keep me busy. No conversations. No mental stimulation. Just me and my thoughts. While I listened to music during my training, I found myself absorbed in reflection for hours at a time.

What goes through a person’s mind when they don’t have anything to keep it busy? Initially, I spent a great deal of time thinking through the various tasks that I needed to accomplish. Then I processed recent conversations and important relationships. Eventually, I found my mind wandering for hours. Random thoughts. Random memories.

One Saturday morning, my wife and I were lacing up our sneakers when I commented to her that I really didn’t want to run that morning because I was way behind on my sermon preparation for the next day.

“Well then pray about your sermon while you run,” she remarked. Such an idea!

By the time we returned four hours later, my sermon was finished. And the next day, I was quite content with the product.

After that, I committed to being prayerful during my runs. Rather than pray through a mental list of items, I decided to pray about the stray thoughts that wandered into my mind. If I relived a memory from my childhood, I prayed for the people in the story. If I recounted a recent conversation, I prayed for the people involved. And I also began numerous internal conversations with God. My heart felt fully alive.

We know the physical benefits of running. Our cardiovascular system becomes stronger, our brain begins functioning much smoother…we become healthier. But long periods of time without mental stimulation makes room for our hearts to function as they were designed.

Obviously, running isn’t the only option, but engaging in physical activity while connecting with God  brings enormous benefits.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. He’s currently enrolled in a calisthenics class that’s working him back into shape.


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13 responses to “The Spirituality Of Running

  1. Mike:

    Fantastic reminder. This is what hiking and hunting do for me. They are essential to my spiritual life. I’ve also begun to transfer that “pray for the thought or person that comes to mind” in everyday life too. Thanks for the blog. Eugene

    P.S. I’m glad you are back to taking care of yourself.

  2. John Moyer

    Well stated, health benefits, cardiovascular, neuropsychological. I’ve never run 26 miles in an organized race.
    In an attempt to manage weight, a very out of normal BMI(body mass index), I began a very vigorous exercise program in 1974. I lost 94 pounds and committed myself to never get that heavy again.
    I saw my sons graduate from high school, college and grad school. I am now getting thru year #47 of a marriage.
    It was easier and “more authentic” to talk to my patients about nutrition and health (I’m a retired physician).
    Teh my wife and I attended one of our 60+ senior’s lifelong learning programs call Road Scholar. The subject focused on brain training, memory disorders and abdominal fat deposits. Good evidence supports the fact that if we carry around too much upper abdominal girth, dementia enters our equation earlier.
    I walk/run for 60 minutes 6 days/week. I weigh myself once a week. It works. I look at it as stewardship, given this marvelously engineered body by a real smart Creator.
    I listen to classical and liturgical choir music during the exercise.
    JPM MD

  3. Mike,

    Its funny, I pray when I run too. I pray I don’t die.

    I love exercise, but all I can focus on is surviving, which can be a spirtitual act as well.

  4. Georgie-ann

    I like to meditate!,…there’s a very good & small book on Christian Meditation on rockbottom sale til Monday at,…the first 1/2 is kind of an apology and Christian defense of the “topic,” but it gets more to the point after that,…I liked it a lot,…it confirmed a lot of what I already knew, and expanded my horizons as well!,…as far as what one might “get into” that way, I call it aerobic praying!

    Intercession, spiritual warfare, contemplation, conversations with God, spiritual rest and regeneration,…a veritable “fountain of youth!”,…and if you’re worried about time, just remember,…”you can’t out give God!”,…He really does provide, and “makes a way where there is no way!

    great topic,…

    • Thanks Georgie-ann. Taking care of ourselves and our souls can be a lot of work. But I like you comment that “you can’t out give God.” I’ve heard that phrase numerous times, but never in the context of taking care of ourselves. Thanks for the reminder!

      • Georgie-ann

        If we don’t take care of (provide for and protect and use wisely) ourselves and our souls, what will be left to do the “doing” of God’s work? And what kind of example are we setting? Very often, I think we have to learn how to give ourselves “permission” to tend to our own personal needs, including real true relaxation and rest as well, (good nutrition too). Part of our daily biological cycle is intended for restoration of the system God has given us. It’s hard when we have lots of stress, to co-operate fully with that part of the process, but at least we can begin to affirm that our body and mind DESERVE the respect necessary to allow the healing and maintenance to go forth.

        I seem to have had plenty of “knock-downs” requiring rather long periods of recovery. I’m just happy to say I kept getting back up again, and going along as usual, “almost” good as new. A quiet confidence that God is somehow part of this process with us, is much more helpful than worry or fear about “how well” we are (or are not) doing. Life in God is more about “inner peace” in the “now moment” doing whatever, than a strict plan and trajectory, performance criteria, success and/or failure. Good sense is great, and for myself, works better if gently and gradually applied when trying to change habitual physical patterns.

        The often said true idea that it is hard, if not impossible, to love others if we don’t love ourselves, applies to our minds, souls and bodies as well. The totality of our physical and spiritual energy system is very awesome and also very interdependent on being treated well from all sides.

        Being older, and having sustained some injuries along the way that continually limit my physical abilities somewhat, I “just do the best I can with what I’ve got to work with,” and refuse to stress about it. My energies work a lot like that of hummingbirds, I think,…some marvelous bursts in between lots of downtime, otherwise “slow and steady wins the race!”

        Little by little, as long as we stay focused on God, we’ll get to where we’re going!,…and that may even surprise us,…it sure did me!

  5. Mike, most people would throw in the towel before a race when they had been struggling with the flu for 10 days, but not you. Long distance races sure take commitment and I reall love the analogy of running and life and our relationship with God. Glad to hear that you are back at it.

  6. Greg

    Interesting perspective Mike. Additionally, physical activity relieves stress and God calls us to ‘not be anxious about anything’ Phil 4:6,7

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