In 1993, I ran the New York City Marathon, a long and sometimes grueling race of 26.2 miles. After months of training, my goal was simply to finish the race, no matter how long it took and how difficult it might be. I was determined to do this so that I could receive the medal given to all who finished the race. So, early on that November morning, I lined up with thousands of others who shared the same goal. The race began. Buoyed by the encouragement of the other runners, the crowds who assembled to cheer us on, and the friends and family members who came to watch me, I ran easily--at least for the first 13 miles or so. Then it happened. A small blister on my right heel had gotten much larger, slowing me down and making running uncomfortable.
I stopped at a first aid station to have the blister attended to (I would have to do this again later on), then continued my race. At some point in the race, as it had become an unusually warm day for November, I needed to peel off the outer layers of running clothes that I had worn and discard them so that I could continue making my way toward the prize. Then, as I got further into the race, two things happened that made it harder to stay motivated and keep running. First, the number of runners around me decreased. Some had moved ahead more quickly, some had fallen behind, and some had abandoned the race altogether. Now there was less encouragement from other runners. Second, the crowds cheering on the runners became less frequent and smaller in size, so there was less encouragement there, as well. Still, I kept on going, focusing my mind on my goal to finish the race, keeping my eyes fixed on the prize I would receive--my finisher's medal.
As followers of Christ, our walk of faith is a lot like a marathon. Life can be a long and sometimes grueling race. That is probably why the analogy of a race is often used in the New Testament to describe the journey of faith. Just as I became slowed down by a blister that I needed to attend to and encumbered by my outer layers of running clothes and needed to discard them, the author of Hebrews speaks of throwing off the things that hinder us and the sin that entangles us. And just as I needed to focus on my goal of receiving a finisher's medal, the author of Hebrews tells us that we need to focus on Jesus so that we can run our race of faith with perseverance and without growing weary (Hebrews 12:1-3). When I ran the marathon, I learned the importance of encouragement from other runners and from the crowds. In our race of faith, we need to encourage and build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
The marathon I ran in 1993 was tough. There were times I wanted to give up, but I persevered and finished the race. In the last mile, I was dragging but, when I saw the finish line getting closer and heard the cheering of the crowd there, I managed to sprint across the finish line where I was handed the prize that I sought, my finisher's medal. When I look at that medal now, I am reminded of 1 Thessalonians 4:6-8. In those verses, Paul talked of finishing his race and receiving a crown of righteousness. In the marathon, I was not the only one who received a finisher's medal. It was given to everyone who ran and finished. Paul tells us that, in our race of faith, we will all one day receive a prize, a crown of righteousness, when we persevere and keep the faith.