Run Your Race
Hillsong Conference 2017 has just passed and I’m sitting in a mall in downtown Sydney attempting to process everything that I’ve been subject to aurally, visually, emotionally and spiritually over the last few days.
It’s been an inspiring, reinvigorating and faith-building time, but that’s kind of a given. And through all of the messages, masterclasses and singing I’ve partaken in with tens of thousands of other people, I’m trying to pinpoint what I believe God has been trying to tell me.
Last time I was at Hillsong Conference in 2015, I had a stark, somewhat-brutal yet beautiful encounter: one of those experiences that serve as a marker in your journey with Christ (but I’ll tell you about that another time). But there was no such “in-your-face” or blatant realisation this time around. Just a simple whisper of reminder:
“Run your race”.
Themes of staying faithful to your call no matter life’s outlook, eschewing the temptation of comparison and letting God’s grace - through the person of Holy Spirit – overshadow, overtake and do more with your natural exploits than you can imagine were constant throughout this conference.
And these are not themes that are new to me. Stick around church long enough and you’ll hear these themes eek through time and time again. So why was the Spirit of God constantly nudging me throughout conference, with things I already know and have heard?
Because I have a tendency to forget. Really easily.
I can be in church one moment, pumped with vision and fervour for the things of Christ – then I turn on my phone and see someone is dating so-and-so. Someone’s releasing an album. My peer is doing something fulfilling and fantastic with their life. Oh look, someone’s more photogenic than me (that’s not hard). And I can get deflated. My passion can peter out quite rapidly.
Then comparison comes along and might typically start a conversation within my head with something like this:
“Hey Mark, have you listened to the latest UNITED album yet?”
“Yeah, I love it! I love the creativity and thought Joel and the team put into it!”
“Amazing, right? Look at those singles you’ve been wanting to release. Do you really think they’re gonna match up? Who’s going to listen to those? Do you think your peers will care? Are those songs even relevant? They’re so 2016.”
“You seem unsure. You should be. Who’s gonna sing these? Do you really think you can match with the likes of Houston or Crocker?”
“Look, I don’t know… Like, I’m growing thou-”
“Exactly. Don’t worry though. Just quietly hang your hat up and no one will even notice, I promise. It’s a Comparison guarantee.”
I wish I could say that’s the end of these fictional conversations. Unfortunately no. Usually Comparison will then notch it up to a personal level:
“Have you heard your friend Jerry’s* work?”
“Yeah, of course! I love that guy.”
“Well, they’re around the same age as you. They’re doing things that are clearly 10000x better than what you’ve ever done. Their creative is stunning. Production is amazing. Their voice is better than yours - and they’ve got all the right connections. People will actually listen to their stuff. Do you really think you have something to offer?”
And instead of celebrating the gift that God has placed in others, I begin to doubt my own. Or conversely, I can begin to judge others’ work unfairly or harshly: my words and thoughts lacking the grace that God has given me so freely. And comparison walks away satisfied again: successfully robbing me of joy and others of credit that is duly deserved.
I am not of course undermining the case for objectivity. It’s important to get a dose of reality from those who are healthy so you don’t suffocate on self-importance or wither away from poor self-perception. After all, how do you know what something healthy looks like when you’ve never seen it? And how do you improve if you do not have an objective marker for what is “good”?
The comparison trap is set when we allow a healthy hello over a neighbour’s proverbial fence to become a lustful glance, and if we’re not careful, it eventually evolves into either envy or judgment: neither of which is helpful or endearing to who God has called us to be and gifts he has bestowed upon us.
But back to the present, in this busy Sydney shopping mall. I’m sitting here, hoping to have songs out - and I promised myself that this would be the year it would happen. I’ve spent years working towards this moment. But even after completing a week of being spurred on in faith towards Christ, inspired forwards to break the self-bounds on what we deem to be creative in church and encouraged in who I am as Mark Dunlop, comparison would dare to tap me on the shoulder.
“Mark, do you really think [insert objection/insult here]…?”
But this time I pause. And say “not today”. Today I choose to stay in my lane. Today I choose to stay faithful; forgetting what is behind and pressing on to what is ahead. I am running towards my prize in the upward call of Christ – not for the prize that belongs to those to the right or left of me. So I smile and wave every time I pass someone and each time someone passes me. And although this is my lane, and my lane alone to run in, I know that I am not alone in it: the power and presence of the Holy Spirit enabling me to take each step whether I full of gusto or whether I am breathless.
Run YOUR race. Stay in YOUR lane. Because only in YOUR lane will you find what goodness and grace that God has laid out for you, just waiting for you to turn that corner.
Ready, set, go.
*I don’t know someone my age called Jerry. But you should insert a name of someone you know personally here.
Blog inspired by sermons “Run Your Race” by Ps Craig Groeschel, “The 7th Hand” by Ps Jentezen Franklin plus sermons by Ps Beth Moore and Ps Bobbie Houston from Hillsong Conference 2017.
ADDITIONAL SCRIPTURES FOR FURTHER READING:
1 Cor 9:24