“One mile left to go! Alright, Justin, you got this! You’re almost there; you’re almost there! You haven’t stopped once, you haven’t even stopped to walk once yet!” Passing the 12-mile marker of the Oklahoma City Memorial Half Marathon, I began to motivate myself with a positive mental cheerleading mindset. This was the longest distance I had ever run without stopping—in fact, it was the farthest distance I had ever run, period. Before long, everything from my waist down was in excruciating pain. I had cramps from my thighs to the bottom of my feet. At points, I wanted to quit, but before embarking on this journey, I had determined to not stop until I crossed the finish line.
I rounded the corner of a building, and nearly 1,000 meters away, I saw my goal straight ahead. Looking back on this experience two years later, I learned a valuable and inspiring spiritual lesson that we can all learn from: the importance of sprinting to the finish line.
“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain” (1 Corinthians 9:24). During the Apostle Paul’s time, the Isthmian Games were a popular annual event in the city of Corinth. Athletes participated in events such as long-distance runs and sprints. Here, Paul draws out a very powerful and inspiring reality about our spiritual race today. Those who ran in the Isthmian Games and competed against hundreds of other participants knew that only one individual would come out victorious. Any other achievement would pale in comparison to the glory of the victor. Not one participant dared to give up. Every participant gave it their all, especially as they came closer to the finish line. Paul would have witnessed these events and observed how every athlete ran as hard and fast as he could, trying to sprint to the finish line first. Therefore, Paul exhorted us to “run, that you may obtain”!
As soon as I saw the words “finish line” on the humongous green banner 1,000 meters away, my eyes grew large, and my aching legs no longer felt miserable. I suddenly felt a surge of energy within me! There it is! I screamed in my head. My legs began to pick up speed, my knees drew higher to my chest, my feet lunged farther forward, my arms swung vigorously back and forth as I sliced through the air, chest up, leaning forward, gritting and panting through my teeth. This was it!
“And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” (1 Corinthians 9:25). The victor of these historical games competed to win a garland, also known as a diadem or civic wreath. It was a crown made of olive, pine, apple or parsley leaves. Shortly after being awarded, however, it would wither and become of little value. So Paul said, Look at what these athletes run for. They excessively train and compete for a mere garland, something that soon dies and fades away. But we, in our spiritual race, run for an everlasting crown that will never lose its brilliance, never fade away!
I drew closer and closer to the finish line. I could hear people cheering me on but dared not divert my eyes to the right or to the left. I kept my focus straight ahead. Nothing was going to deter me from sprinting to the finish line. Five hundred meters, 200, 100, 50, 10! I gave it my all!
I leaned my chest forward through the finish line. After crossing it, I gradually came to a halt. Now past the finish, my heart was furiously beating, my chest rising up and down as I struggled to take in enough oxygen. I did it! I’m done! I finished. I finished! I accomplished my goal of not stopping for the entire grueling 13.1 miles. I felt so relieved that it was all over. I felt as if I were on top of the world!
Do you remember the last time you pushed yourself in this manner? And do you remember how you felt when you finally accomplished what you had wanted to do? Overcoming obstacles to obtain victory brings genuine euphoria.
We can also apply this important lesson to our spiritual lives. How fast and how hard are we sprinting to the finish line spiritually? Think of how close we are to the end of this spiritual race in which Christ will soon return. How intensely do we pray for God’s Kingdom to come? How much are we digging into our personal Bible studies to seek correction and to grow in God’s character? We must always keep our eyes on the finish line.
“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (1 Peter 5:4). This is the spiritual race that we are currently running, and we are nearing the finish line. In the Isthmian Games, the participants won a garland. When I participated in the Oklahoma City Half Marathon, I received a medal. But these awards do not compare to our spiritual crown that awaits us. Neither will that euphoric feeling that I felt when I crossed the finish line compare to the incredible change from mortality to immortality. We must keep our eyes and our focus on that finish line. Do you see that banner? How hard are you sprinting? A thousand meters remain—500, 100, 50, 10! Let’s sprint to the finish line and receive our crown that shall never fade.