Sprinting to the Finish Line
The Bible describes the Christian life as a race that is definitely more like a marathon than a sprint. The writer of Hebrews calls us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Paul compels us to run with discipline and resolve to win an eternal prize. He expressed his concern that he would run the race in “vain” (Philippians 2:16; Galatians 2:2). He expressed regret that the believers in Galatia had once run well but had been hindered in their faith (Galatians 5:7).
Every race is judged not by how it starts, but how it is finished. I ran track as a sprinter in high school. In the relay races, I always ran the first leg. No matter how fast I was in getting out of the blocks and making a hand-off to the next runner, it mattered for nothing unless our fourth leg was fast enough to win the race.
I’ve always been impressed with distance runners who know how to excel in a race of multiple laps or even many miles. A key to their performance in long-distance contests is the ability to “kick” in the final segment of the race. Usually the winner’s best effort is his last one as he reserves a sprint-like reserve to finish the race at a profound pace.
Finishing Our Race
Knowing the Christian life is a long-distance event compels us to ask the question: How will I finish the race? What will my spiritual pace look like as I approach the finish line? Will my last lap be my best one? Or will I dribble across the finish line with a “spiritual retirement” mindset, running without purpose?
Paul finished impressively. In what amounted to the final press of his pen to the parchment he wrote,
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Paul was so spiritually resolute in his final steps before touching eternity’s tape that he described his death as an act of worship. He spoke with passion about the grace of God that enabled him to finish his race, and spoke with great anticipation of the crown that made every effort worth it.
I’ll never forget a time some years ago when I encountered two 72-year-old pastors who were complete opposites in their approach to the last strides in their ministry race. One was retired, grumpy, negative and aimless. The other was still in the pulpit, gracious, optimistic, and dreaming about his future. One complained about the younger generation and how they had forsaken his old ministry preferences. The second was busy investing in young men, with a desire to help them live like Christ. One was stumbling toward the finish line with his head down in despair and morbid introspection. The other had his eyes on the prize with growing spiritual impact as the years went by. It was not hard to decide which model I hope to follow as my golden years approach.
The 98-Year-Old Sprinter
Recently, I was deeply impressed with a man who attended a three-day Men’s Prayer Summit. His name was Chet. He was 98 years old. Not only was I astonished that he was willing to commit to this very intense, unscripted prayer experience – but even more amazed with his active participation during the entire event. He watched, he listened, he sang, and he prayed with an open heart and joyful attitude.
On the final evening of the Summit, we enjoyed a 2-hour communion experience. The service included the option for men to wash the feet of other men at a prayer station in the back of the room, if they felt led to do so. Of course, a handful of younger men were eager to honor Chet by washing his feet. One of our leaders told me that Chet also served some of the other men in this way. They said the entire time he was washing their feet he just quoted an array of Scripture passages.
I want to be like Chet when I grow up! What passion, humility, and depth. He is a living picture of Psalm 92:13-15:
“Those who are planted in the house of the LORD
Shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bear fruit in old age;
They shall be fresh and flourishing,
To declare that the LORD is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.”
Secrets to the Finish Line Sprint
To understand people like Chet, we would do well to turn to the Scriptures to observe some of the keys to running well until the end. Paul’s personal commentary from Acts 20:24 gives us great insight. He was on his way to Jerusalem, knowing he would suffer there for the cause of Christ. Still, he made this bold declaration: “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Here we see Paul’s determination to finish his race.
Let’s observe five key insights for a strong final lap:
Seeing beyond the moment – Even though “chains and tribulations” awaited Paul, he wrote, “none of these things move me.” Paul saw beyond the present press and pain of circumstances to the good and Christ-honoring eventual outcome. This kind of eternal perspective and spiritual vision empowers us to grasp the real meaning of life. I remember an interview I conducted with Jerry Falwell when he told me that “real vision never allows you the luxury of discouragement.”
Let go and live – Paul also notes, “nor do I count my life dear to myself.” Jesus made it clear that when we try and preserve our life, we lose it (Matthew 16:25). Sacrifice for the cause of Christ is a life-giving reality for the believer. The gray twilight of half-hearted commitment is the dead zone that robs believers of passion and impact.
Joy just like Jesus – Paul was determined to finish his race with joy. This is just like Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Joy comes not from easy circumstances or an absence of suffering, but from knowing it is always worth it in light of the eternal reward.
A steward to serve – Paul remained motivated by “the ministry which (he) received from the Lord Jesus.” Later in this same sermon, Paul quoted his Jesus stating that it is more blessed (or happy) to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Givers are always happier and healthier. They see themselves as stewards responsible to bless others with all they have been given. Hoarders are miserable and weary. They finish their race limping and laboring under a load of self-absorbed care.
Keeping mission central – Paul lived to “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” His life was not about himself, but focused on the greatest cause in the world. This kind of purpose ennobles and invigorates a life.
As I think of Chet’s passionate prayers for three days and his deep devotion to the Scriptures, I know that he is a man fully-devoted to the mission of Jesus in this world. Although long-since retired from his successful business career, he has remained loyal to His greater calling to know Christ and make Him known.
Some live their final years with hardening of the arteries. Others finish with hardening of the attitudes, which is much worse. Lord, keep my attitudes soft and my heart passionate so that my final effort will be my best as I cross the finish line of this race into the reward of eternal glory in the presence of Jesus — the Joyful Finisher!
Copyright © 2012 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.