A couple of weeks ago, my young friend Mike ran the Toronto marathon. He’d been building up to this for months. We’d talked about it often. He had a time goal and was highly motivated to meet it.
When I saw him the other day for the first time since the race, he was not a happy camper.
Mike had run long distance races before, but this was his first marathon. In the excitement of the moment, as the various waves of runners were released, Mike made his first mistake. He forgot to set his stopwatch. Then when he did, it stopped working.
By this time, he had become enveloped in a large crowd of runners. The pace seemed to be decent, and he was reluctant to spend extra energy trying to break ahead of the pack.
But when he got to the halfway mark and saw the large clock, his heart sank. He was no less than twenty-eight minutes off his expected pace!
Dwelling on what had happened demoralized him. He picked up speed a bit, but still finished forty minutes off what he had hoped for. He walked away angry and disappointed with himself.
Paul talked to the Philippians about the original marathon race. He gave the potential runners in the church some pretty good advice. He told them to forget what lies behind and to strain desperately forward. That way they could edge out the next guy at the finish line, even if only by a nose!
Forgetting to set his watch left Mike in the default position of judging his pace by those around him. He judged that the pace everyone else was going at must be the right one if everyone else was doing it. It was a very costly mistake, and so badly distorted his judgment he wound up severely off his pace without even knowing it. And then he dwelt on the mistakes of the past and lost focus on the goal.
Paul tells us to ignore everyone and everything around us in the single-minded pursuit of victory. We are to keep our eyes on one thing only -- the goal marker, which is Christ. The goal marker was a large post erected to make sure the runners knew where the race ended and did not go off course.
I have never felt God calling me to do what the crowd around me was doing. I have never felt to judge the call on my life by what someone else wanted to do.
It can be costly to follow the call of God when everyone else is going at a different pace or in a different direction.
But it’s worth it.
Why? The last part of Paul’s athletic pep talk proves it. At the end of the race is the prize of the upward call. He’s referring to the high platform the judges sat on to discern who crossed the finish line first. The winner of the race got called up to where the judges sat to receive the prize. His name was called out, and everyone celebrated his triumph.
At the end of our race, we will be called upward to a higher court than that. God himself will call out our name. And in this race, thankfully, many can be winners.
But to win the race we have to follow the goal marker. We have to set our stopwatch to the will of God for our life. We have to stop looking around and letting others set the pace or determine the direction. We have to get past the past, and keep our eye on the goal.
After the race, Mike got a word of wisdom from an experienced runner. Mike had noticed a few runners making a sprint right at the beginning, which to him seemed counterproductive in such a long race. But his wise friend told that him the smart runners do that in order to get away from the crowd and set their own pace.
Your sprint is your time spent with God. It will give you a winning edge, and set you on the path to victory.
Run to win. The prize is worth it.