In any race there are at least three stages: starting; continuing; finishing. Each is equally as important as the other in that any one missed means there will be no result. In some sports the strong and compelling feeling among many competitors is that they must win at all costs, even by cheating if necessary, which some do, and ultimately are caught, named and shamed, as well as being stripped of any prize their cheating may have brought them. The International Olympic creed states, ‘The most important thing … is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well’. In keeping with these sentiments the Olympic motto is: ‘swifter; higher; stronger’. There are different kinds of races from short sprints right up to the 26-mile marathon. Others may have obstacles strategically placed which the runner must overcome in order to finish. Each has its own demands and challenges. There is usually only one winner. The Christian race is different. All who finish the course are winners. It is not a short sprint to glory but a marathon/obstacle race which tests the runners, not to destruction, but to the utmost of their abilities. It, too, consists of starting, continuing and finishing.
The start is very important. If a competitor makes a good start then he is more likely to runa good race. However, not just anyone can start. There are serious matters to be attended to before a competitor stands on the starting line. There must be training, commitment, fitness, desire and confidence, and only when all these have been successfully attended to may a start be made. In the Christian race the runner must be saved (and should be baptized) otherwise he or she is disqualified and a start on service cannot be made. Without a knowledge of the regulations governing the race any competitor would be at a serious disadvantage, for should any rule be breached then disqualification is a real possibility. Receiving Christ as Saviour is the decision that commits you to the race and to the course of serving God in your life. Without that you cannot start. There may be some who do try to run but that is like a spectator trying to compete at the Olympics - he becomes an embarassment to everybody. As anew believer you should endeavour to discover the Lord’s will for your life and then make this your priority. His will may be discovered by discussion with other believers, reading His word and listening to His voice in the written and oral ministry that comes your way, and of course, by prayer and waiting on the Lord. It is vital to focus on your specific calling and not be deflected into other service that may be offered to you. For example, many young men have an obvious gift for preaching the gospel. They are commended to that service but soon other believers and assemblies insist on them taking ministry meetings. This encroaches on the time they should be giving top reaching the gospel and because of the additional time needed to prepare for ministry even more is lost to the gospel. So, gospel preaching is curtailed, few are saved and the assembly numbers diminish. And we wonder why! Let no one deflect you from your race no matter how helpful or encouraging they may seem to be.You need to be determined to remain in the work to which you are called and are equipped to do. In doing that, and in doing it well, is where your blessing lies.
We need to remember we are not in a short sprint to glory but in a long distance race. Being able to continue is therefore vitally important. Along the route there may be many distractions, even critics who will shout advice or abuse from the sidelines. Though maybe doing little themselves they think they know better than those who are doing the work and running in this race. Other runners too may be distracting as they surge ahead or fall behind. However, much advice is provided in the word to help us continue, e.g., we are exhorted to continue in: 1) ‘my word’, John 8. 31; 2)‘the grace of God’, Acts 13. 43; 3) ‘faith’, Acts 14. 22; 4) ‘in the things … learned’, 2 Tim. 3. 14; 5) ‘doctrine’; 6) ‘fellowship’; 7)‘the breaking of bread’; 8) ‘prayers’, Acts2. 42. If we heed these exhortations then we will surely persevere to the end. We recall Paul saying, ‘having obtained help of God I continue’, Acts 26. 22,showing that we need more than personal effort in this race … we need God! Sometimes in the spiritual race runners do fall by the wayside and their once-effective service suffers irreparable damage. Let us resolve not only to run but also to continue in running unhindered by the world, the flesh or the devil.
Finishing is very important! When ‘finished’ the race is over for the individual though others may still be running. Some would think that we continue to run until the day we die. And so some might! However, it is probably more normal for one to finish one’s work before death arrives and we know that Paul did. A real problem for some believers is that they don’t know what they were supposed to do in the first instance and therefore don’t know when it is done. So, they continue working and serving though their gift may be no longer effective. Some brethren encourage them in this and instead of allowing them to enjoy a period of calm and rest after service and before passing over to the other side they make them keep on running rather than suggesting the passing of the baton on to others and commending them to the grace of God. To finish is a great achievement and in the spiritual race all who finish receive a reward from the hand of the Lord Himself. This is an incentive to service but is not the objective. To ‘take part … to struggle … and to fight well’ is our creed and to please the Lord is our goal. The receiving of praise from Christ Himself and a ‘well done good and faithful servant’ is more than we deserve. So, let’s ‘run all’, and let’s run well that we may obtain.
ROY HILL is an elder in Pensford Gospel Hall, Bristol, and is chairman of PreciousSeed, a board member of Uplook Ministries in USA and also of Gospel Folio Press in Canada. A semi-retired industrialist he ministers the word throughout the UK, N.America and the Far East. He is the authorof many magazine articles and also publishes the UK Assemblies Address Book.