As a former collegiate distance runner, I understand what it takes to win a race. It takes hours of training. It takes hard work during practice and in the weight room. It also means putting away poor eating and sleeping habits. Clearly, a diet of ice cream and cake mixed with four hours of sleep is a recipe for disaster leading up to a race. In my own experience, a diet of lean protein with fruits and vegetables proved more successful along with going to bed earlier than my socially active peers.
I ultimately wanted to please God in my running ability, but I also struggled with running for the wrong reasons. Cake and late-night slumber parties were not the only thing I needed to lay aside. I prayed that God would enable me to win so I might have the opportunity to praise him for the victory.
Sometimes, I possessed pure motives and would end my prayer with wanting God’s will to be done more than mine — even if that meant the dreadful loss. Other times, a sinful desire to win crept into my heart. I wanted God’s will to agree with my will more than I wanted my will to become God’s. I only wanted to praise God when he allowed my will to be done — when my will happened to be his will. I wanted to win, and I wanted him to want me to win, too.
The Race of Faith
In the Christian life, we run the race of faith. We don’t strive for the crown that only one can receive. We strive to finish strong in our faith. God makes us all winners when we cross the line. We get him! Forever! Thus, we all win God by persevering in faith and getting to the finish line. But we, like runners, must lay aside hindrances of our endurance. Hebrews 12:1–3 says,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
Runners not only properly nourish their body and recover well, but they also work hard to build endurance. They endure long runs. They do speed workouts. They lift weights. They stretch. They push through pain. They have sore muscles and tired lungs.
Likewise, as Christians, we work hard to strengthen our faith to endure the race of faith. We must seek him daily in his word and in prayer. We must seek fellowship among other believers and let our fellow church members encourage us in the faith. We must welcome rebuke and embrace trials. Personal discipline is essential if we are to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.
Every ounce counts in a foot race. The lighter the endurance runner, the swifter the runner. The same is true in the Christian life. Many things slow us down and eventually stall us in the race of faith. In my case, chasing self-centered joy and personal accolades. Sin clings closely. It’s hard to get off, and it’s heavy. We lay aside every weight and clingy sin. The farther we are from sin, the closer we are to Jesus.
When we sin, we take our eyes off Jesus and put them on ourselves. We choose to do our will instead of his. But we can’t make it to the finish line without looking to Jesus — the author and finisher of our faith. When we set our eyes firmly on him, we will not grow weary in the fight against sin and in the race to persevere in faith. We remember the crown waiting for us in glory and continue running.
He Is Our Crown
The good news is Jesus made us lightweight runners. He took the burden of our sins and placed them on himself at the cross. Then he rose from the dead and sat at the right hand of God to pray for us to fight sin and continue in faith.
In my last collegiate season, Hebrews 12:1–3 was such a gift from God to run each race. When the gun went off, I pictured Jesus, who knew what the brutal cross would accomplish, enduring it with full joy. I didn’t grow weary when I felt like giving up because Jesus didn’t give up. As a result, I grew closer to Jesus. The physical race became a real-life vision of the cross where I could — in part — identify with him.
The race of faith is life’s journey for the Christian. Imagine what would happen if we looked to Jesus every day. Every weight would fall off and every sin would untangle from us. Each look at Jesus would strengthen us to endure and finish well. He waits for us on the other side. He is our crown, and we will be with him forever. Every huff, every twinge of pain, and every prolonged day on earth is worth patiently enduring the journey to get to the finish line — to get to Jesus.