In this month of Olympics I am reminded of my own experiences of athletics, which were not exactly crowned in glory. I was never a sprinter and more of a “middle distance” runner. But every year my school gave a whole day to a cross-country running competition called “The Gatley.” For the first four years everybody took part – and I did not do very well. In the sixth form people chose whether to take part, and I did. In my second to last outing I came a respectable 56th out of a couple of hundred runners and in my last run I came 25th against a field with a number of county-level athletes and sportsmen. My abiding memory of The Gatley was how totally exhausting it was to run three and half miles in just over 20 minutes! Winning wasn’t ever a possibility for me – the challenge was simply to finish the course!
Almost at the end of his own life the apostle Paul wrote these words.
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 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. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
Picture of a race is an inspiration to all of us in our Christian lives. Paul uses it to inspire us to work hard at our faith. 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 for ever. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
Somebody once asked Bill Shankley the football manager whether he thought football was a matter of life and death? “Oh no”, he replied, “It’s much more important than that!” Wining the race of life requires commitment, dedication and perseverance. We must make sure we are trying to win! Like Olympic athletes we must keep our focus in order to take first prize – we’re not just doing the kind of spiritual jogging which lets us slow down to a stroll or even hop on a bus home when we get a bit tired.
You may have heard about the evangelist Tom Rees – the English Billy Graham. Back in the 1950s and 1960s Tom Rees filled the Albert Hall more than 50 times with his “Get Right with God” rallies. He led an evangelistic “Mission to Britain” where he preached within 50 miles of every person in Britain. Throughout his life Tom Rees committed verses of Scripture to memory until he could recite the whole of the New Testament by heart. The last book he had to learn was 2 Timothy. And he never finished it. On the very day he died Tom Rees had just learned this verse: 2 Timothy 4:7-8 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,