My chance to run the Honolulu Marathon dropped into my lap, thanks to an unexpected business trip to Oahu the week of the event. I’d never run a marathon before and was excited about the prospect of trying…except for the fact that most marathon training programs build endurance over 20 weeks, while I had just six short weeks to train. I was in decent shape, having just finished a Half Ironman Triathlon, but was still a long way off from being able to run 26.2 miles.
Given my short training season, I had to focus on one goal — finishing without injuring myself. After reading different training methods, I decided to use a run/walk strategy (See Jeff Galloway’s Marathon Training Method) to control my pace, save my knees, and ensure the ultimate success of finishing.
What does this have to do with the Book of Malachi? After all, Malachi is mentioned in the title.
Malachi is the final book in the Old Testament. The story takes place after the Jews return from the Babylonian Exile (post-exile). Upon returning, the Jews rebuild their temple, re-establish their capital, and restart their nation. While much more detail could be included, it is sufficient to say that this was a time of great revival and excitement.
But, something happened that killed the revival. Malachi, the prophet, appears with a message accusing Israel of straying from God’s commands. Israel was cheating God out of pure sacrifices, ignoring God’s laws, marrying outside their nation, divorcing their wives, and withholding tithes. I think Israel’s observation that “evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape” (Mal 3:15) encapsulates their turn to the dark side: Israel looked around them, saw what the evildoers were successfully getting away with, and abandoned the heart of their faith.
When the gun went off at 5 AM, 30,000 runners surged forward in the darkness past the start line. I too was pulled along by the crowd at a halting pace. I couldn’t go faster without tripping over people, and I couldn’t go slower without being trampled. So, as well as I could, I ran. Then I walked. Then I ran. Run/walk was the plan. After the first 10K, I checked my pace. Seeing that I was 2 minutes per mile slower than my training runs, I decided that I needed to make up time. I abandoned the run/walk method in favor of a run/run. In that moment, goaded on by hundreds of marathoners, I lost my race.
Without thinking, I traded my original goal for a time goal. A small egotistical voice in my mind said, “I am a Triathlete. I am fitter and faster than these people around me. Why should they finish ahead of me?” So, I picked up the pace and effortlessly dodged slow runners for the next twelve miles.
At mile eighteen, my left knee decided to revolt. My effortless speed became a forced run/walk method. By mile twenty-two, the forced run/walk became a depressing walk/walk, which morphed into a limping gait at 26.2.
For Israel, their initial excitement included a plan for faithful living in the promised land. But in a subtle moment, their eyes envied the material success of their ungodly neighbors, and the Israelites began to keep pace with the heathen masses. So, Israel abandoned God’s plan of sacrifices, marriages, tithes, and laws, and brought down Malachi’s stern warning of impending judgement. Mile eighteen was coming, and their knees were starting to ache.
Yet, Malachi finishes the book on a note of hope. He tells of one coming, the ultimate Trainer, who will help Israel finish strong, if only they are humble enough to change their ways. Malachi reminds us to stay focused on the goal of enduring faith and not trade God’s ways for shiny short-term trade-offs. I finished the 26.2 miles, but my pain reminded me of the folly of deserting my training plan. To me, Malachi reminds me that I might still find marathon success, if I, like Israel, stick to the plan.