Friday, August 26, 2005

Finishing the Race and Not Wimping Out

Some time ago, we were eagerly anticipating the great feast of runs coming up in the next few months:

New Balance Real Run on 28 August 2005

New Balance Aquathlon Challenge a week later on 3 September 2005

SAFRA Sheares Bridge Run and Army Half Marathon another week after on 11 September 2005

the fun-for-a-good-cause Terry Fox Run 7 days after that on 18 September 2005

and finally, to round off the running year before Christmas so we can enjoy our Christmas noosh, the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon on 4 December 2005.

As we were planning runs, carbo-loading and how many we'd be able to fit in while still allowing time for recovery and reducing the risk of nasty cases of plantar fasciitis, shin splints, patellofemoral pain, I wondered how apt the oft-used metaphor of the Christian life being a race was.

As a kid, trainers told me that my muscles were fast-twitch and I excelled at the 50m (got such distance one. Last time kid only mah) and the 100m. Without training, the 200m was a bit dodgy especially after the curve and the 400m was a complete no-no. My best friend then was the complete opposite, he had slow-twitch muscles so 400m was a saunter in the park.

Just as I had fast-twitch muscle fibres, I also had a short attention span, got bored easily and couldn't stand repetition. Was constantly sent for "counselling" for disrupting classes, "talking back" to teachers, fighting with boys, throwing chalk at girls (if you used coloured chalk, you'd see where you hit 'em) and skipping school. (Thankfully this was pre-ADD and ADHD mania.)

Now, my great fear is not finishing the Christian race for sheer distractedness (which is sin of course). It seems so much easier for the slow-twitchers; the goody-two-shoes who always do what the teachers say, who are naturally prim and proper and submissive to authorities (now God and church leaders), who do their homework (now bible study), keep the school rules (now God's commandments), to continue.

Running a short distance is fun. You know it's going to end soon and you just give it your all. If I was given 3 months, a year, 3 years to live, I'd be sprinting all the way. But not knowing when the end is makes me very nervous about lasting the distance. Historically, I have never lasted any distance.

What is needed is courage. Courage to persevere. Courage not to ignore fear but to knowing fear and make decisions and act in light of that realistic fear.

One of the guys, a big beefy father of two, described how tough his first marathon was. His whole body ached, his muscles cried out in pain, his lungs felt like they were about to explode, the blisters on his feets were bursting/had already burst. The whole run was one of increasing pain and suffering. He must have been an idiot to subject himself to all this early on a Sunday morning when he could have been having a nice leisurely breakfast with his wife and playing with his kids. Then, when he was 100m from the finishing line, the crowds started cheering him on.

"Go! Go! Go!" they chanted

And he felt as if all the aches and pains and suffering he'd experienced were things of the distant past. All heaviness had suddenly been lifted off. Tears started streaming down his face. He cried so much he could hardly see where he was going. The feeling was so overwhelming he couldn't stop himself. It was the immense indescribable joy of having come through the ordeal; having persevered through the agony, and the goal was just within sight.

Sounds like what the writer of Hebrews describes in 10:26-12:13.

How do we last the distance? How can we hope to finish the marathon?

The Hebrews running coach urges us to:
  • keep our eye on the goal: better and lasting possessions (10:34), our rich reward of salvation (10:35-36,39);
  • be confident that God will give us what he has promised if we finish the race (10:36);
  • remember the dire consequences of falling by the wayside, giving up the race: fearful expectation of judgement (10:27), a punishment worse than death (10:28-30), ultimate destruction (10:39). For it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:31);
  • be sure that the day of judgement is coming, in just a little while (10:37). If you're running a marathon and the finishing line is just within sight, now is not the time the shrink back, for your goal is within grasp;
  • be spurred on by those who have run the race before us, who testify to living the courageous life. There is great encouragement in knowing that loads of people have run the same race before us and made it to the finishing line;
  • remember that faith (not our own effort) is the key to finishing the race (whole of 11). Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (11:1). Faith is about confidence and assurance. It isn't "blind faith" or "a leap in the dark" or some strange esoteric religious feeling or intuition. Faith:
    • recognises and accepts the existence of God on the plentiful evidence that is available in the world that he created;
    • recognises God's incomparable power to call the universe into being from nothingness;
    • recognises God's kingship over all of his creation and his justice in condemning created beings who do not acknowledge him;
    • examines the historical evidence of God's workings throughout the Old Testament and considers that God is trustworthy and can be taken at his word;
    • therefore, accepts his word (now in the Bible) as true and (i) relies on it to anticipate the future: the assurance of things hoped for; and (ii) evaluates the present in light of the future: conviction of things not yet seen.
    Faith is trusting God and his promises. The important thing about faith is not the faith itself (you can have faith in all sorts of things but your faith could be misplaced) but the object of your faith (what you have faith in). We are not saved by faith but by God/Jesus.
  • be spurred on by the marathoners of the past, the cloud of witnesses, who have not only gone before us but cheer us on as we run our race (12:1) [note: some interpretations];
  • throw off everything that might hinder us and sin that so easily entangles (12:1). If we're attempting to finish a marathon, wearing a pink fluffy bunny suit or Spiderman costume loaded with webspinning devices isn't going to help our chances of making it to the finishing line. Get rid of everything that distracts or weighs us down so we can concentrate on making it to our goal;
  • fix our eyes on Jesus Christ (12:2-3), who is a perfect model of one who has faith and who has persevered through unspeakable suffering: he was incarnated as a mere man. He endured the cross, a painful and shameful death without dignity, a death that he did not deserve. Yet, he did what was God's will, showing true courage and dependence on, and faith in, God. He then ascended to glory at God's right hand. Jesus trusted God's word and promise of vindication and glory, he was obedient to it and endured the cross, and finally received what was promised. He was courageous and courage comes from trusting in God and his promises;
  • fix our eyes on Jesus Christ not only as the perfect pioneer of our faith but the author and perfector of it (12:2). It is God/Jesus who is the author of our faith, who has promised to turn and who has turned our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19). Not so that we can be nice to people and do good deeds like the Buddhists, or be nice to all living things like the Jains, or be emotional like girls with PMS, for they do all this without any change in their hearts. God gives us a heart of flesh so that we would recognise whom God is, trust in him and his promises and live our lives according to this reality (Ezekiel 11:20). It is Jesus who is the perfector of our faith for we still live in a sinful world with sinful hearts and never truly completely trust in God. But Jesus perfects our pitiful, cannot-make-it response and it is acceptable to God.
The finishing line is within our grasp. The crowds are cheering us on. Let us encourage each other as we run this race together (10:24-25), for in God's word, we too have seen the glory and hope we will share with Christ in the future! So let's run with endurance the race marked out for us, for it is not just our own effort or the encouragement of other people that carries us forward but God himself working effectively in us as well, bringing us to the finishing line.

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