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When I was in high school, I was a runner – a sprinter. I was pretty fast and could beat most people in a race. This carried on into my 20s and somewhat into my 30s.
Fast-forward to my son Christopher’s high school years. He also was a runner, but he was a long-distance runner. Before one particular race, I heard a rumor that the parents, specifically the fathers, would be invited to race afterward. So I went and bought what were the most tricked-out shoes available at the time. I put them in the trunk of my car just in case, because I knew it would to be a moment to relive the glory days.
So when the race finished for the kids, sure enough, the announcement was made that dads were invited to run. I was being very nonchalant as I put my shoes on. Sizing up my competition, I thought, This is going to be good. So the starter pistol was fired, and off we went. I always had something I could tap into, almost like a turbo button that I could hit, and I would take off past everyone. So I thought, I need to hit the turbo now. Hit the turbo button! But everyone was passing me. I realized very quickly that not only would I not win the race, but I was going to lose the race – and lose it miserably. So when I came around one bend, I just walk off the track.
Running is actually something that is used a lot in Scripture as a picture of the Christian life. And whether we consider ourselves runners are not, we are all in a race. We are runners in a spiritual race, and it is a race we must win, because it is the race of life.
The apostle Paul seemed to be very fond of the metaphor of running to describe following Christ. He said, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24 NKJV).
Paul was saying that we must remember we have to practice self-control. When you are training, you have to discipline yourself. You have to watch what you eat. You have to get enough sleep so you will do well in the race.
Then the writer of Hebrews drew on the metaphor of running as well: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
To win the race of life, we need to get rid of extra weight that would slow us down or hinder us. Let us strip off every weight that slows us down. … No one runs a 5K with scuba tanks on. We want to run as lightly as we can. So we have to ask ourselves, Is there something or someone that is slowing me down in the race of life?
Paul, writing to the churches of Galatia, again drew on the analogy of running when he said, “You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth?” (Galatians 5:7 NLT). There are some people who, when you spend time around them, they make you want you to do better spiritually. Then there are other people who make you want to do worse.
We want to think about the things we do. We want to think about the people we spend time with. This is because running the race is not just running to what is right. It is also running from what is wrong.
We must also run the race with the right motive. Writing to the Philippians about his motive in the race of life, the apostle Paul said, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NIV).
Paul was saying, “My goal is to know him.” There are a lot of people who know a lot about God. But I don’t know how well they know him. I have met people who are very intelligent and are steeped in theology. Yet I don’t see them being Christlike people sometimes. I see them being harsh, mean-spirited and judgmental. That is not what I want. If that is what all the knowledge in the world is going to get someone, then something has gone wrong. I am all for studying. I am all for learning. But the end game is to know God, not just know about him.
As we run the race of life, we also need to have a clear objective and focus. The apostle Paul had a clear objective in life. He said, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). That was Paul’s focus. That is what mattered to him more than anything else. And if you really fix your gaze on one thing, you will find that everything else will sort of blur out.
So in the race of life, don’t look back. If you do, you will break your stride. Paul said, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on. …” To forget does not mean to fail to remember. It means to no longer be influenced or affected by things that are behind you.
Lastly, you must press on, even when things are hard. Paul said he was “straining toward what is ahead.” In the original language, this points to strong exertion. It is the idea of a runner in the last lap of a long-distance run. Every muscle is hurting. But he can see the finish line.
So how are you doing in the race of life? Don’t be satisfied with what has happened in the past. Press on.