The race is not given to the swift. Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes ostensibly ring so encouraging to the passive ear until they become subject to a closer examination. So I ask, when have you ever not been the fastest, and still won a race? Exactly.
I recall many years ago when my older sister represented her school at a local track meet, vying for the title in the 400 meter event. One bout around the track was all that stood between her and the cheers of my father and me. In the same instance that the race began, I was overcome with disappointment— I was expecting a gun shot to commence the event. I liked guns. Unfortunately, the sound of a whistle was all the officials could spare. My demeanor quickly changed though, as I saw my sister bolt out of the starting gate, advancing paces and paces ahead of all her competitors. As she turned the first corner, a runner from a different school began to close in on her. Then another runner. And another. At the last turn, my sister had fallen all the way to last place. She never paced herself. Completely out of breath, she barely trotted and half-limped down the home stretch. This was when something amazing occurred. All of a sudden, the bleachers erupted with ovation. People from all schools stood up whistling and screaming. I even found myself shouting her name in encouragement, wanting more than anything to see her on the other side of the finish line. When she did, she was met by a slew of embraces and accolades. To all of us that day, she was a victor.
Reflecting on that day uncovers a dangerous social undertone that permeates the Western culture. It’s called “The American Dream.” At face value, it offers hard workers the opportunity to channel their dedication, and make themselves something of significance without the threat of oppressive forces inhibiting their success. Often times though, this is hardly what really occurs. Our adversary is cunning.
The bible pays careful attention to provide us with the assurance of God’s intricacies and specificity in creating each individual human in His image, with a unique purpose and personality. Let’s give Him credit; He has yet to repeat a fingerprint. Ever. So, with everyone having a different course of life, why is there so much angst and hostile competition? Again, our adversary is cunning.
Instead of each person honing in their focus on what God has laid out for them, we see envy of others’ paths, and attempts to replicate or improve upon another individual’s life with our own. Pride pervasively overtakes people, and lifetimes are spent chasing the mirage of having more power, pleasure, and popularity than the next guy. We watch this demonic machine turn people against one another, while their destinies take a back seat to their whimsical desires. With everyone on the same track, striving for the same dream, this race will assuredly and only be given to the swift, dishonest, brutal, and heartless.
What if things were different though?
I have a friend of twenty years whose story inspires me. He worked grueling hours every summer of his first three years in college, selling books door to door across the United States. He traversed hours of interstate highway in a compact Nissan Sentra, experiencing robbery at gunpoint, flat tires, a blown head gasket, and near arrest. Every year, there were more horror stories, but also promising accounts of new networking opportunities. Finally, in November of his senior year, he received an invitation to work for one of the world’s most renown pharmaceutical companies, contingent on his graduation. The good news was that he had a job lined up, and only one more class to complete before receiving his degree. The bad news, however, was that this particular course was indisputably the most difficult of them all. I recall many a conversation about the rigors of this capstone class. My response consistently stated, “Bro. This is it. Just finish this course, and it’s all over.”
What a concept.
Suddenly, all of the dots connect. My sister’s race. The enemy’s deception. My friend’s class. They all point to the same theme that unequivocally resounds with Paul’s words to Timothy about the race through which he’s endured. There is no pie in the sky or pot at the end of the rainbow in this life. There’s no point at which one can stop, look back, and say ‘I’ve made it.’ At no time can we look at our peers and entertain the notion that we have somehow beat them to the finish line. It is all a lie. Those who win the race are those who finish. The real champions are the ones who run to the end. The ones that die like Abraham, “full of years” and finishing the tasks that God laid out for them. So as an encouragement to all believers, I’ll say the same thing I told my friend: Just finish this course. Stand strong. Don’t let the enemy deceive you into thinking that you have missed out or been passed over. Never buy into the lie that someone else is doing better than you, because they have amassed a taller pile of stuff; found a career with much notoriety; or have been places in life that you have not. It will leave you distraught, dissatisfied, and depressed. Just finish your course. Follow Jesus. Follow His example that endured suffering for the joy that was set before Him. Remember that there is a cloud of witnesses cheering you on and wanting nothing more than to see you cross the finish line and make it to the other side.
The race is not given to the swift. But those who endure to the end shall be saved.