This weekend a handful of us went to watch a friend run the 26.2 – mile race, the Chicago Marathon. It was cold and windy at times, but the atmosphere was electric! Over 40,000 men and women ran, and over 1.5 million spectators lined the streets along the course to cheer. People, including us, made posters with special messages on them. I heard several spectators ask their runner, “Do you need anything?” Cheerers were cheering on people they didn’t even know!
Talk about a parallel to the Christian life! Running the race as Christians is an electrifying experience! We are surrounded not only by the “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 11, but we have friends and family who also belong to Christ who are meant to encourage us along the way. That’s the beauty of the overall “body of Christ” – people we don’t even know can be an intense support to us while we push ahead towards the finish line.
One thing that stirred my spirit was at the finish line. There were radio celebrities who were announcing. These people would say things like, “And here’s a fantastic story for you. Tom Jones, who just finished, ran this race in honor of his wife who passed away this last year from cancer.” Or, “Mike and Julie Smith, married for 25 years, just crossed the finish line together.” The excitement was almost too much to contain!
Now, these announcers weren’t able to mention every single person that completed the race. BUT I could imagine heaven being something like this: “Let’s congratulate Jennifer Barnam, who struggled her whole life with bad health. She showed Christ-like character, though, every day, praising God for the blessings He gave her. Let’s welcome her home!” Or what about, “Eric St. Claire- this guy, in the midst of intense doubt, was an obedient servant to God. Whatever God told him to do, he did it.” Not one person who crosses that finish line will be left out. God will acknowledge every person who gave their lives to Him. What a thrilling homecoming scene at the real finish line that will be!
We Christians are a motley crew. So were the marathon runners. To mention a few characters, I saw the likes of: a guy dressed like Super Man, Fred Flintstone, a juggler who attempted to run and juggle the whole time, a bare-foot runner, a person in a Halloween mask, and a gal who had a prosthetic leg. Christians come from a strange mix, too. However, God says we’re many members, one body. So, we combine quirks here and idiosyncrasies there, and we have a mass collection of believers with more flavors than a bag of skittles.
I’m on a course for heaven. I don’t know how many more miles I have to run, but what I do know is that God gives strength to run, and He provides spectators to line our course to wildly cheer us on. He gives us supportive co-runners. At the finish line I heard on the loudspeaker about a guy who was struggling at the last few feet. A couple other runners picked him up and carried him across the finish line. Wow. . .what a picture of Christ-like love! Let’s keep our eyes open for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling. Maybe they need to be carried for a few feet, a block, maybe more. But we’re in this race together.
Hebrews 12:11-13 talks about God’s training method via discipline. The race is not for those with feeble arms and weak knees, but for those who have been trained by God’s fatherly discipline. That discipline is designed for our holiness. Makes me think of what it takes to run a marathon.
There are a rare few who can run such a race without any training. Twenty-six miles of body-abuse is too much for the average untrained human. Our friend trained for a full year. Not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. Last October he struggled with two city blocks. Over the course of several months, he expanded his horizons, from 7, to 10, to 14, to 20 miles. Each week was carefully planned to prepare his body to take on that kind of distance. If our friend was a weak-willed man, he would never have made it. But, by a decision of his will, he determined to discipline himself by following a prescribed training regimen.
Running God’s race isn’t for the weak or flimsy, either. You can’t win a race, much less complete the course, if your will is milk-toast. If we submit ourselves to God’s training program, if we allow Him to strengthen our spirits through His, if we obey His Word, He will ensure that we have the proper training to run the race with godliness.
Too many times I find myself unprepared for the race. Either I scrimp on my training (ya know, I’ll read Exodus tomorrow) or I neglect to keep my running apparel (Armor of God) securely fastened to my body. Watching my friend train, and seeing the fruits of his labor, has encouraged me to train well so I can run well.
“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 perfector of our faith. . .” Hebrews 12:1-2