“Pick it up!  Pick it up!”  If you have ever participated in sports, you’ve no doubt heard those words.  Your coach is telling you to move a little faster, to pick up the pace.

Did you follow the Winter Olympics?  What a treat to watch the best athletes in the world ski, snowboard, skate, slide, and curl.  I am always intrigued to learn how athletes train because the will to prepare well is a huge determining factor in how the race goes.  And the key to preparing well is pacing.

  • In downhill skiing, setting too fast a pace may cause the skier to lose control and crash.
  • Figure skaters have to determine just the right pace as they get ready to do a jump.
  • In cross country skiing, athletes have to find a pace that they can sustain for the entire race rather than accelerate right away and stick with the leader.
  • In short track skating, did you notice how Apolo Ohno usually hung at the back of the pack and waited until just the right time to pick up the pace and pass others?

At the Grand Rapids Marathon last October I made a last minute decision at the start line to run with a pace group.  In some marathons runners are given the opportunity to follow a designated person who will keep a certain pace throughout the entire race.  It’s often easier to run when someone else leads by setting the pace: you only have to follow.  This was a new experiment for me, and I wanted to see if I could maintain a consistent pace for the entire race.

Why is pacing important in athletic competitions?  Because if we start out too fast, we’ll tire quickly and fizzle out at the end of the race.  And if we start out too slow, we may never be able to make up lost time.  In addition, the best way to conserve energy is to perform at a steady pace rather than allow one’s heart rate to fluctuate by erratically going faster and slower.

How do athletes determine a pace for their race?

  • Set a goal.  The time in which we hope to finish the race determines the pace at which we will need to perform.  Serious athletes set specific, challenging, and realistic goals before training even begins.
  • Include race pace workouts in our training.  In order to perform well, our body has to know what it feels like to perform at our race pace.  It’s called muscle memory.  Eventually, the goal pace becomes instinctual.
  • Discipline ourselves to train well.  We can’t do twists and turns on a snowboard if we get up in the morning and decide that that we don’t feel like practicing that day.  Each workout counts.  Stick with the plan.
  • Everyone has their own pace.  More than once I heard athletes at the Winter Olympics say, “I don’t worry about the other competitors.  I have to ski (skate, snowboard) my own race.”  When all is said and done, we do not compete against others.  We compete against ourselves.   

What are important components of a good pace?

  • Heart rate monitor: Many world class athletes use heart rate monitors, which tell them exactly how hard their heart is working.  The goal is to perform at a pace that pushes them to their limits but is also sustainable for the entire race.
  • Water: “Drink before you are thirsty” is the motto for athletes.  Dehydration can quickly develop into a serious medical condition.
  • Food: Endurance athletes need to eat every 45 minutes during a race in order to keep up their energy.  The quality of an athlete’s general diet also plays a big role in conditioning and performance.
  • Companionship: It was interesting to hear the 3 primary US women’s halfpipe snowboarders talk about the importance of their friendship.  Even as they compete against each other, they also support, encourage, challenge, and pace each other. 

We have a lot to learn from athletes about performing to our potential, for I am convinced that pacing is the key to living well, no matter the circumstances.   Have you ever thought about the pace that Jesus kept in his life?  None of us know as much about the historical Jesus as we would like.  However, we do know this.  Jesus had a vision, mission, and goals for his ministry, and he followed his own pace. 

When Jesus was 12, he stayed behind in the temple instead of walking back home with his parents and the other travelers.  When the time was right, Jesus began his ministry in Galilee by reading the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue of his hometownNazareth, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)  Jesus knew when it was time to set his face towardJerusalemand certain death, even when Peter protested mightily.

Jesus set a pace that eventually led him to the cross.  It was a journey that had all the components of a good pace.  Jesus was always in touch with and led with his heart.  He was baptized in the waters of theJordan and relied on the living water of God’s word.  He said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (John 4:34).  And he received strength from the companionship of his disciples.  “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.”  (Luke 22:28)

How are you pacing yourself so that you can live and serve well?

  • How healthy is your heart?  (“Blessed are the pure in heart.”  Matthew 5:8)
  • Do you come to the waters to drink when thirsty?  (Isaiah 55:1)
  • Do you feed on God’s word? (Matthew 4:4)
  • Do you have spiritual friends to accompany you on the journey? (Phil. 4:10)

Pacing is especially critical for anyone who is in ministry, clergy and laity alike.  Some of us are so eager to share our faith with others and build up the kingdom of God that we neglect our own health.  By following a plan that has extremely challenging goals, we over-function and soon burn out.  We need to slow down the pace. 

Others of us discover that over time we’ve lost our passion for ministry.  We become bored, discouraged, and even depressed.  Too often we say with resignation, “good enough,” and remain content with mediocrity rather excellence.  We need to pick up the pace.

Churches have their own pace as well.  I suspect that each one of our congregations has had times in its history when the pace was brisk, growth was the norm, and lives inside and outside the church were transformed because of many vital ministries.  Yet there have been other times when the congregation was stagnant, complacent, and lost track of its vision.  Because there were no goals or discipline, there was no pace.

My prayer for our churches, clergy, and laity is that we will each find our own pace: that unique, natural, and God-given rhythm which enables us to live and serve well.  An African American spiritual comes to mind.

  1. “Jesus walked this lonesome valley; he had to walk it by himself.  Oh, nobody else could walk it for him; he had to walk it by himself.”
  2. “We must walk this lonesome valley; we have to walk it by ourselves.  Oh, nobody else can walk it for us; we have to walk it by ourselves.”

In the end, just like Jesus, and just like the athletes at the Winter Olympics, we all have to dig deep inside ourselves to walk through our own lonesome valleys and run our own race.  No one can do it for us.  But with our heart leading the way, physical and spiritual food giving us energy, and friends to cheer us on, we can do all things through Him who strengthens us. 

How are you and/or your church pacing yourself?

Blessings, Laurie

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