There has been some epic races throughout history and some of them were so dramatic and eventful that they made history at the time; like the first Marathon, about 500 BC, when a soldier by the name of Phidippides ran from Marathon to Athens with the news that the Greeks had won the battle against the Persians and that the defeated Persians were on their way to attack Athens. Myth and truth are difficult to separate in this account but modern Olympic games schedule a copycat marathon race of 26.2 miles and the competition is usually popular and fiercely contested.
Sport lovers will undoubtedly recall some truly awesome races that test humans to the limit like the Tour de France cycle race, the Daytona 500 or the Le Mans 24 hrs. car race, the America's Cup boat race, and the Gordon Bennett Cup of ballooning among quite a long list. These are all magnificent races but they cannot compare to foot races.
Foot races are the ultimate races since they demand of the competitor all the attributes of the sportsman to the utmost; physically, mentally and emotionally as well as other characteristics like timing and strategy. But even foot races, though in many ways comparable, are not in the same league as the greatest race on earth as we are about to discover.
The greatest race however is none of the above, for the race I am about to mention exceeds them all by any evaluation, outlasts and outranks them all by a huge margin, and is more complex, convoluted and challenging than any other race known to humanity.
I am referring to the ubiquitous race known simply as the Christian race, a race that starts at conversion and ends at death and to which all believers dedicate themselves; some with unbridled passion and commitment, and some less so, but all with the abiding faith that they will endure to the end and receive their reward.
The evidence that this is a race, a race like no other but nevertheless a mighty race, can be seen when we compare this race with an ordinary, long distance, obstacle-strewn race and see how the Bible supports such a viewpoint.
Just like a race competitors must be legally enrolled, "And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." (2 Timothy 2:5)
Just like a race it has a challenging course, "But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me." (2 Timothy 3:10-11)
Just like a race discipline is an essential requirement for success, "And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible." (1 Corinthians 9:25)
Just like a race it has spectators who watch, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1)
Just like a race patience is vital and endurance is necessary, "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." (Matthew 24:13)
Just like a race some will win and some will not, "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain." (1 Corinthians 9:24) Paul was referring here to the Olympic games where at the time there was just one winner per race with no silver and bronze awarded. In the Christian race winning is not so restrictive; all runners may win.
Just like a race it has a finish line, "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24) and most importantly winning is about finishing the course, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7)
Just like a race it has a judge or judges, "And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead." (Acts 10:42)
Just like a race the winner will be rewarded, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14), "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." (Revelation 22:12)
So it is clear then that the Bible compares the Christian race with a rugged, demanding footrace and each believer must run his course, Paul said that he had finished HIS course, and each course will be constructed differently in terms of length of time, severity and ruggedness of the track and the number of obstacles. How then is one to succeed in this gruelling, obstacle-strewn, race to heaven course?
How to run and win this amazing race
Run with a determination to win. This is not a race to suck it and see, it's not a fun thing of the moment, it is not something to do because your friends are doing it and you have nothing better to do, it is not a light-hearted endeavour. This race is a serious race, the most important in the universe and you run it to win, even as Paul counselled, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize" (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
Make strict discipline a part of your ongoing routine. One of the biggest failures in any sport is through the lack of discipline. Believers must have an abundance of self-discipline since the temptations for debilitating diversions are many, the attractions along the way are inviting, the Bible speaks of the pleasures of sin and yes they are alluring but strict discipline handles them all, "So I run like someone who has a goal. I fight like a boxer who is hitting something, not just the air. It is my own body I fight to make it do what I want. I do this so that I won't miss getting the prize myself after telling others about it." (1 Corinthians 9:26-27 Easy-to-Read Version).
Lighten your load by ejecting restraints. Someone once said that a runner does not win a race with 200 pounds of gold strapped to his back. It is quite amazing that some believers try to do something similar. Sometimes the restraint is not in itself evil, like for example being too busy with charitable work to spend quality time in devotions, but every restraint is a disadvantage and should be jettisoned as the writer of Hebrews suggested, "... let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." (Hebrews 12:1) Sometimes a friend can be a terrible restraint, sometimes a well-loved occupation but lighten the load, remove the restraint and press on to victory.
Avoid all discouraging people and circumstances where possible. Some people's negativity, especially people near and dear to you, can set you back greatly and we need to recognise that and act wisely. Some believers walk into dreadful situations with their eyes wide open and suffer the consequences, like going to certain night clubs or fetes and expecting civility and decency. The more encouragement and support we get the better we run this race for it is easy to grow weary and not only should you associate with those who encourage and support you but you in turn should make it a habit to encourage others along the way. You need to keep your eyes on Jesus at all times, "Think about Jesus. He patiently endured the angry insults that sinful people were shouting at him. Think about him so that you won't get discouraged and stop trying." (Hebrews 12:3 ERV)
Your past may be discouraging and in any event never look back. You will remember what happened to Lot's wife when she looked back and fatally faltered (Genesis 19:26), so your past may be a combination of good and bad but looking back is a negative trait since you may stumble and fall, and Paul affirmed this when he declared, "Brothers and sisters, I know that I still have a long way to go. But there is one thing I do: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me. I keep running hard toward the finish line to get the prize that is mine because God has called me through Christ Jesus to life up there in heaven." (Philippians 3:13-14 ERV)
Keep pressing on and do not stop until you cross the finish line. In this race there is going to be lots of trials, anguish and agony, pain and distress, ups and downs and we can lose heart at times but we are to take Paul's advice, "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." (Galatians 6:9) and to do this we have to keep pressing on, keep going when it seems so much easier to give up and call it a day. We must persist and cross the finish line and finish the course and Paul states it succinctly, "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy..." (Acts 20:24)
This amazing Christian race, the most glorious race known to us, the most demanding, compelling and utterly fabulous race that anyone will ever encounter or attempt, is the race that God calls all humans to run and we can win because God provides all the grace and the facilities necessary for us to do so successfully. Multitudes have successfully run this race and God himself, the author and finisher of our faith, is at the finish line waiting to congratulate us with the most welcome words in eternity, "Well done thou good and faithful servant...enter thou into the joy of thy Lord" (Matthew 25:21) And all because we defied the odds and ran the greatest race ever.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2016
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