Strong to the Finish
Your life's race requires help from above

by Craig Brian Larson

When I was in college, I ran cross-country. Our competitions were held on area golf courses. Race officials placed flags on the course to mark the way for runners. A certain color indicated "left turn," another meant "right turn," a third meant "straight ahead."

If the runners wanted a medal, they had to follow the proper course. A runner couldn't decide, "This is a six-mile race, but I've only got four miles in me this morning. I'm going to take a shortcut. I hope nobody minds."

It's true for Christians, too. We have to run the race God intended us to run, not somebody else's race or the race of our own choosing. Yet it's easy to compare ourselves with others. When the race seems tough, it's easy to look at someone else and say, "If I had his race to run, no problem. If I had his paycheck, if I had a spouse, if I had his good health, I could run with perseverance."

We're tempted to quit because our course is harder than someone else's, but God says, "I want you to run this race. Don't think about others. Just look at me."

Hitting the wall
At the beginning of a marathon, runners feel strong and energetic. For years, they've followed a regimen prescribing what to eat, how much to train, and how much to rest. They're ready.

Then the gun sounds, and they take off. Sixteen miles into that marathon, though, they no longer feel energetic, do they?

Blisters begin to rub raw; it feels like a knife has lodged in their side. Legs turn to mush, and muscles scream in pain.

It happens in life, too. We get down the road, and there's pain involved. We say, "This hurts, so it must not be God's will."

But pain doesn't mean it's no longer God's will. Sometimes the race God calls us to run is filled with pain. Remember that God didn't call you just to begin a noble task or relationship. He wants us to keep running and be great finishers.

World-class runners have a "kick." A "kick" is a runner's term that means when they get to that last one hundred yards, they can still sprint to the finish line and win the race. God wants us to have a "kick." No matter what the circumstance, God wants us to finish strong.

Never stay down
The 1981 movie Chariots of Fire portrays the true story of Eric Liddell, a man who competed for Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics before becoming a missionary.

One memorable scene that appeared to be Hollywood fiction, actually happened. A year before the Olympic showdown, Liddell ran in a meet between England, Ireland, and Scotland. In the 440-yard event, moments after the gun sounded, Liddell tangled feet with J.J. Gillies of England and tumbled to the track. Dazed, Liddell sat there, not knowing whether he could get up, when the official screamed, "Get up and run!"

He jumped to his feet and pursued the pack, now a full twenty yards ahead of him.

With forty yards to go, he pulled into third place, then second. Right at the tape he passed Gillies, stuck his chest out, won the race, collapsing in total exhaustion.

The next day The Scotsman newspaper reported, "The circumstances in which Liddell won the race made it a performance bordering on the miraculous." Some described it as "the greatest track performance they had ever seen."

Some of you have been knocked down by foolish decisions, by a person, or even Satan himself. When we're down on the track, we're ashamed and depressed. The only real shame is to stay down. God's word compels you, "Get up and run!" Forget what lies behind and run for the prize God has waiting for you.

Philippians 1:6 doesn't say, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day you fail and flop on the track." It says, "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ."

An unexpected embrace
It was Monday night, August 3, at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. About 100 meters into the 400-meter semifinals, Britain's Derek Redmond crumpled to the track with a torn right hamstring.

Medics rushed out to assist him, but as they approached Redmond, he waved them off, struggled to his feet, and crawled and hopped in a desperate effort to finish the race.

Up in the stands, a man wearing a T-shirt, tennis shoes, and a Nike cap with Just Do It written across the front, barreled out of the stands, hurled aside a security guard, ran to Derek Redmond's side, and embraced him. He was Jim Redmond, Derek's father.

Arm around his son's waist, Derek's arm around his father's thick shoulders and neck, they continued down the track.

Derek's mom and sister were watching back home on television. His sister, who was pregnant, went into false labor. His mom wept. At the stadium, the crowd rose to their feet and cheered. Finally, arm in arm, the father and son crossed the finish line.

If that's the way an earthly father responds to his son who is determined to finish the race, how much more does our Heavenly Father support his son or daughter who says, "I'm finishing, no matter how much it hurts."

God makes his compassion clear in Isaiah 46:34, where he says he has carried us from birth to old age. As he carries you, as you wrap your arms around him, God whispers in your ear: "Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:58).

One day, like the apostle Paul, I pray I will be able to say, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith." May that victory be yours as well.

Condensed from Preaching Today (Tape 155), © 1997 Craig Brian Larson. Used by permission.

Copyright © 1998 by the author or Christianity Today International/Christian Reader magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or e-mail May/June 1998, Vol. 36, No. 3, Page 61