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What Wins the Race?

Paul effectively uses racing imagery in many of his writings to motivate us toward divine goals. For instance, when writing to the church at Corinth, he uses the symbolism of runners in a race to illustrate the importance of noble goals, self-control, and discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). He tells his protege, Timothy, that his post-salvation life has been a race that he has endured and finished, and for which he will receive a prize (2 Timothy 4:6-8). He proclaims to the Philippians that he presses on toward a Godly prize, and how he does that by staying focused on the goal ahead of him while ignoring the weights of the past (Philippians 3:13-14). When chastising the church in Galatia, he asks who got in their way and hindered them from running their race in truth (Galatians 5:7).

One reason that he uses this imagery is because winning a race is dependent upon endurance and perseverance. If you cannot endure the pain of a race and stay focused on a goal, then you cannot finish the race, and you certainly cannot win it. That truth is transferable to every goal in life you might have, and it is certainly relevant to any assignment God has given you. Perseverance and endurance accomplish goals.  Perseverance means to continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success. In this sense, perseverance is very  much like patience.  Patience simply means to suffer long through uncomfortable things. The difference between patience and perseverance is that patience is static, and perseverance is not.  You can be patient and do nothing. Perseverance is the application of that patience toward a goal.  Perseverance wins wars. Perseverance is slugging onto the Normandy beaches in June of 1944 through a hail of bullets fired from well protected machine gun nests as a different buddy to your left or right dies with each new fearful step up the beach.  Perseverance wins the race.  The hare took a nap when he had no need of it, the tortoise trudged along with all he had.  Perseverance is a focused, aimed, and moving patience. It is not giving up.

It is evidence of faithfulness.  

This is the point of Hebrews 11, where we learn how the great heroes of the faith persevered toward their goals without ever having seen what had been promised. The gravity of their perseverance is captured in Hebrews 11:36-38: “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated —  of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”  It is on the tails of that passage that the writer of Hebrews tells us we must put aside all the things that keep us from persevering so that we can finish the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).

There is an obvious truth that we too often miss in that last passage. Perseverance is more achievable when we excise from our lives those things that hold us back from a goal. A marathon runner does not carry a mountain pack. The Apollo lunar missions didn’t try to carry Caterpillar excavation equipment to the moon. So stay light, and stay focused!

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