On a not-so-cool typical Mumbai winter Sunday, I had my second Marathon experience. I call it an ‘experience’, because I took part in the shortest race category – the six-kilometre dream run. And that’s hardly anything to write home about, considering a full marathon race spans a distance of 42.19 Kilometres.
Picture this- a runner running non-stop for a distance of 42 Kilometres! Tiring just to imagine, heh? Yet, thousands of athletes and amateur runners the world over participate and endure this long, painful journey.
Much like the Marathon, Christian life is a race. As difficult as the next part of this sentence may sound, it is a reality – this race isn’t just another 100-metre dash! It isn’t a ‘blink and you miss’ moment, where a runner completes the short distance in about 10-odd seconds (and if you’re Usain Bolt, you’d need just 9.58 seconds). Indeed, Christian race is a marathon- and a 42.19 KM one!
Apostle Paul, with his close affiliation to different cultures, especially the Greek one at Corinthians, often drew parallel between a Christian life and running. That’s why the church at Corinthians could relate to him very well when in I Corinthians 9:24-27, he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” [ESV]
If you manage to see a snapshot of the starting line of a marathon, you’d notice quite a huge crowd waiting to begin the race. In our race, it’s obvious that there are many of us who’d start this race passionately. And even as we continue this race, we see many who’d started with us still running with us. That’s awesome, right? But unfortunately, not all who start the race, manage to cross the finish line. It ain’t just enough to be starters. As true Christians, we should NOT be having a ‘DNF’ (Did Not Finish) tag next to us in the scoreboard.
Here are seven essentials that can help us to successfully finish the race:
1. Strict Training (v25)
It’s not a race where we can take things lightly. Without strict training that GOD, our trainer, provides, we won’t be able to finish the race. Had I decided to run the Full Marathon without training, I would have faltered somewhere without even completing half the race. “Every athlete who competes in the race goes into strict training” [v25 NIV]. This requires ‘self control in all things.’ [ESV]
2. Know your goal (v26)
A Marathoner starts a race knowing fully well that a finish line awaits him after 42.19, even though when he starts at 0.00, he may not be able to see the finish line. The racers ‘do not run aimlessly’, but they know that they do so ‘to receive a perishable wreath’ [v26 ESV] [a crown made of leaves that was given to the winners of Grecian games]. Aren’t we fortunate we know that upon the completion of the race, an imperishable crown awaits us upon the finish line?
3. Strain real hard (v27)
A marathoner undergoes real tough times during the run. He may even feel like quitting. He has to endure the pain in his body and overcome till the finish. As children of the living GOD, we need ‘discipline our bodies and keep it under control’. All the discouragements, all the negative and painful thoughts – keep them under check and away from you to run towards the finish line.
4. Forget what’s behind (Philippians 3:13b)
If a runner has to be successful, he’s got to forget all that he has left behind in his race. As a Christian, the dirty ‘d’ may try to make us feel guilty for the tumultuous past that we have had. No matter how dark our past is, be assured of one thing – JESUS, our SAVIOUR has erased it all. Once we have started the race, just look ahead.
‘…one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.’[NIV]
5. Don’t lose track (Galatians 5:7)
During a marathon, a runner has guides and markers along the route to ensure that he’s on the right track. But if the runner misses a marker, one mistake is all it takes for him to either get disqualified or get into a wrong route. If it’s the latter, it would take some doing to be back on track! Paul, in his letter to the church at Galatia, tells them, ‘You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?’ As we run this race, there’d be many voices that we would here to make us go out of our track. These could not just be the voices of the world, but even the voices within the supposed ‘family of GOD outside of HIS Will!’ ‘Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.’ – [Colossians 2:18 NIV] Lend your ear to GOD’s real voice and you’d know that you’re on the right track. Read the WORD. The living WORD is the real ‘marker’ we always need and ask our ‘guide’ – The HOLY SPIRIT to lead us. Always. Listen to the right voices.
6. Throw off all your additional burden (Hebrews 12:1)
A runner, if he has to run to his full potential, has to ‘run light.’ The story ain’t any different in our spiritual race. We need to off-load all the additional burden that the world has given us. It hinders, entangles and even slows us in this race, so much so, soon we’d rather quit than continue our journey! JESUS told us to carry HIS yoke, for “my yoke is easy and my burden light.” ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’
7. Fix your eyes on JESUS (Hebrews 12:2)
Finally, as we run the race, there’s nothing more important than what the writer of Hebrews says: ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’
And, when all is said and done, we need to confidently say like Paul, as he did in his second letter to Timothy in its fourth chapter and verses seven and eight, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Remember, we aren’t sent in to this world to just begin the race. We are to finish the race. No matter what it takes! It’s like the Tanzanian Marathoner John Akhwari, who during the marathon race in the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, fell, badly cutting his knee and dislocating the joint. In stead of quitting, he got up, bandaged his leg and continued to run. He finished hours after the winner and was obviously the last one to enter the stadium to a standing ovation from the crowd. When asked why he continued to run, his reply, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.” Our GOD did not send us to start the race. HE sent us to finish the race!
Derek Redmond was a favourite to win the 400 Metres run in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. As he was getting into the lead during the race, he tore a hamstring, stopping midway. The crowd gasped. But Derek got up. Started limping on. The authorities tried to persuade him to give up. Yet, Derek continued to limp towards the finish line, as the crowd cheered him on. Suddenly, a figure behind Derek emerged – Derek’s father. Taking him in his arms, he ensured sure that his son suffered no more fall as he led Derek across the finish line. Derek’s father later said, “Whatever happened he had to finish. And I was there to help him finish. I intended to go over the line with him. We started his career together, and I think we had to finish it together.”
When you’re falling down in this race, when you think you are limping – be assured of one thing – your HEAVENLY FATHER is going to come after you and hold you by HIS arms, carry you on HIS Shoulders and cross the finish line together with you, even as the angels stand and applaud this awesome partnership. For HE says, “We started our race together and we will finish it together!”
(Authored by Blessen Varghese)