Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Run the Race

Go with me to the great Olympic stadium – a 100,000 spectators getting quickly to their seats – they see the runners going to their places. This is no ordinary race, but the final challenge of the day, a race these chosen few have prepared for with years of discipline and determination. A mother sees her son, number 23, and shouts his name into the roar of the crowd. A coach watches his prodigy stretching, focusing mentally, and has to turn away so that he doesn’t see his coach’s look of anticipation in his eyes.

This is no ordinary race, but the race of a lifetime. Not to be compared with the little sprints that children challenge each other with in the school playground. Even the more demanding contests faced in later years don’t come close. Yet think again, and the runner realizes that all those previous events have combined to bring him to this place. He has always had it in his heart, from birth it seems, to push away from the blocks and move cleanly down the track and cross the finish line. He can see how those lesser contests have combined to prepare him for this great day, almost as if they are part of this same race.

He looks at his fellow competitors. Each has a look on his face that expresses a remarkable combination of anticipation and concern, just as he surely senses himself. Anticipation? The finish line! What glory! What exhilaration to stretch that tape with his own chest! He has run this track a 1000 times, and he has no doubt that he can conquer it once more, and with a time that can be the best of the field. Concern? He knows all too well of what lays ahead. This race is the epitome of testing the endurance of the Olympic champion. If failure is to occur, on any number of levels, it will occur here. A mistake in timing as he works through each leg of the race – allowing himself to watch his competitors and be influenced by their progress or lack of it – maybe his physical preparation isn’t perfect and a muscle will cramp up – how will he handle it when he hits the wall? -- when his lungs start to scream, is he prepared to keep running? – does he really want to win this race?

He looks out around him. He realizes he hasn’t even heard the deafening cheering of the crowd. Look at these people! He knows that many out there in the stands have a sense of what he’s going through. They’ve been through the races of their own life in the past. They know how hard his heart is pounding, how he seems not to be able to get his breathing in sync, how his mind is spinning with a 1000 what-ifs. He realizes that they’re cheering because they want the race to go well. They want someone to win – some of them are yelling for him! Incredible! There’s even a group over there with a banner with his name on it! He can’t let them down – and he won’t.

But – what if he doesn’t win? What will they say? How will he face them? No! He has already dealt with that. He knows his competitors are skilled, and any one of them could take the tape. Indeed, it is such an honor just to be a participant in this race that it takes his breath away. He also knows the threats of the course and he has prepared well to handle them. All he can do is his best, and he will. He already knows that conquering the course is the first and foremost concern of the champion. Confidence that he can do that, and do it with skill is what will carry him through, win or lose. Truly, there is no loss for the one who conquers the course. And listen to that crowd!

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. -- Hebrews 12:1-2