The energy of hundreds of bodies lining up at a start line under the remnants of night is exciting and nerve-wracking. At points it feels good to be mashed snuggly beside strangers, then it becomes a bit claustrophobic. I wavered between wonder and doubt as those beside me mowed down on fancy nutritional substances and dialed in their music for the half marathon. As I questioned my rationale for putting my body through the forthcoming torment, my experienced brother nonchalantly directed me through the foreign land of short shorts and bright sneakers. His words confident words pinged around like a pinball providing encouragement and reassurance to my trembling being, words packed with final tips for succeeding as we found our spot on the start line.
“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.” I Corinthians 9:24-25
When I became a Christian at a very young age I didn’t know I started a race, but all these years later, I sure feel it! As I read the seven letters to the churches, Jesus encourages each of us in three ways.
“I know your works”
Sometimes life seems like an uphill-only treadmill on a blistering hot summer’s day. Loneliness teeters towards self-consumed pity rock back and forth. During mile nine of my half marathon (or mile sixty-three of my century for that matter) I felt this. The competitors were charging valiantly toward the finish line fresh and full of energy, or so I convinced myself. There I was, poor me, right foot-left. Right foot-left. The mundane sound of my breathing grew more obnoxious with each stride. Each time heel then tow hit the ground I had to convince myself to press on believing the pain and determination to keep going would pay off the moment I crossed the finish line.
During times such as this, when discouragement sinks deep, we can return to Christ’s words, I KNOW. I know your works. I see you where you are at and what you are enduring to live for me. (Not a direct quote from the bible)
Each letter to the seven churches in Revelation contains these words, which are true today. Jesus knows what we are doing and how we are living out our faith. He knows our triumphs, failures, temptations and notices when we dig our feet in deep to follow His ways.
We celebrate the new life of a tiny baby and commemorate a death, but the valley between the two is often presents a lull. As a child I noticed how “old people” would forget their age, but now I’m beginning to understand why. The shout-out moments come with a greater spread between them. It’s easy to forget your age or how long you’ve been working for an organization when you’ve been in a career for a number of years making incremental steps. When the cheering fades and the air is quiet, it’s easy to feel alone and a mental stretch to know how the ordinary incremental steps are building something extraordinary. But they are.
Many feel these stretches when a marriage feels like a hopeless web of arguments or when they feel stuck in a career because they haven’t had a big promotion, raise or accolades in a few years (or more). Perhaps it’s a rift with a son or daughter that seems it will never mend. There are plenty of opportunities for people to steal your joy (not to be confused with happiness). Jesus said,
“Hold fast what you have till I come…that no one may take your crown.” Revelation 2:25, 3:11
Will you hold on? Fortunately we aren’t called to go this alone. The Holy Spirit is with us every step down the narrow path.
He who overcomes
As I approached the finish line I wondered if I’d be able to cross over. My body reeled in pain, muscles stiffened and knees throbbed but right foot-left I pressed on. The faint sound of a cowbell and echo of an announcer pricked my ears. Could it be? Was the finish line was near? Tears streaked down my face as my body stumbled over the finish line delirious with triumphant pain and joy. Family and strangers congratulated me and one person handed me food and a special medallion. I needed both the physical nourishment and tangible reward!
Jesus says to the seven churches,
“He who overcomes, I will…”
Each church has a different reward, but that reward will blow the socks off that precious half marathon medallion I received! Every one of us will cross the finish line, how will you cross? Will you cross in strength, with a stride that could carry you through more of life’s ups and downs like Timothy?
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 8 And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7-8
The difference between bounding and stumbling through heaven’s gates depends on our training. Will you commit to training like Paul?
“So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” I Corinthians 9:26-27
God loves us intensely and makes every effort to encourage and remind us as we navigate this life. Whatever your situation, you are not alone. I pray you find the fingerprints of God throughout your day, that you are encouraged to stumble forward as you press on in serving God.
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