Finishing the Course

For the past year, I have been using an exercise program on a stationary bike, one that allows me to ride on roads and paths in places around the world — many of which I would never have seen, otherwise. One of the trainers I have used on the program took me to Iceland to do a 40K race [spread out over three days for me], and in guiding me through the course, gave me an interesting insight into his ‘rules’ for competing, what he called “The Four P’s” of cycling:

      Preparation. Prepare yourself for the race you are about to enter, as appropriately and completely as you can. This requires knowing [as much as you can] something about the terrain, weather, and competition.

      Protection. Bring the appropriate gear to protect you — from the elements and from any potential falls.

      Patience. Since the races he enters are usually endurance races [anywhere from 10K to 200+ miles], patience is key; if you use too much speed too early, you won’t have the ability to make that ‘kick’ at the end or even, potentially, to finish.

      Perspective. Throughout the race, take an honest look at where you are and how you are doing. Take a look at where you are, geographically and within the number of other competitors; this will determine what you have to do from that point forward. Take a look at yourself, how you are doing physically and mentally; this, too, will determine what you need to do to finish or even compete.

      Having heard these bits of advice, I hope to do better in the future, but I also couldn’t help but see some spiritual parallels. Let’s make a quick parallel:

      Preparation. It is certain we will all die and face judgment afterward (Heb. 9:27), and we will all be judged for what we have done here on earth (2 Cor. 5:10), so preparation is essential. Entering into eternity not having prepared for it would be far worse than just jumping on a bike in street clothes with work boots to ride one of those 200-mile races! And since we do not know when this life ends, or this world ends, preparation is something to do now.

      Protection. In spiritual terms, the only thing we have to protect us is the blood of Jesus Christ. It is His blood that forgives and redeems us (Eph. 1:7), and it is only by being baptized into Christ, being “buried into His death” (Rom. 6:3, 4), that we have access to its protective power.

      Patience. As someone has said, “Life is not a sprint; it is a marathon.” It is important we understand that being a Christian and living the life God wants us to live is not all accomplished in one day, one week, or even one year. The transition from living for “ungodliness and worldly lusts” to living “soberly, righteously, and godly” is absolutely necessary (Titus 2:11, 12), but it will take time and patience. Likewise, the spiritual maturity and knowledge won’t come overnight; patience is the key.

      Perspective. This is just as important for every disciple to do, too. Paul’s admonition to the Christians in Corinth was clear: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Cor. 13:5). It is important to stop every so often [daily, at the very least] and see where we stand, spiritually. Am I actually following the teaching of Jesus, or have I been misled and following the wrong path? Am I doing the things that God says will bring forgiveness and eternal life? Is there sin in my life? These are all important questions that come only when we take the time to take a look around us, and within us.

      The comparison of athletics and the disciple’s life is not just something I invented, either. It is seen throughout the New Testament, especially in the writings of the apostle Paul. It was he who, near the end of his life, wrote to the young evangelist Timothy, giving him [and us] some sobering words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8; NASB). Paul would use the analogy of a disciple’s life being a race, or course, in other places, too, and we can see the spiritual parallels easily; we can also see some important lessons we must apply to our spiritual race.

      To the brethren of Corinth, Paul wrote, “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. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Similarly, he would write to Timothy, exhorting him to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ,” reminding him that soldiers do not get entangled in the affairs of the world that they might serve best in the capacity of a soldier, “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:3-5).

      And, of course, the writer of the book of Hebrews uses the analogy of life as a race, exhorting the early disciples, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:1, 2). From these passages, let us now make some application!

      Discipleship Requires Discipline. Paul noted the one who runs and competes for the prize is “temperate in all things”; a runner cannot expect success without self-discipline, and neither can a disciple of Jesus Christ. We must forgo — deny — the things that hinder us from running the race and competing well.

      This discipline also requires a disciple “competes according to the rules”; we don’t get to decide the course or the rules! If we want the prize, we must live as God says we must live; that takes discipline.

      Endurance is Needed. The writer of Hebrews, writing to Jewish Christians who were ready to give up and turn back to the Old Law, were admonished to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Endurance is “the ability or strength to continue or last, especially despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions,” and is needed to live a godly life to the very end. Falling short is not desirable! The writer of Hebrews admonished the early disciples, “you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Heb. 10:36).

      We Must Keep Our Eyes on the Goal. In admonishing the Jewish Christian to keep running the race, the writer added the necessity of “looking unto Jesus,” or, as the NASB translates it, “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” The point here is this: Jesus is our example; He endured whatever came His way and He finished the course. Since He is heaven — where we want to be — we must keep our focus on Him, on heaven, on the goal.

            God wants us to win this race! The ‘prize’ is worth it!          — Steven Harper