A couple of years ago, Wes and I showed up for a half marathon out in the middle of nowhere.
We were training for a full marathon, and we had, by that point, accumulated a lot of fancy gear. We’d been fitted for shoes that hit at just the right spot in our respective strides, we’d loaded up on just the right gels and knew just when to take them along the route, and we’d gotten ourselves all decked out in FCA Team Endurance clothing that fit the climate, fit us just right, and fit the race we were set to run.
In other words? We looked serious. Really serious.
So serious, in fact, that when it came time to line up at the starting line, people actually got out of our way so that we were right in front. Clearly, they thought people as prepared as we were with all of our fancy trappings were elite athletes, ready to set some records in this small town event.
As we were standing there, trying our best to look as “for real” as everyone seemed to think we were, we noticed a teenage girl standing on the side. She was wearing denim cutoffs, a very pretty peasant-style blouse, and cowboy boots, and she was cuddled up to a teenage boy who had his jacket wrapped around her as they stood there. I began to wonder who they were there to watch when the call came for all the runners to get up to the starting line. He slipped the jacket off of her shoulders as she stood up on tiptoe and kissed him, before kicking off her boots and walking over, in her bare feet, to the starting line. She ran her fingers through her long, waist length hair, pinned on a running bib, and looked over to the guy who was going to fire a shotgun in the air to indicate the start of the race.
Wes and I looked at one another with raised eyebrows, even as this girl blew a kiss to her boyfriend and as he smiled back at her. This girl is going to try and run barefoot? And in denim shorts? AND with all that hair blowing everywhere?! We could already picture her quitting half a mile in because she wasn’t nearly as “serious” or “prepared” as we were in all of our running store finery.
Well, you can probably guess what happened. That’s right. That barefoot, country girl was a freakin’ Olympian in disguise, and on a course that had laps, she lapped us multiple times and looked amazing doing it with all of that beautiful hair streaming along behind her. And while she clearly reached the finish line long before we did, we had no trouble imagining what it must have looked like as she crossed it, put her boots back on, and went on with her boyfriend.
We worked so hard to be as equipped as possible to do what needed to be done… but our best couldn’t compare to what so obviously came naturally to this girl. Her genuine, unfettered talent for the task left our superfluous trappings look like a poor substitute for authenticity.
You want to know a secret about my husband? He is, very seriously, a born evangelist. And I’m not talking about the guys with the giant hair, screaming from pulpits, and telling you to send one hundred dollar donations to a cable network. I’m talking an evangelist in the sense that he can sit down with almost anyone and very naturally and sincerely turn the conversation into a spiritual one. I watched him do it just this past Sunday and anticipated the moment I could get him alone later and ask about how he approached and answered the deep questions of faith and sanctification and substitutionary atonement and all. Because I? Know the big words, y’all. And when it comes to evangelism and knowing doctrine, I’m like a runner with a Fuel Belt filled up with so many gels and Gatorade mixes and Vaseline and a whole bunch of other crazy stuff you wouldn’t believe if I told you. (No, seriously, you wouldn’t.)
But when I asked him what he had done, what he had said, and what he had seen God do, he shared with me what had happened… a very natural conversation, flowing from his heart, not primarily about his knowledge but about the assurance he feels and lives every day — that he loves Jesus.
And this genuine, unfettered love for Christ is so authentic that there is no substitute for it. Not a million fancy theological arguments or doctrines, not a bunch of degrees hanging on your wall, not a long list of all the ways you’ve served Christ faithfully over decades of ministry.
Nothing compares to knowing and loving Christ, for real.
I’m challenged. So very, very challenged, as I watch lives changed in the light of a genuine heart for Jesus, to get back to the simplicity and the authenticity of simply loving Him.