Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Race

We just wrapped up the Winter Olympics. There were many stories that came out of the games, stories of victory and defeat, stories of triumph and tragedy. But there is one story, not from these games, but from the 1968 summer games that I find absolutely fascinating, it is the story of John Stephen Akhwari from Tanzania, a marathon runner:

Around 7:00 PM on October 20, 1968 in Mexico City’s Olympic Stadium. The closing ceremonies had just been completed. The spectators and athletes, still warm from the euphoria of the celebration, were gathering their belongings to leave the stadium. Then the announcer asked them to remain in their seats. Down the boulevard came the whine of police sirens. From their vantage point, many in the stadium could see motorcycles with their flashing blue lights, encircling someone making his way toward the stadium. Whoever it was, he was moving slowly.

Everyone remained seated to see the last chapter of the Olympics take place. By the time the police escort got to the stadium, the public address announcer said that a final marathoner would be making his way into the arena and around the track to the finish line. Confusion was evident among the crowd. The last marathoner had come in hours ago. The medals had already been awarded. What had taken this man so long? But the first sign of the runner making his way out of the tunnel and onto the track told the whole story.

John Stephen Akhwari from Tanzania, covered with blood, hobbled into the light. He had taken a horrible fall early in the race, whacked his head, damaged his knee, and endured a trampling before he could get back on his feet. And there he was, over 40 kilometres later, stumbling his way to the finish line.
The response of the crowd was so overwhelming, it was almost frightening. They encouraged Akhwari through the last few metres of his race with a thundering ovation that far exceeded the one given the man who, hours earlier, had come in first. When Akhwari crossed the finish line, he collapsed into the arms of the medical personnel who immediately whisked him off to the hospital.

The next day, Akhwari appeared before sports journalists to field their questions about his extraordinary feat. The first question was the one any of us would have asked, "Why, after sustaining the kinds of injuries you did, would you ever get up and proceed to the finish line, when there was no way you could possibly place in the race?" John Stephen Akhwari said this: "My country did not send me over 7,000 miles to start a race. They sent me over 7,000 miles to finish one."

The reason I like this story is that it reminds me of my spiritual journey. It is a struggle at times, it is full of ups and downs, moments of victory and moments of defeat, my journey is one that requires endurance. Just as Akhwari kept getting up and running so we are to get up and keep going when life does not go exactly how we planned. I am sure Akhwari did not enter the race thinking I will probably be tripped up, run over, battered and bruised during the race. God did not save you and me with the thought that we could start the race, he saved us with the hope that we would complete the race. He knew there would be struggles and times when we felt like giving up. He knew there would be times where we wondered if it was really worth it. The writer of the book of Hebrews seemed to understand this. It seems like the author must have had a knowledge of races, look what he said in the first few verses in chapter 12:

Hebrews 12: 1 - Hebrews 12:1-3  1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In order to run well to the end we have to fix our eyes on Christ, the ultimate prize. In a race you have to fix your eyes on what is in front of you, your goal, you cannot run constantly looking behind you. The past is the past, we have to leave it behind and continue running towards the finish line. Paul in his letter to the Philippians said it this way:

Philippians 3:13b - 14 Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 

Let me encourage you to drop the baggage from the past, forget the mistakes you made last year, confess the sins you committed yesterday, pray for the strength you need for today and move on towards the finish line. Listen to how Paul spoke of his life in his second letter to Timothy, a letter he wrote, knowing his time was almost up.

II Timothy 4: 6-8 - 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.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.

Let me encourage you to stay in the race and run well to the end!

1 comment:

  1. What a timely message for me and my family. Thanks so much for reminding us to press forward and keep our eyes on Christ. Check out my blog at