I didn’t expect to learn such a huge life lesson when I stepped off the bus before a high school track meet my sophomore year.
It was a dual meet, so many of the kids who normally wouldn’t participate had the opportunity to run. My friend Tom was one of those kids. He was to run in the two-mile race—eight laps around the track.
Tom didn’t have much athletic ability or speed, and he was running against some fast runners. One had already qualified for the Olympic tryouts.
As soon as the race started, Tom dropped to the back. As it continued, he fell farther and farther behind—to the point that when every one of the other runners had crossed the finish line, Tom still had a full lap to run. At that point, the track meet official stepped in front of him and told him the race was over and he was to step off the track.
But Tom didn’t break stride. He simply stepped off the track and kept running. Soon the rest of us realized what he was doing—he wasn’t going to quit until he finished his race.
When he was about halfway around the track, our opponents realized what was going on. As Tom rounded the final curve, members of both teams met him, cheering him on and clearing a path on the infield of the track so he could finish. Before Tom reached the finish line, the spectators in the stadium where on their feet, cheering loudly.
I still remember his smile and look of joy as he finished his race. He was a winner, not because he won the race, but because he finished the race set before him.
That day Tom taught me what enduring to the end—persevering—really means.
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 set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1b-2).
I don’t know what your race looks like—it’s different for each of us—but it is still to be run with perseverance and endurance.
One common race is that of meeting all the needs and demands of leadership in your church’s children’s ministry. VBS, summer camps, and the missions trip are done, and now you find yourself neck-deep in the fall push and the looming demands of preparing for the Christmas pageant and special events.
Added to that is the fact that you still need three nursery workers, two children’s church workers, and “a partridge in a pear tree” (all of whom must pass your background checks) to meet your minimum staffing needs.
Or maybe your race includes juggling all the demands of family, church ministry, and your marriage while attempting to actively build relationships in the community and sharing your faith.
For some, the race seems to be run in the dark where abandonment, loneliness, and a lack of purpose are your running mates.
So how do you run the race with perseverance in these kinds of situations?
Let’s learn from the instructions in Hebrews 12:1-2.
Lighten your load.
Make a habit of regularly stepping back and doing a personal inventory of your life (see Psalm 139:23–24). Allow the Holy Spirit to begin to open your eyes to the amount of garbage you’ve allowed to become attached to your life and schedule. If He uncovers hidden sin, deal with it immediately. If you don’t, you are essentially trying to run your race by cheating and you will fail.
I have found that it is often the weight of the unnecessary or worthless activity that I allow in my life that holds me back in my race. I have found it beneficial is to annually keep a detailed time log during a two-week period. When I do, I am always surprised with how much time I am wasting by allowing the dribble of life to again become attached to my life. For me, this dribble includes the mindless use of social media, watching too much TV, playing games on my i-phone, and just wasting time being busy with things of no importance.
Commit to finish the race
Marathon runners don’t start the race with the attitude of “I think I will run until I get tired or until something better comes along.” They are committed to run the race to the best of their ability, with an understanding that they will face hardships, hazards, and difficulties—to endure to the end.
Sometimes while we are running the race the Lord will move us into another ministry or even cause the ministry in which we are serving to come to an end. We need to realize this is not failure on our part, nor is it the end of the race. Rather, the Lord is revealing to us that our race is on an unexpected path. We are to continue running the race, even during times of transition.
Keep your eyes on Jesus and the example He set.
The race we are running is all about Jesus. It starts, ends, and is all about Him every step of the way. He is our reason for running this race. It is He who enables us to run it and gives us the example for us to follow.
Jesus promises to never leave us or forsake us while we are running. And He is our reward and joy at the finish line!
Through the years I have had the privilege of competing with some great athletes who set records and won awards. For the most part, I don’t even remember their names. But I do remember Tom.
Thank you, Tom Nestor, for teaching me a lesson that day. It greatly impacted my life. You are a winner!