John Stephen Akhwari represented Tanzania in the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City. About midway through the 42 km marathon, Akhwari developed a cramp. He stumbled and was accidentally knocked down by another runner. He hit hard against the pavement, badly injuring his knee. Though in pain, he picked himself up and continued the race, hobbling along. Akhwari was the last to cross the finishing line, some one hour behind the winner. When asked later why he continued although injured, he said: “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.” He was proud to represent his country and he finished well.
The race before us
Our journey on earth as disciples is often likened to that of an athlete running a race. Hebrews 12:1-3 gives us the exhortation to consider the privilege of being in the race, the focus we need and the way to complete the race.
The fact that we are in this race should evoke in us a response of deep gratitude. We are in “the race that is set before us”. Isn’t it amazing? We would not have qualified on our own. The amazing reality is that God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8). Christ qualified us. He made it possible for us to be placed in the race. What marvelous grace!
And we are told to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” and to “run with endurance …” (Heb 12:1). For sure, there will be many distractions along life’s journey. Worldly pursuits may sap our time and energy. Worries may weigh us down. We may experience discouragements along the way – at times disappointed with people or conditions around us or with ourselves. There is also the reality of sin that entangles us. We can be tripped by sin, and find it a struggle to take the next steps forward. To remain in the race demands that we “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up” (v 1, NLT). Anything that will slow us down or trip us up must be cast off.
In order to reach the finishing line, we must “run with endurance … keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” (v2, NET). Like a farmer who keeps his focus on an immovable object to plough a straight furrow, we must keep our eyes focused on Jesus.
The wonderful thing about the Christian life is that every athlete can be a winner (see 2 Tim 4:8). Jesus qualified us. He placed us in the race. He will help us walk straight and reach the finishing line.
An important truth I learn for application is that living the Christian life does require effort on our part. Yes, we are saved by grace. But we don’t automatically achieve spiritual maturity the moment we are saved. The growth process takes time and effort. Intentionality is definitely needed.
- We will not grow if we do not spend time in reading God’s Word and taking steps to apply what He tells us.
- We will not grow if we do not spend time in prayer, having communion with Him.
- We will not grow if we do not gather with other believers to worship the Lord, to encourage and be encouraged in this race.
I think of my father-in-law who has just completed life’s journey, after sojourning through ninety years on earth. We know he kept focus on Jesus. Whether in business or in church, through good or tough times (he had his share of trying circumstances), he held on firmly to his Saviour and Lord, seeking to remain faithful to Him, in full dependence on Him. I thank the Lord for the opportunity to observe this disciple of Jesus at close range and to learn practical lessons on running the race that is set before us. We will need to keep our focus on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith to finish the race well.
By David L.T. Yap, Advisory Pastor/Elder (YCKC Bulletin article 17&18 January 2015)