A few months ago, I ran in the Diamond 13K race in Central California. The out-and-back course included a mix of shade and sun and a view of the majestic Sierra Nevada in the distance.

Taking off from the start, I found myself running next to my friend Sunny. We were chatting away as we started to ascend the first hill, named The Corkscrew.

Then I saw it.

On the side of the trail, just a few steps away, was a coiled black-and-white snake.

Did I mention I hate snakes?

I tried to stay calm and do the only thing I knew to do: keep running.

“Did you see that?” I asked Sunny next to me. “A snake!”

“I missed it!” she exclaimed, wide-eyed.

I kept thinking about that snake for the next mile, feeling distracted and unsure of my steps.

Was it dangerous?
Should I have stopped to take a picture?
Would it be there on my way back down the hill to the finish line?

It was then that a proverb I had read came to mind:

“Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Proverbs 4:26-27, ESV).

The book of Proverbs provides for believers wisdom that King Solomon collected for a young man in his day.

The word “ponder” in Proverbs 4:26 means “to consider well.” In life (and while trail running), it’s important to consider well where we are going. This proverb reminded me to keep my eyes forward and my feet on the path.

After I reached the top of The Corkscrew, I made a decision to stop thinking about that snake. With 7 miles ahead of me, I needed to refocus on my race. If I continued to keep dwelling on the snake, I could get distracted, lose my footing and fall — potentially causing myself injury or ruining my running time.

In putting the snake from my mind, I chose to dwell on other things. (Philippians 4:8) That’s when I started to enjoy my run. The sky was an azure blue, and the trail was lit up with greens and golds. I turned on my worship music and found the cadence of breath and steps again.

By the time I crossed the finish line, I had completely forgotten about that snake.

Later, I realized how much this experience was a mirror for life.

Sometimes as we go along, we encounter a “snake” on the side of the trail. Perhaps it’s a simple distraction, like a social media notification during our quiet time, a questionable television show we know we shouldn’t watch, or a task left unfinished that calls to us when we need rest. Maybe it’s the enemy himself trying to lead us astray, to discourage us from pursuing our calling or to cause a misunderstanding in our relationship with God.

Many times in long-distance races, a runner called a “pacer” will lead the rest of the runners. The pacer sets the pace for the other runners, but the other runners have to keep the pacer in view, making sure not to speed ahead or lag too far behind.

Friends, these are the moments when we have to make a decision to let Jesus be our Pacer in life and to keep running. When our eyes are focused forward on Jesus and where He’s headed, it’s easier to pivot away from distractions.

And when our minds simply won’t cooperate in the face of distractions, we can remember it was God Himself who created our minds. Let’s ask Him for the perseverance to focus on Him as we take each and every thought captive throughout our days.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being our Pacer and Protector. Remind us that no matter what kind of distraction we face, You provide an escape route. We are chasing after You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.