Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Running the Race and the Finish Line

I love when God gives me some new insight into a Bible verse.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)
"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

In 2007, I participated in the historical Chicago Marathon. In it's final year as the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon (it is now Bank of America), the race was cut short. Due to extreme heat and lack of hydration for the runners, it was decided that runners who had not yet made it to a certain point in the race would be detoured to the finish line.

Having only reached about the half way mark, I was extremely disappointed. I felt the race was stolen from me. I was not allowed the satisfaction of completing the goal I had worked so hard for. Even so, we were corralled across the finish line (from the wrong direction). Everyone who crossed the finish line was awarded a "finisher's medal".

I watched as so many wore their medals proudly around their necks (many had completed the 26.2 miles). I simply could not and would not wear mine with pride. I had sacrificed so much to train for this event. I had imagined for months what it would be like to cross that finish line... The time I would complete the race in... The emotions involved as I was running for a cure... Those who would be cheering me on at the end of the race... The finish line photo. Nothing went the way I had envisioned in my mind. No, that medal was not worn with any kind of satisfaction. I wanted to be worthy of the medal. I wanted to complete the 26.2 miles.

What a comparison a few weeks later as I crossed the finish line in Indianapolis. After completing the 26.2 miles with my sister-in-law, I wanted to wear my medal everywhere. Could I wear it as we went out to eat at the restaurant? How about shopping for a gift? And why not the car ride home? I earned it, after all. I was worthy to wear a finisher's medal now. I wore it proudly.

Although I wasn't running for any kind of first place prize, I wanted to complete the race with pride. I'm realistic. I'm not any kind of elite runner. At the same time, I did train. I did condition. I had sacrificed. That medal around my neck was one I wanted to be worthy of in my own eyes as well as the eyes of others.

As I train, condition and sacrifice in this earthly life, I look forward to the prize that I will receive in Heaven. Don't get me wrong. I know nothing I do makes me worthy of Heaven. I am so unworthy. Thank God for grace. I'm am so grateful that grace covers me. Because of what Jesus did for me on the cross, I will cross that finish line to share eternity with God.

Technically, I still deserved the finisher's medal in Chicago. I completed the part of the race I was allowed to complete. Still, it was not my best. It was not complete in my eyes.

As my life on earth comes to an end, will I be able to boldly say like the Apostle Paul, "I have fought the fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith"? Or will I be ashamed of my life lived here on earth? I know I'll be grateful for Christ for all He did so I do not receive the punishment of hell I am so deserving of. Will I be ashamed that the life I lived on this earth did not express my gratitude for His taking my punishment? I want to live my life expressing that gratitude each and every day. I want to obey God and live a life that honors Him. I won't be attempting to earn my way to Heaven; that's impossible. At the same time, I want to express my gratitude so I can accept the prize with a grateful heart. Not one filled with regret.

I want to be able to embrace that prize. I want to give God my best. I want my life to be complete. No regrets.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NIV)
"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."

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