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, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12.)
I’ve been doing a bit of running. I started with the Couch to 5k app about a year ago, and now I try to go to my local parkrun* when I can. I’m very slow, but it turns out that even if you’re slow, it still counts. It’s better than not running.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to watch a marathon, or any other long distance race. About ten years ago my parents, husband and I went to watch the Great North Run (a half-marathon) because my brother and his wife were running it. It’s such a fantastic day out.
There’s something very moving about watching people run and cheering them on. Many people wear their name on their vest so you can call it out as they run by. We discovered that one of the best things to shout is, “Keep going, [Dave]! You’re looking really good!” It usually made people smile.
We positioned ourselves quite near the end of the race, so some people we saw were really flagging. And of course, what do you do when you see someone who looks half dead? You cheer all the louder! “Come on, keep going! Don’t give up! You can do this! Not much further!”
I think one of the reasons I got so choked up about all of this was that it brought to mind the fact that the Christian life is like a race. Scripture mentions this several times. It’s a race in which everyone who crosses the finish line receives their reward, whether they were elites at the front or power-walkers at the back.
Sometimes we go through seasons in our Christian life when we’re flagging. We look like we might not even finish. Sometimes this happens because of big life events, like the birth of our first child, or an illness in the family, or the death of a loved one. Sometimes it’s caused by other factors. But at those times, we need encouragement to keep going. We need our friends to cheer us on and remind us why we’re in this race and what the prize is at the end.
At my local parkrun on Saturday, there was a group who all knew each other from a running club. Some of them finished fifteen or twenty minutes after others. But the last ones to finish got the biggest cheer, because in some ways it’s more magnificent when someone who’s struggled more crosses the line.
Think of your friends who have struggled in this Christian race. The ones who need reminding to come to Bible study, or who need persuading to come to church. The ones who you’ve spent so much time with explaining the simple gospel over and over again, because that’s what they’ve needed. The ones who you weren’t sure were going to finish. How overjoyed will you be to see them cross the finish line! When you see them in the new creation, won’t you be thrilled that they made it? And won’t they be thrilled that you didn’t stop cheering them on?
To God be the glory – it’s by His grace we’re saved and begin the race, and by His grace we make it to the Finish. However, we do also have a responsibility to make it to the finish line, and to help our brothers and sisters to get there, too. Paul tells us, “Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 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 for ever.” It won’t be easy, but the prize is disproportionately rewarding.
Thinking of his death, Paul wrote: 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
I want to be able to say that at the end: that I’ve kept fighting; kept running; kept believing. I want to receive that crown, so that I can cast it down before Him, lost in wonder, love and praise.
Let’s not get distracted or held back, by babies or wealth or sin. Let’s remember that we’re not running aimlessly, but we’re heading for a goal. Let’s remember that we’re in this race together, and we don’t want anyone to give up.
Keep going, sister. You’re looking really good.