Anyone running a race knows that it is as important to start quickly as it is to run fast and hard all the way through the finish line tape. Eric Liddell, the Scottish missionary to China, was knocked down in a 400-meter race shortly after the race began and by the time he regained his footing, the pack leader was more than thirty meters ahead.
Most runners would have assumed the race was lost, but not Liddell. Liddell felt that his speed was a gift given to him by God. Using that gift was part of his life purpose, so he willed himself to continue the race, catching and passing the leaders in the last twenty meters— a task that most track coaches deemed impossible. Liddell collapsed from the physical exhaustion he willed his body to endure, and it is said that it took nine months to recover from the overexertion that he willed it to endure. One could argue that he finished the race faster than he began it.
After his wins in the Olympics, Liddell went on to become a missionary to China, where he finished his earthly race as fast as he had the earlier 400-meter dash.
One key difference between life’s race and any competitive race like track, swimming, or crew is this: in a competitive sports race, we know where the finish line is. In life’s journey we do not know when we will finish or where. My three best friends, one from the Naval Academy, one from my flying days, and one from Harvard, all died within a span of six months and were in their thirties or forties. All were in good health, good shape, and all had successful careers. One died from a ski accident, hitting his head on a boulder and never coming out of the coma. One was healthy one day and the next day developed an aggressive melanoma cancer and died within a matter of a few weeks. The third was the pilot of the space shuttle Challenger, which exploded after seventy-three seconds of flight. The point is simple. We do not know when our finish will be, so this book is not just for old geezers like me, but for men of all ages.
Finishing the race of life spiritually faster than we began it—and doing so in a manner that brings glory to God—is what I mean by enduring well and finishing strong. This is extraordinarily important. The key heart motivation for this objective is captured in this short prayer.
God, Please enable me to finish my life in a way that brings glory to you. Help me to avoid any moral failures that I know I am prone to wander into, enable me to cultivate my appetites for godly virtues, and give me the strength and wisdom to say no to those appetites that will harm me, my family, my church, my friends, my community, and, most importantly, You.
Search my heart and see if there is any evil way within me and give me the will and dependence on You to mortify that evil. Cultivate within me an ever-growing affection for You and relationship with You.
Give me the energy and stamina to run through life’s finish line in a way that will please You and be useful to the Kingdom. I want to finish strong!
In Christ’s name I pray, Amen.
Excerpted from Endure: A Christian Man’s Guide to Finishing Strong by Bill Newton, now available from Shepherd Press.