The mark of a good athlete is that they know everything about the race they are about to run and they know how to pace themselves. They know when to slow down. But most importantly, they know when to pick up the pace and give it all they’ve got.
Paul used the metaphor of an athlete running a race many times in his letters to the New Testament Christians. There must be some lessons we can learn from the seasoned and committed athlete.
I am not a great fan of a lot of sports but I do love to watch track events. Especially the sprints. Perhaps it is because the race is over quickly and you can see who wins the prize (I just haven’t got the patience to watch 22 men kick a ball around for the better part of ninety minutes – apologies to those of you who are football fans).
Have you ever closely watched runners doing the 100, 200 or 400 metre race? Their faces are scrunched by the most intense effort and focus. You can almost feel every single muscle in their faces being called into play as they pound towards the finish line. Nothing and no one is allowed to distract them. Not even the intense pain that is sometimes felt in muscles that are being starved of oxygen as they push themselves beyond the limit of what ‘ordinary’ people often do.
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.*
The word ‘press’ is used again in Hebrew 6:1. It is athletic language. It means to ‘bear along or carry, to move or to rush as a wind’. Paul is saying that he bears himself along, just like an athlete would, rushing like a wind towards the finish line. That word press carries with it the notion of effort and applying pressure to something. It is forward motion, not backward, and there is no time to dwell on the past. It is not going to be easy. In fact just like the athlete, it will take every single muscle in your body working at full capacity. This is not the race for the fainthearted.
Now I am not implying that we rush about life like headless chickens or that we don’t take time to rest and recuperate. What I am saying is that when it comes to extending God’s kingdom in our homes, businesses, workplaces or church that we run towards this calling with all the enthusiasm and effort of one running to win a prize.
Truth is, sometimes we walk when we should be running. We stand still when we should be taking ground. Yes, running is hard work, and sometimes you feel like giving up. But you don’t give up because you know the prize that awaits you in the Father’s hands at the end of your race.
In spite of a heart that aches from hurt and disappointment, in spite of delayed answers to prayer, in spite of criticism you run with all your strength. You know that the One who has called you is faithful and that He has equipped you with all that you need to run this race. And to run it well. He wouldn’t ask you to be or do something that you were not created to be or do. That would be unjust. You have got what it takes.
So press on towards the goal like the athlete that you are.
Run towards the prize.
And if you come across any stragglers on the way, stop, lift them up and run alongside them till they can continue their race without you.
* Philippians 3:12-14