I want to invite your imagination to picture how God can unify the body of Christ to be the face of God.
Seven runners lace up, and stretch out under a morning sun, talking easily, and laughing as they often do when getting ready to punish one another. Each has run close to, or under, four minutes for a mile. They are competitors, beating opponents with blistering, mind numbing kicks to the finish. Champions all, yet today, it’s not about that. They jump up, and shake their legs awake, ready for ten miles together.
Setting off at an easy cantor, the landscape scrolls by, suburban homes, large oak trees, uneven sidewalk. Effortless strides, each thinking it’s good to be together. At about a mile, they’re on gravel road, country landscape as far as the eye can see, a mix of fallow and early planting, a quilt-like view. Nothing but sober strides and soft landing can be heard, as seven feet touch down in perfect cadence, a rhythmic harmony; each entwined in the other, matched stride for stride.
At the four-mile mark the tempo picks up. The lead runners are stalking the limits of six minute pace, yet no complaints. They are used to fast, and even faster. In their minds they remember the final 300 of an epic four-lap race, lifting beyond what might be imagined, into a place where pain has no meaning, beyond any training exercise, into the deepest fabric of muscle and lungs. In that showdown, each had to claw for air that didn’t exist, squeezing it somehow from nothing, as if creating worlds with groans. But pain is not remembered now. Only this…
The pace suddenly drops to close to five minutes per mile. There are no easy words, and breathing begins to deepen. The seven respond by digging down, and then settling into an accelerated jaunt. A few flash a smile, a dry comment, but nothing more, except the intermittent sound of pounded gravel, which soon turns to a beautiful cadence. As if a solitary runner, the group forges past seven miles. They dip under five minutes per mile, having to use their arms now, and pump their legs, searching for every advantage their bodies offer, utilized and robbed of any normalcy on this fatal run.
This run will test the sinew of endurance muscles.
This run will prove the finishers. Unlike a race, it will show each how far they can take their bodies in a punishing pursuit of time over distance, of length of stride and quickness of turnover. Breathing deep, ever deeper, arms pumping like machines, legs numb in burning, the seven are united by sheer survival, and distance charted. No one thinks of slowing down, no one would imagine anything but staying up, not letting even a stride separate the pack.
Then it happens. Together, the seven enter a zone, commonly called the runner’s high. It is a rare event, and normally happens in isolation. Not this time. Moments before, at eight miles the group’s tension was prescient, vacant eyes, desperate for air. But at eight and a quarter, they are ice skaters, gliding effortlessly, chests out strong, lungs filled to capacity, slight smiles on. All seven in the zone, all astonished at how easy they carry the pace, how for a few they pray it never ends. This reserve of power covers the men, and without fail each knows that to break stride now will be the loneliest finish of all. From training run, to test, to now sheer exuberance, the alchemy is complete. They soar…
The final mile is an afterglow, each caught up together in an invincible feeling of pushing to the limit, without the punishment of pain.
When Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would be one, I think he had in mind a picture of His church with an invincible feeling of pushing to the limit, together, falling into cadence, like runners going the distance. Not alone, but a shared burden and a punishing pursuit of the redemption of the world, through His broken body and poured out blood. In a way, a runner’s high, perhaps the very definition of revival.
I can think of no better way to describe what’s needed for the body of Christ to show God’s face to the world.
Today, look around you. Who is God asking you to lace up with?