It was a warm and sunny Sunday morning in May. My husband had just left to take our son to the local pathfinder group and I was doing work in the kitchen while listening to the news on the radio. Toward the end of the news announcement, the speaker announced that on this Sunday, the 17th the International Vienna City Marathon was taking place in Vienna, Austria, and it would be broadcast through one of the Austrian TV channels. Now, I have to admit that I am not a very sporty person nor am I normally interested in sports programs on the television. But on this particular day, i thought I might as welt watch the event.
While quite a few Austrians were probably still asleep and others comfortably sitting around their breakfast tables, thousands of people from all over the world got ready to run more than 42 kilometers through Vienna. When I watched the multitudes at the starting point, I got not only interested, but excited. As I had planned some work to do on this Sunday morning, it was not possible for me to watch the entire marathon. But I went back and forth between my work and the TV set, skipping part of the marathon but still seeing enough of it to quench my excitement. While watching, some insights were given to me.
A few of these insights may come easily to your mind when you think of watching a marathon. The Apostle Paul compares our way to heaven with a marathon. In I Corinthians 9:24, 25, he writes, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize." In the Vienna City Marathon, three runners were leading the pack. One was from the eastern Europe country Hungary, the other two from Kenya. Quite early in the race, they left most of the other runners far behind. went to do some task and when I came back to watch more of the race, something had happened to the Hungarian. He had vanished. The two Kenyans had taken the lead and the Hungarian was not mentioned anymore. I imagine he felt extremely frustrated to be left behind and become insignificant to the race.
In the meantime, my husband and our son had returned from the pathfinder program. They, along with our daughter, joined me in watching the marathon. Our attention was focused on the two runners from Kenya. Simon Bor was the favorite. The other, Willy Cheruiyot, was supposed to be the pace maker. I learned it is much easier to run in such a long race if you are not on your own. It helps to have someone run at your side and hold the tempo.
I resolved to make my fellow church members my God-given "pace-makers." If there are times when having someone at our sides in our earthly race may bother us, we should remember that it is for our own good to have people near us. They drive us on and help us to keep the pace instead of falling behind.
As I watched the runners, there was one thing that touched me very much. After a U-turn in the route of the marathon, the runners ran back the way they had come. The way was separated into two lanes so the runners would not collide. As the two groups came closer together, something amazing happened. The "slower" runners who were already exhausted took the energy to applaud the two Kenyans as they passed them. There was no envy because they were so far ahead of the rest, no anger that they were out of reach, no accusations of any kind. Rather, there was a wonderful spirit of comradeship. There was pride in the fact that Bor and Cheruiyot had made it so far and it seemed to give hope to the other runners that they, too, could finish the race. The commentators mentioned that this was one of the nicest traditions ever.
I thought this was an important lesson for me and my church. If we compare our way to heaven with a race, we can think of people who are leading, people who are pace makers and people who are falling behind. Now think of how we treat each other. Do the spiritual leaders get pointed at because of their "extreme" views? Or, are the ones not in leadership positions looked down on? Just think of how much more attractive our churches would be if we would genuinely appreciate one another and cheer each other on in our race to heaven. We should support one another, regardless of where we are in the race. We should remember that it is God's grace that has enabled us to get where we are in the race and it is God's grace alone that will help us finish the race.
In the end, it was not Simon Bor, the favorite, who won the race. It was his pace maker, Willy Cheruiyot. He even set a new record and ran the race in a time that got him a nice Mercedes in addition to the prize money. I later read in the newspaper that only after he had passed the winning post did he learn about the car. It made me think of the many "extra-surprises" that may await us in heaven. Of course, Jesus is the supreme prize.
Cheruiyot passed the finish line just seconds before his fellow country man but even our children noticed the difference in how the two were received. The winner got all the attention imaginable: flashbulbs popped, reporters asked questions, water bottles were offered. And, of course, he won all the prizes. Compared to the attention the winner got, the second place runner received almost no attention at all.
But what about the masses who, from the very beginning, had no chance to win? What about those who knew they would not even be among the first ten or even hundred, who knew that no one would recognize their painful preparation, their efforts, their sacrifices? Why did they start anyway? After all, a marathon is not a nice and easy Sunday afternoon walk. It can be physically hazardous. Listening to someone who took part in more than one marathon can give a most unpleasant picture of the strain and pain most of the runners endure. Why do the participants do it? Is it to prove something to themselves? Is it the personal triumph they feel when they pass the finish line?
All of the runners do have something in common. They all participate and finish the race. And isn't that what really counts, regardless of whether it is a physical race or a spiritual one? Running a race with the focus on winning and givhig all that one is capable of is expected. God does not care if we come in first or last ... He just wants us to finish the race. Then we are winners.
If we give our all as we run our spiritual race, think of the encouragement we give to others around us. When we cross that finish line, think of the enthusiastic response we will get from God. He will embrace every saint who reaches heaven and treat him as the winner, no matter how long it took him to get to the finish line.
I want to run that race. I don't want to get sidetracked by anything. I want to keep my eyes on the goal so I can see Jesus standing at the finish line waiting for me. I want to run straight into His arms and rejoice in a race well run.