Jim Fixx was the person most responsible for popularizing the fitness benefits of jogging. His bestselling “The Complete Book of Running,” published in 1977, got millions off their butts and couches and onto the streets. Thus, the nation was shocked when Fixx, age 52, died a few years later of a heart attack while on his morning run.
My dear friend Danny Durham suffered this same fate a few weeks ago. He too was on his daily jog, was also in his early fifties, and like Fixx, appeared fit, strong, and healthy. Danny died not of a “heart attack,” however. It appeared to be “Sudden Cardiac Arrest,” a catastrophic arrhythmia of the heart that can strike even the healthiest individual.
While you may have never heard of Danny, he was accomplished in his own right, and his influence will endure for decades to come. He was a two-time NCAA Division I-AA football national champion, playing at Georgia Southern. He coached and taught at high schools all over the state of Georgia, including my alma mater.
He was a husband, a father of three, and a mentor to thousands of students over his 30-year career. Without exaggeration, he was one of the finest men of integrity I ever knew, and it was a privilege to have been his pastor and friend.
What made Danny so special? To use a biblical phrase, he was “a man after God’s own heart,” an expression first used to describe King David in the Old Testament. The most common Christian interpretation of this phrase is that there was something unique about David. He was God-like, as in God’s heart and David’s heart were similar. This view makes David righteous, unimpeachable, altogether in sync with God’s ways; but this view doesn’t sit well with me.
David was an arrogant man at times. He had a ferocious temper. He committed adultery, pre-meditated murder, and his immediate family had more dysfunction than a team of therapists could have corrected. An alternative interpretation is to rendered the phrase, “a man after God’s choosing.” It’s not that David was especially holy, but that he was given a specific assignment.
And then a third idea: Maybe it is best to interpret the phrase as an act of pursuit. A person “after God’s own heart” is chasing after all that is good, just, and true – the life of love. This person will fail, stumble, and often come up short, but he or she has “chosen what is better,” a life of sacrificial service, not the shallow game of protectionism, self-centeredness, or self-indulgence.
Yes, that’s what made Danny so special. Even as he fell on that track, his heart never to beat again, he was running in a divine direction, and that is the choice put to all of us. As Jesus paradoxically said, “Hold to your life and you will destroy it. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever.”