Recently, while watching portions of the 30th Olympiad, I was reminded of what the writer of the book of Hebrews had to say about competing for the prize.
The writer uses an athletic metaphor to express the similarities between the Christian life and a lifelong race. And he (or she) makes the point that the real issue isn't whether or not we run the race, it's about how we run the race.
We can't be sure whether the author was talking about a sprint, a long distance run, or a marathon, but I know that -- at least for me -- sometimes the race seems more like a steeplechase or an obstacle course than anything else.
One thing we know from the scripture -- we are to run unfettered and with endurance -- not bogged down with encumbrances or hindered by sin that can "so easily entangles us." We are to lay aside anything that would hinder us, impede our progress, or act as an obstacle in our race.
We are also to maintain our focus as we run our race. The author reminds us to "fix our eyes on Jesus ... the author and perfecter of our faith. That means we are to give all of our thoughts and attention and effort to one thing -- running the race with the example set by Jesus ever before us.
And finally, we are told to complete the race. I recently read a story about someone who overcame great diversity and finished the race set before him.
On Oct. 20, 1968, at the Mexico City Olympics Stadium, it was beginning to get dark. The last of the Olympic marathon runners were being assisted away to first-aid stations. An hour earlier, Mamo Waldi of Ethiopia had bolted across the finish line, winning the 26-mile, 385-yard race in a strong and vigorous fashion.
As the last of the spectators began preparing to leave, they heard police sirens and whistles through the entrance of the stadium. The attention turned to that gate. And what they saw held their collective attention. A lone runner, wearing the colors of Tanzania, came limping into the stadium.
His name was John Steven Aquari. He was the last man to finish that historic Olympic marathon way back in 1968. His leg was bandaged, bloody. He had taken a bad fall early in the race. By now it was all he could do to limp his way into the stadium and around the track. The crowd stood, applauded and cheered loudly as he completed the final steps of his race.
When he finally crossed the finish line, someone asked the question everyone wanted answered.
"You are badly injured. Why didn't you quit? Why didn't you give up?"
Aquari, with a great deal of poise and quiet dignity responded, "My country did not send me seven thousand miles to start this race. My country sent me to finish."
You see, in most races medals or crowns or trophies are given to top finishers. But in the race we run as believers in Christ, a prize is given to all who finish the race.
Running the race properly and crossing the finish line makes you a winner.