Ending a marathon


PUSHING towards the end of another year is like the finishing segment of a cross-country marathon.
The runners are all tired, having crossed obstacles of hills and valleys, and whatever else the landscape has thrown out along the way.
It’s as the runners near the end that a stock take is mentally being made … who else is near me? Who has dropped out so far?
At the end, the pace quickens as someone pulls out and moves ahead.
It appears to be no longer a marathon but a sprint, as they all try to chase him down. However, with the remaining energy left in him, the champion runner kicks in and with the adrenalin pumping, powers through to breast the tape. He has come first; he’s the winner. He gets the gold medal.
The Apostle Paul describes the Christian life as a race (1 Cor 9:24).
He talks about his own effort to “press on toward the goal to win the prize” in heaven (Phil 3:14). Living in the period of time when the ancient Olympic Games came into being, Paul no doubt was aware of the marathon, like the gruelling 26 mile race that they have in modern day Olympics.
Using the same language, as he nears the end of his earthly life, Paul goes on to say: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4: 7).
The above text is used many times in funerals, when a saint has come to the end of his race on earth. However, we will use it for our example on the Christian life we run throughout the year. It is like a race marked out for us, with each of us in our own lane as it were. We also know that there is a heavenly ‘prize’ to be received if we remain faithful in our sojourn. But how do we run?
The writer of the Book of Hebrews has the answer. He says: “let us throw off everything that hinders … and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter (finisher) of our faith…” (Heb 12: 1, 2).
There are 3 phrases that hold the key. But let is look first at the usual scenario in running this race.
When the year starts, we usually launch with a big bang! We’ve done the analysis, reconciled the books and found where we need to improve.
Then we set out with all the ‘new year’s resolutions’ to get us by. There is the hype and excitement at having a fresh new page opened before us for the year.
Some churches have a week of prayer in January to launch the year.
Some have a church retreat to begin proceedings. This, together with personal plans and agendas, usually raises our enthusiasm levels.
Young people are on fire with the new vision for the year, and leaders have plans for their congregations in place. Personally, we read our bibles every day, fellowship with our families, come to weekly prayer meetings, and even go on diets to become healthier in order to serve God. We start off indeed with a bang!
Then, we move through the first quarter of the year. We’re now in March and April, the canoe has settled down a bit. We’re back at work, back to school, the bills have to be paid, and business goes through a bit of problem. Finances get a bit tight but we plod on until June.
Soon, work begins to demand more of our time. The wife and kids rarely get our attention and strife in the home begins. It’s all work and church – with no time for family. So church has to go. We miss one Sunday.. then two … then three. We pop in on the final Sunday of the month to make sure we get a ‘heavenly tick’ near our name to ‘safeguard’ our salvation. We even take the pulpit in place of the deacon, just to impress the pastor. Then we disappear for another month.
Soon the long board meetings and important business cocktail functions take their toll. We take some liquor because we are socialising, as is the norm.
One drink becomes two, five… a carton. Next, we’re filling the fridge with the amber ale to calm our nerves after a long day at work.
No time for Bible reading, none for devotion with the family. Then, it’s November. We remember to bless the pastor with some good money, again to ensure the tick remains near our name. Then, in December, we’re flat out enjoying Christmas parties and the usual revelry.
But, as the new year approaches, we go back to doing the usual stocktake. We then make promises to improve next year. No more drinking and partying, more Bible reading, fellowship. Then we launch … and on and on it goes!
The above scenario does happen. I have witnessed many like that in my pastoral ministry. But thankfully that’s not the norm. There are many who know the secret of living powerfully for God all year round – regardless of whether you are a business executive or a grassroot citizen. Adhering to God’s word and self-discipline will always bring the desired result.
Coming back to the passage in Hebrews 12:1-2, we are told to do the following:
Get rid of things that hinder our walk with God. Bad habits, time stealers, temptations of sorts, and anything that tries to take the place of God in our lives. Determine in the new year that they must go.
Run with perseverance, determination. Be determined by getting serious in your walk of faith. To preserver means even if you stumble along the way, like a good runner, pick yourself up and keep running. Know that Christ stands by your side, ready to pick you up again. Finally, fix your eyes on Jesus. He stands at the finishing line beckoning you to keep running, yet is also by your side to help you along. Peter took his eyes away from Jesus and on to the elements – and sank (Matt 14:30). Let us look at Jesus and not at the storm. Dwell on His word every day because He’s the author (starts you off) and the finisher (meets with you at the end) of your Christian race in the year.
So how have you fared in 2016? Are you still walking with Jesus, or have you fallen away? What will you do to improve in 2017? Allow the Lord to walk you through another year. As you acknowledge Him in your life every day, you will never go wrong!

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