Sprint or Marathon?
I am sure we have all been asked, or pondered the question on our own, “What would you do differently, if you knew you only had 6 months to live?” A truly contented person might respond, “Nothing, I’m already doing what I would do under those circumstances.” But then there are the rest of us. How I respond to that question probably reveals the internal conflict that rages inside me between selfishness and selflessness. Even my most “spiritual” responses would probably be tinged with a little selfishness – doing good things to bulk-up my heavenly savings account, or wanting to be remembered positively.
“What would you do differently if you knew you were going to live forever?” It’s like the senior who quips, “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would’ve taken better care of myself!” Living life for the long run might, at first glance, appears to be inconsistent with burning brightly to win the sprint. But, in a thoroughly integrated world-view, the answer to both questions might be the same.
The writer of Hebrews says:
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. 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. (Hebr. 12:1-2)
Nowhere in this passage does it state whether the race is a sprint or a marathon. In fact, I know not if the race before me is a sprint or a marathon. Nevertheless, I need to run it in the same way, with the same world view.
The passage tells me what kind of world-view I need to finish strong.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…
Jesus must be at the center of my world-view. Only then am I going to run the race successfully. He is the finish line, and by keeping my focus upon Him, I will stay on course and not be distracted from the task at hand. Only then will I be able to
…throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…
I often forget that there is an adversary that would love to see me fail, and so rob God of the glory He intends to reveal in me. The enemy will throw enticements into my path to distract my attention, or obstacles to trip me up, or obstructions to discourage me. If he can get me to dwell on my meager strength, he will convince me that I am not able to finish, nor even worthy to compete.
But if my focus is on Christ, I will continue to move towards Him, no matter the enticements offered. I will hurdle over obstacles in my path. If I stumble, I will be able to pick myself up and continue in the right direction. And if I find my way blocked, I will wait upon Him to reveal the way around, over, under, or through the obstruction, because I will know that I am running in the right direction.
If I am focused on Christ, I will also know that it is by His strength that I run, not my own. I will not limit myself to what I have accomplished in the past, but I will look forward with confident expectation (hope) for the miracles He will perform in my behalf as I run in obedience to His call. Have you ever seen an Olympic runner race with his previous medals around his neck. Often, my past achievements can be my biggest “hindrance.”
I can also learn something from the way Jesus ran His race.
…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.
What stops most from completing a footrace is the discomfort involved in running. When my sides ache from the build-up of metabolic waste products in my muscles, my legs feel like rubber, and it seems I cannot suck in enough air to keep going, it is easy to give up and drop out of the race. What many runners have learned, is that they can push beyond that “wall” and get their “second wind.” The difference comes in having a good reason to push past the pain and discomfort, to
…run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Jesus knew to what He had to look forward, so He was able to push past the pain of Galilee, Gethsemane and Golgotha to take hold of the glory that was His. In the same way, if my eyes are fixed upon Him, I will know enough about my reward that I will be motivated to push past the pain and finish strong. And, as if that isn’t enough by itself, I also have a cloud of witnesses cheering me on in this race. Some of those witnesses are identified in the preceding chapter of Hebrews (what the “therefore” is there for!). They have run the race, and know that I can too.
The Apostle Paul tells us that our goal is worth the hard work of sanctification.
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. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1Cor. 9:24-27)
He stresses the importance of focus, discipline and single-mindedness.
Every four years we are reminded of the hard work that precedes the stellar performances in the Olympic games. We hear and read stories of years spent in physical and psychological training – all for a medal. How much greater is the reward towards which we strive, and how much more permanent. Even the best Olympic performances are eventually outdone, and that medal may buy me temporary notoriety, but it will not sustain me for the rest of my life, much less for eternity.
If my world-view is centered on Christ, is intentional and educates my entire being, I will have the will to do the hard work of sanctification. I will have confidence in the reward. And I will be encouraged by the great cloud of witnesses as I run this race.