In July, 2021, the 2020 Summer Olympics will be held in Tokyo. Due to the pandemic, the games had to be postponed. With the new vaccines available, many hope that the Olympics will finally bring hope and excitement to weary individuals. The pageantry and the skills of the athletes are things that many are looking forward to.
Of all the sports, many think about the track and field events. Marathons, relays and a host of others. Each athlete will push his or her body to the limit and beyond to do things that many would say is impossible. Events like the high jump and hurdles are events to behold. Seeing people jump higher or run and spring over hurdles is really a thing of beauty. The human form in all of its glory is put to the test.
Paul, in his various letters to the churches, makes the comparison of our Christian lives to a great race that we strive to finish. In the track and field events, you see distance runners and sprinters. In Christian life, we must be a little of both. We must run the distance like a distance runner who follows along a steady pace. At other times, we must push ourselves to run faster and harder like a sprinter. In either case, we must strive to endure whatever the distance and make it to the finish line.
In my own life, there have been times when I just wanted to sit out the race. Back in 2018 when I faced all of my health problems, I found myself lying on the floor weeping and wanting so desperately to just give up. My body had been pushed well beyond the limits. Medications, surgeries and so many procedures and tests all took their toll on my body. Many of the doctors on the team wondered why I was even alive. Some even gave me only a twenty percent chance of getting out of the hospital. The best odds I received were 50-50. No one knew how my race was going to end. But, like a distance runner, I maintained my pace and kept moving towards the finish line.
Sometimes, I would have to sprint to get to the next point in the race. I had to pick up the pace and move even faster to stay ahead of my illness. No matter whether I was running a marathon or a dash, there were times when I just felt that I couldn’t go a step further. I truly wanted to give up and not finish the race.
I always thought that I had a strong faith and could get through anything. But, even the strongest find themselves staring into the abyss and seeing nothing but hopelessness. Paul had his moments too.
In chapter two of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.”
Biblical scholars have their pet theories regarding Paul’s thorn. Some have thought it was malaria while others have thought it was physical or mental feebleness or even poor eyesight. The real point to all of this is that Paul suffered from something and that suffering kept him dependent on God.
In his own words, Paul begged the Lord to take that thorn away from him. But, He didn’t. For some, that response from God would be unacceptable and those individuals might turn away from God. I, like Paul, prayed many times for His hand of healing and wanted the easy way out. But, I also realized that God was testing my faith.
Even as Jesus was on a cross, he, in chapter twenty-seven of the Gospel of Matthew, says, “At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’”
There are times when we feel that we have been abandoned. It is only natural to feel that way especially when you consider what you are going through. But, I will tell you this. God never abandoned me. He was always there and He was the arm I leaned on when I just couldn’t bear to take the next step. It was only through His strength that I was able to take that next step in the race. It was slow going and He set my pace.
Paul, in chapter two of his second epistle to the Corinthians, continues, “Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
No matter what we face, God is there to give us His grace to support us even when things seem their darkest. There were so many times when I just wanted to give up and quit. After seeing me in so much pain at times and having to endure all of the side effects of the medications that I was on, some would say that it was fine for me to just give up. But, God didn’t give up on me. So, I would reach out and take His hand and take that next step in the race and continue to keep the pace that He set for me.
After enduring so much, I completed that leg of the race. Although I still endure the side effects of the surgeries and medications, I still thank God for His strength and for setting the pace and direction for my race. It is only through His grace that I was able to get through all of the problems of an illness that nearly took my life.
In chapter three of his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
A good runner looks forward and doesn’t concentrate on the ground that he or she has already covered. A good runner concentrates on the path ahead as it leads to the prize at the end. Our focus, like Paul’s, needs to be on that heavenly prize. Paul puts it very simply. Forget the past and focus on what lies ahead. Reliving the past will only cause you to falter in the race. Your concentration will shift from what is ahead and your mind will wander. When that happens, it is so easy to stumble and fall. Keep your eyes always on the prize and on God. Remember that He sets the pace and is there with you every step of the way.
When the race is almost complete, how will you see yourself? Will you see only the moments when you stumbled and fell? Will you see the times when God gave you his hand and lifted you up?
In chapter four of his second letter to his brother in Christ, Timothy, Paul writes, “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.”
As you continue to run your race, keep your eyes focused on the prize and on God. Rely on Him alone. It is only His grace that will get you through all of the troubles and toils that you may face as you run. As you strive to the finish line, finish strong and, as Paul put it, fight the good fight. When you do those things and rely on God’s strength and grace, you can easily stand firm in His grace.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.