In January of 2017 I decided I wanted to sign up for something I had always wanted to try, a half marathon. So I signed up for the Tuscaloosa Half and started my 3-month training right away. Everything was going great until about a month into it when I injured my left foot and had to wear a boot for 6-weeks. I had to completely cut out running up until 2 weeks before the race. To say I was a bit bummed is an understatement. Determined to still run the race, I got in as much running as my left foot would let me and tried to prepare myself as best as I could. Come race day I placed myself in the large herd of prepared and excited runners at the starting line and told myself to just enjoy the experience. I wasn’t prepared for the race but I was going to run it the best I could.
I wonder if God ever finds that same mindset in His followers today? Does he see Christians who have “signed up” for the race but aren’t completely prepared to run it adequately? People whose hearts aren’t entirely ready for the exercise that’s needed to follow Jesus fully. I’m reminded of the group in John 6 who was on the way to following Jesus but in the end just couldn’t keep up.
John 6:1-5a “After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (that is, Tiberias). 2 And a large crowd was following him because they were observing the signs that he was doing on those who were sick. 3 So Jesus went up on the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 (Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near.) 5 Then Jesus, when he looked up and saw that a large crowd was coming to him.” So in this text, we see there is a sizable group that is going out of their way to follow Jesus to be near Him. They recognize that there is something special about Him due to “…observing the signs that He was doing on those who were sick.” After the crowd fully arrives, we see one of Jesus greatest miracles when it comes to the number of people who got to witness His power. After everyone has enjoyed the excess amount of food given to them by Jesus in verse 14 they readily proclaim, “This one truly is THE prophet who is come into the world!” In fact, they were so adamant about how great Jesus was that Jesus Himself leaves their presence afraid that they might try to make Him King. The next day when the crowd wakes and starts to look for Jesus they find out He has not only left the immediate area but has set sail across the Sea of Galilee. This doesn’t deter them from following Jesus though but only shows us their level of commitment at this moment. In verses 22-24 we see that they find some ships for themselves and set sail to draw near to Jesus once again. At this point, this crowd by all means looks like a group of people who have signed up for following Jesus to some degree. They recognize He is more than just a prophet, they’ve seen His power over diseases, and they’re prepared to do whatever it takes to follow Him on the map. Yet, when we complete the chapter we come to verse 66, “For this reason many of His disciples drew back and were not walking with Him any longer.” What happened to this believing crowd?! They, like me in my half marathon, were not actually prepared to run with Jesus. In John 6:25-65 we see Jesus’ message on His role as “bread out of Heaven” and how He is the only way to the Father. Verse 60, “Thus many of his disciples, when they* heard it, said, “This saying is hard! Who can understand it?” They were not prepared to accept that truth and follow Jesus in that light. They may have been ready to sign up for his miracles and earthly benefits but when it came to true discipleship they couldn’t keep up.
I’m sure every one of us has experienced the unfortunate feeling of not being able to finish or keep up with something we’ve initially signed up for. My prayer is that to never be the case in our Christian walk. May we be fully aware of what it takes of us to follow our Savior and walk with our Father in this world today. Let us, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:24,“…Run in such a way that you may win.”