Years ago, I found myself on a plane headed to Hilo, Hawaii. A friend of mine had entered to run a marathon on the beautiful island and had asked if I would care to join him on that trip. While on the plane he informed me that he had also signed me up for the Hilo Marathon race. Wow!
I had not run in years; I was 44 years old, and definitely not in shape for any such excursion. But in all transparency, I have to admit that my portion was entry into the 5K class—still huge for me though. It certainly was a beautiful venue and so I decided to make the best of it. Having never done such a race, I asked, “How will I know where to go?” He quipped, “Follow the mommy with the stroller and her seven-year-old child.” And so, I did.
As the sun was just peaking over the horizon, a cruise ship was making its way into the harbor, and a delicate drizzle began to fall. The many participants scuffled into place for the big event… and we were off. My simple strategy for success, or at least survival of the race was— “Just keep going… one foot in front of the other, in the right direction.”
Paul, and the writer of Hebrews both draw on “the race” as a metaphor of the Christian journey:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Now everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, laying aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary, fainting in heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
The portrait offered is both telling and profound, in what is explicit, and what is not. What is presented is a parallel of life as we move in this world, specifically those who are true followers of Christ. It is a scenario of forward progression toward Home; it is hard, it requires discipline, and so, it must be intentional.
It is a picture of exhaustion, of tangles and traps along the way. And, it is an exhortation to focus upon the dedication of Christ as our example and motivation to press on. As we have the witness of many who have run the race successfully before us, we are to pursue Christ, the front-runner… all the way Home.
As we run the race we look to the goal; yet sadly, along the arduous way we pass bodies that have fallen down, collapsed, or given up—succumbing to fatigue. Some have wondered so far off course that their races are seemingly done. Others we have known have finished, arms high, crossing the line in victory.
Though I recall the mommy with the stroller and her seven-year-old beat me across the finish line, I did eventually finish the race. My strategy worked— “Just keep going… one foot in front of the other, in the right direction.” One foot in front of the other, I made it.
The trek to my spiritual finish line is still in front of me, as it is for all who desire to be faithful. And what awaits is the crown, the incorruptible crown. Better than the t-shirt, better than the mementos and pictures; the joy set before us is life—eternal life with our Creator.