So here we are at the end of the race – the end of talking about the Life Race and the Apostle Paul, and the end of you having to hear stories from me about running and about coaching runners. I’m sorry to always subject you folks to this (well, maybe only a little bit sorry), but it has been such a big part of my life both as a runner and as a coach of runners. Oh what I would give to be able to just run again for even five minutes!!
But even having apologized for the extended metaphor, as was said at the beginning of this journey three months ago, I am bolstered by the fact that Paul used the metaphor five times in his writings – under the inspiration of Scripture. So, if you love another sport, see if you can count five occasions where your sport is mentioned in the Bible by direction of the Spirit of God through the human author! Soccer? Sorry. Football? Nope. Boxing? You get a couple references. Baseball? After the first words in Genesis 1:1, “In the big inning …” it never appears again.
Often the most difficult portion of a race is the final stretch. Success is best accomplished with a specific, advanced plan to finish well. About 8-10 years ago when coaching HS runners, I had a highly-gifted young man who was among the best in the state of Maryland. However, several times he had been outkicked at the end of races by another of the top runners in the state, including in the state championships. So for his senior year, we began in August with a specific plan to address this issue.
At the state finals, he was leading his opponent by a decent margin and our plan seemed to be working. But once again this particular fellow came roaring from behind; and I’m yelling, “He’s coming, he’s coming!” That runner managed to pass my guy in the last 50 feet of the race. I was so upset about it that I took the clipboard in my hands and whacked the ground with it, and it shattered into several pieces. I really shouldn’t have done that, especially since there was a camera at the finish line that was pointed in my direction and caught the whole thing on video; and then it went viral on the internet for a time! Ugh.
But, the truth was that he finished his race well; he ran a great time. He was all-state three times. The other guy was just a very good all-around runner. My boy got his college paid for, competed well, and has been a college coach himself in recent years.
Again, to finish well – in a running race, or the Life Race – it takes a plan set out in advance and adhered to over the long-haul of time.
Multiple times in Paul’s writings we see him speak with some anticipation of his possible earthly demise. This is evidence that he thought much about it and that he anticipated it warmly. He thought of it as gain, not loss. His only concern was that he finish his race well.
We don’t know how Paul specifically had his earthly life end. Tradition says that it was by being beheaded; and all the evidence would point to that as probable. As a Roman citizen he would be exempt from death by the horrible tortures that befell many of his Christian brethren. Citizenship would also save him from the disgrace of crucifixion, which would appear to have been the means of Peter’s execution (John 21:18, coupled with tradition).
So, is this what happens to the best of people who follow Jesus? They lose their head (literally) or get crucified upside-down? By God’s grace we have largely been spared from that ignominy in our time and culture. Even so, such horrific deaths of Christian brethren are met daily in our era in various corners of the earth. This century is one of great martyrdom. It is a dirty, little secret that we don’t think or talk about that very much. It is awful, but even at its worst it is temporary compared to the gain and the rewards that follow for eternity. And God has that big picture in mind, whereas we tend to only have our earthly picture in the frontal lobes of our brains.
I can tell you from running marathons that the very best part of the race (but also the very worst part of it in terms of pain) is the final mile. The cumulative wear and tear of 25 miles has settled in deeply, but the prospect of finishing and gaining the award for having competed well makes the suffering almost sweet.
The idea – in running or in the Life Race – is to keep one’s fixation on the prize at the end. Paul did it; those who have gone before us have done it; and you can do it. So … just do it! “Just Do It!” That would be a great slogan for a running gear company, wouldn’t it? Wow, here I am at the final sentence of the final devotional, and I realize I should have named this series “Just Do It” instead of “Life Race!”
<< So this is the end of the Life Race and the end of our “race” of 60 devotionals. We’ll be back again in two weeks on September 18th at the beginning of the next series called “The Other Side of the Tracks: Looking Beyond Ourselves.” >>