Have you ever run a race? You don’t just wake up one day and say, “I think I will run a race today.” If you did, you would quickly find out that you don’t have what it takes to finish, never mind win the race. There needs to be months of mental preparation and physical training that happens prior to a race being run.
First you need to decide that you want to run. Next you need to get your fitness levels up, and you do this by building up the time you spend on the road. Finally, you need to adjust your diet accordingly. Even before you’ve started the race you’ve readied your mind; you’ve studied the route and now finally race day has arrived and you are lined up at the start ready to begin. The atmosphere is electric. All around you are the crowds that have come to watch and cheer you on. Suddenly it’s time – the race is about to begin. The starter moves to the front of the large crowd, takes his position and fires the starter’s pistol. You are off with the crowd of runners, jostling for position, attempting to move up in your race position. Your eyes are firmly fixed on the prize you hope to win by finishing your race.
As Christians, we have a race to run. A route has been marked out for us by God. It’s not something that we set or decide. This is all determined by the Father who inspires us to run, to never quit, and to finish our race. And all of Heaven is cheering you on with eager anticipation.
This reminds me of that wonderful Scripture in Hebrews 12:1-3. The Message Bible puts it like this:
“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”
We have decided to follow Jesus and the starter’s gun has been fired. We are now off running our race. But how do we run and finish our race? Firstly, we need to realise that this a marathon and not a sprint. A marathon is a strenuous test of fitness and endurance. The race before us requires faith, stamina, consistency, commitment and discipline in order to finish. We cannot afford to quit ( 1 Cor 9:25-26; Phil 3:12-14; 1 Tim 6:12). . Once we see this as a lifelong marathon, we must commit ourselves to run to the very end. A daily discipline of prayer, worship, reading God’s Word and cleansing our lives of sin will help. We need a Christlike attitude, where even in the midst of trials, we can overcome and not give up ( 1 Pet 2:21; 4:1; 1 John 2:6).
For us to stay the course and finish our race, we need to pace ourselves. Every good runner will tell you to start slow and stay even. If you start too fast, you run the risk of running out of energy and not finishing strong, if at all. The Bible calls this endurance (James 1:2-3; 1 Cor 10:13-14; Col 1:11). Endurance is the capacity to last and to withstand. As we run our race, we will be faced with many trials, tests and tribulations along our route that can distract us from the prize and even cause us to give up. Instead, we need to use these challenges to teach and train us to overcome and be victorious.
The key to us enduring is keeping our eyes on Jesus. After all, according to the scripture above, Jesus began and finished the race that we are on. So, we look to Him, ‘the author and perfecter of our faith’. He has already run and successfully finished this race. He is at the finish line cheering us on and waiting for us to finish. According to Hebrews, for us to finish strong, we need to ‘study how he did it.’
How did Jesus do it? How did He run his race with such endurance? How did He finish so strong? Jesus’s race was tough. He shed blood, sweat and tears. His race was marked with suffering and with pain. But He never considered giving up. Why? Because He understood that His Father didn’t send Him to earth to just start His race, but to finish it and to win the prize. Jesus kept his eyes on the prize. He never took His eyes off His Father or the Plan. He kept looking at the joy set before Him. He endured the shame and pain because He knew that He would one day be seated at the right hand of the Father, interceding for each one of us that we might not give up but endure to the end and receive the crown of life.
Jesus won the race. Jesus overcame sin, sickness and death. He is our Champion who initiates and perfects our faith. So, we look to Him as we run our race of faith knowing that the one who overcame and won, will also help us overcome and finish our race. And when we finish, we will run into His arms in triumphant victory, saying “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).