“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” (I Corinthians 9:24, ESV)
Cliff Young was a determined man who accomplished what he set out to do. You may not recognize his name. After all, it’s been forty years since the then sixty-one-year-old Australian potato farmer decided to run a multi-day ultra-marathon from Sydney to Melbourne.
Unlike the other runners, Cliff sported no fancy running gear, just his usual farm clothes and boots. His “training” was rounding up his 2,000 sheep on foot. Although the other competitors were in their 20s and 30s and experienced runners, to everyone’s surprise, Cliff won the 875-kilometer (544 mile) marathon. He crossed the finish line in five days, fifteen hours and four minutes. That was ten hours ahead of the first runner-up.
How did a little-known, untrained (in the typical sense), middle-aged farmer accomplish this feat? He just kept going. While others slept, Cliff just kept shuffling along until he finished the race. (It became known as the “Young Shuffle.”) It was the human version of the tortoise and hare fable. Patience and persistence paid off. Cliff didn’t even keep the prize money. He split it between the next five runners-up.
The New Testament compares our spiritual journey to a race. Like Cliff, we need persistence to cross the finish line and reach our goal.
How can we win the race? The Bible, our training manual, outlines our steps.
Travel light. Carrying extra baggage will slow us down and reduce our endurance. Not everything that slows us down is a sin, but the worries and cares of life can lower our endurance. Ask God to show you the things that are weighing you down and stealing your strength.
- “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.” (Hebrews 12:1, ESV)
Develop self-control. Just as an athlete learns to discipline himself so he can succeed, the child of God also learns to activate this fruit of the Spirit in his life. Through the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells inside, we learn to discipline our thoughts and our actions. As we fill our minds with His Word, we learn how to align our will with His. The rewards are eternal.
- “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (I Corinthians 9:25-27, ESV).
Don’t get distracted. There are many things along the route that might draw our attention and cause us to deviate off course. Look straight ahead. Don’t turn aside. Just keep running.
- “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7, ESV)
I’ve never run a marathon, nor do I expect to. However, I do plan to keep running this eternal race. Like Cliff, some days my steps may look more like a shuffle than a smooth run, but I will keep pushing forward. If others stop for a while or drop out, I’ll keep moving. An imperishable reward awaits me at the finish line. I will keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and just keep running.
Remember. You can’t win the prize if you never finish the race!
Lord, it is Your strength that carries me through. Some days I may run in the heat and other times through stormy weather; but with Your help, I’ll just keep running. My goal is to finish the race and receive my reward.