God has uniquely created each of us, with a specific set of gifts, talents, skills, and passions. The race set before us is unique to us and no one else. I love the fact that God uses the word race to describe our life’s journey. A race has a beginning and an end, and it requires God’s gracious gifts and our effort to complete it. A race is not a nap, a sojourn, a hobby, a sideline, an idle pastime, or a vacation. It is a contest. A race is meant to be run competitively and seriously. The objective of the race is to give it your best with a view to the finish line and winning. But you may not always win every preliminary race.
Our daughter was a competitive swimmer from the age of six years. I can still remember watching her tiny, wet feet taking her to the starting blocks at what seemed like a huge pool for a six-year-old. The beauty of swimming competitively was this: each swimmer could feel successful even if he or she didn’t win the event. How could they do that? Obviously, every competitor was vying to win the race and equally clear was the fact that only one swimmer could win. But each swimmer also was timed, and each swimmer had a time that was his or her previous “best time.” If a swimmer improved upon the “best time,” the event was a success—a confidence builder.
Our daughter’s coach was a great coach, and he kept all of his swimmers focused on their previous “best time.” Why did he do that? He did it because he wanted his swimmers to concentrate on improvement over time. So even if his swimmers did not win the race, if they had a new “best time,” he and all his swimmers considered that a positive step toward an ultimate goal. As a result, his swimmers could leave a meet as “winners” if they established a new “best time.” Over the course of a season, his swimmers improved, and, as they aged, they became more confident. His teams won championships year after year, and he developed each swimmer to his or her full potential.
The same is true in the spiritual realm with our transcendent race. The race is ours. It is serious and important to run it faithfully, but it is not to be compared or set alongside anyone else’s! It is not a competition! We do not have to beat anyone. The right question is this: “Are we improving spiritually, setting new ‘best times’ from day to day as we live?” That is the test. And, just like in swimming, we will not establish new “best times” in every race. Some days may be complete busts. That is the nature of real life! The key question for each of us is this: “Will we continue to run faithfully in the next day’s race?”
Some of us will stay working at our trade or occupation until God takes us home. Others will be retired by the system that we work under, and be required to seek out a new way of running the race. It may be volunteer work, a completely new career direction, or devoting serious attention to a family need such as caring for an ailing parent or a disabled child. The concept of retirement or cessation from work does not exist in the biblical record. So, the idea of quitting work and entering into an existence of self-indulgence and constantly seeking pleasure through leisure activities is antithetical to any biblical principle that I can discern. However, the concept of slowing down, changing direction, and seeking God’s glory in a different avenue is very real. The race may be new and frightening, but the reward will be worth it. If we want to finish strong, then we will run our race and no one else’s.
Remember, the one thing we all share together is that we are called to finish strong. Since the race is ours, and ours alone, everyone’s finish will look a little different. That is as it should be. However, each of us can share the joy of knowing that a strong finish brings glory to the God who has loved us.
Excerpted from Endure: A Christian Man’s Guide to Finishing Strong by Bill Newton, now available from Shepherd Press.