By David L Henderson
According to an old joke, the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet.
Jesus used many metaphors in His teaching, usually agricultural, such as sowing and reaping, or sheep-herding. The Apostle Paul likened the Christian walk to more vigorous pursuits like soldiering or athletics. He was familiar with the ancient Olympic games; they had been going for over seven hundred years when Paul came along. And we are, in a sense, running a race. But we know there's no such thing as a perfect analogy, so let's look at some of the ways our race resembles or differs from a marathon.
First of all, our race is not measured in distance, but in endurance. Jesus Himself said that all who endure to the end will be saved. It's true that the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong. We're not in competition with one another; our wrestling match is not against flesh and blood. In the marathon, many runners begin the race, but only one can win the prize. All but one of those who cross the finish line receive the same prize as those who drop out along the way. So why finish at all? Why keep going, knowing you've already lost the prize?
Every athlete worth his (or her, of course) salt knows that the real prize is not a medal to hang around your neck, or on the wall of your trophy room when you get home. Indeed, most marathon runners enter the race not expecting to finish first. But there is great personal value in training, in disciplining the body and the mind, learning what to eat and what to avoid; great personal gain from committing to something more challenging than anything you've ever tried before, and seeing the commitment all the way to the end.
In the ancient Olympics, there were no gold, silver, and bronze medals to be won, there was only one prize: a handful of olive leaves woven into a crown. Paul called it a corruptible crown. Corruptible? I guess! The thing so highly sought after, so greatly cheered by the throngs of onlookers as it is placed on the head of one runner who, almost by chance, happened to cross the line first, that crown will wither and crumble to dust in a matter of days. Is that what we're competing for? Certainly not.
Ultimately, in my race, my only competition is myself. If I commit to this, will I see it through? Only I can decide that. Can it be done? Others have done it, some with greater obstacles to overcome than I have. Is it worth it? Yes, child of God, it is worth it. Because we do not pursue a crown that is already decaying before the race is over. Ours is an incorruptible crown of life. We work and train, we run long distances, we fall down and get up again, and sometimes we lose heart and want above all else just to go home and be left alone. But in the process we find that the real prize is in the process; it's not that I can run farther or faster than another, but that today I'm a step ahead of where I was yesterday. Every day, every mile, every drop of sweat, brings me closer to the true goal, to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Will I achieve that goal? Not in this life. How far will I get? God knows. But I have this promise: the race truly is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, but there is an incorruptible crown of life for all who are facing the right direction when they hit the tape.
Copyright © August, 2008
by David L Henderson
David L Henderson is a career Respiratory Therapist, with some Christian preaching, teaching, and writing thrown in. To find out more about him, check out his personal web pages at http://www.intergate.com/~cyrano and while you're there, you can download his e-booklet. It's called The Serpent's Tale, and it's about the fall of Lucifer and the origin of sin.