February 26, 2024

A final post on the topic of life as a marathon from Philip Jackson, a colleague and friend of mine from Macedonia. Phil serves as the field leader and church planting team leader in the city of Skopje.   Phil also runs marathons, and his first full marathon was the Athens Classic Marathon

Lastly, and appropriately, the final message that hit home from the whole marathon experience was the powerful encouragement provided by imagining the actual finish. While running the weekend-long runs in training for the Athens race, invariably I would imagine myself running into the classic stadium and running under that finish line banner. And invariably my eyes would tear up and powerful emotions would come over me. Note that this was while I was training at a place (along the Vardar River in Skopje) where other runners were running along the same path, and there I was with tears streaming down my cheeks. That happened numerous times and sure enough, on November 13 when I stepped across that finish line, my eyes teared up and powerful emotions came over me…just as I had imagined. The point, however, is not that my imagination equaled reality, but rather that the thought of what was to come gave me powerful energy to keep going…to keep running until one day I actually did cross the finish line.

Again, the parallels are obvious. Here is a powerful motivation for us, one that is highlighted again and again in Scripture. We endure life’s long race with much greater success when we take time to think about the finish line or our final destination. One day, Jesus will be standing and waiting for you! When you take your last breath on earth, you’ll walk or run right into His arms and hopefully, you’ll hear “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.”  (see Matt 25:21 and other blog posts on success)

Considering that, along with all of the treasures that heaven will afford, is meant to be a powerful motivation. Paul challenged us to fix our eyes on what is unseen, for “what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor 4:18).  For him, this was the key that kept him “being renewed day by day” even though outwardly we are wasting away”. This marathon life will waste us indeed. It is imperative that we focus on the finish line to find our inward renewal. In another place, Paul commands his readers to “set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col 3:1-2). It’s not an option for us.   We are commanded to do this.

The writer of Hebrews, just before talking about the race of life, lists one “runner” after another who endured life’s marathon.   How did they do it?   Well, in Abraham’s case, it was because he “was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10).  In fact, Hebrews, in referring to these heroes says,

“these all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:13-16, ESV)

The evident truth and the beauty of this is that focusing on the finish line makes you a better runner. C.S. Lewis said it well in his chapter on “Hope” in Mere Christianity.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next… It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

So if you want to run well, run strong and serve God effectively to the end, maybe even into your nineties,  think finish!

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