While reading Isaiah this morning, I paused at this: "Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?" (Isaiah 2:22). People like me who have struggled with "fear of man" issues stop at verses like these. The fear of man does not necessarily mean that people frighten me, but that I may reverence them too much. I may care far too deeply about what they think of me with ultimate desires for approval or commendation. And I know the fear of man has been rearing its ugly head of late.

Now fast forward about an hour. I am running on a trail along a lake on the same cloudy, grey morning. Mind you, I haven't run (or exercised) in months and so I really have to pace myself or I will never complete the distance that I am aiming for. But then she passes me. I don't even know who she is. All I know is she is about my age, she's wearing cute yoga pants and she just passed me. Competition apparently runs in my veins, sometimes coupled with adrenalin. Have you ever felt that spark of a competitive spirit surge through you, compelling you to do better or try harder?

I move faster in my attempts to pass her. I've got this! I'm right behind her but my lungs are screaming. I'm beginning to feel the tightness in my muscles no longer easing out of hibernation, but now being jolted. I am going to pay for this tomorrow. Realizing my foolishness, I back off and find my doable pace again. Just as I reach my stride, a man barrels past me on my left at a full sprint. And she is steadily creating more and more distance between us with her stride.

I reflect. Running and life reflection often go together for me. I recall Hebrews 12:1, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us..."

I reason that I am only asked to run my own proverbial race that God has predetermined for me. I only have the strength, resources and wherewithal to run at the pace that He has fit me for. I am only called to run the distance that He maps out for me. I am not called to another's race. Some may sprint, some may walk, some may meander, some may run or jog. Some may be challenged by a simple 5K, while others are beckoned to a marathon. Some may be pegged for flat and even roads, while others to more treacherous terrain.

As Christians, we all have our races to run. The races will be different. There will be a definite start to our race and, thankfully, there will also be an end. Our race will lead us to the finish line. My reflections were helping me consider my personal endurance in my own life's race, at my own sustainable pace, by God's life-giving grace.

When I became comfortable again with my pace on my actual run, as well as comforted by thoughts about my spiritual race I was proverbially running, there she was again. I caught up with her without even trying. She must have had to slow down too. God has her on her own path as well. And Mr. Sprinter, by the way, had already passed me again early in my reflections, traveling the opposite direction as before. He was still sprinting, but apparently he was only going a short distance this morning. This only provided the exclamation point behind all of my reflections. "Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?" (Isaiah 2:22)

The fear of man can trip you up. Caring too much about what people think about your race or pace can divert you from the good path. It often leads you down the dangerous roads of either me-centered posturing or self-obsessed despair. The only way out is to fear God more. To reverence Him more than the others around you. To care more about what He thinks of you, rather than what others think. To realize that His approval carries more weight than any others. The real kicker is that His approval of you is not dependent on how well you do on your life run. God's approval of His children is secure and settled forever on the merits and achievement of Christ's perfect record and race. With His approval and love, why do we still live and obsess about the approval of anyone less than God? Fearing God gets you back on track.

On the last quarter mile of my run, I was intentionally sprinting. I wanted to finish strong. But the lyrics streaming through my earphones were these: "All that really matters/ All that really counts is found in You/ What else would we live for?/ You're the way, the life the truth/ And all that really matters is You!" And twenty feet from the last marker on the trail, I started walking. Not because I had to, but because I could. Jesus already ran the ultimate race for me. He finished well on my behalf. He earned the prize of perfect righteousness and gave it to me (and you) as a free gift of grace. Yes, I still have a race to finish, but I have nothing to prove. 

So I will continue to "run with endurance the race that is set before {me}" (Hebrews 12:1) with the motivating, yet freeing fresh awareness that Jesus already finished the ultimate race on my behalf. Rather than regarding man (Isaiah 2:22), I will be "looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross {His predetermined race}, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2)  And I will sit with Him when I cross my finish line.