Watching the first few events of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I was reminded of how important it is to finish well. That Saturday, it looked like the Americans were going to be shut out of the 1500 meter short track speed skating race. Apolo Ohno and J. R. Celski were in fourth and fifth place respectively, when, all of the sudden, on the last turn, two South Korean skaters ran into each other, slid off the track, and ended the race for both of them. Ohno and Celski medaled because the South Koreans didn’t finish well.
The same day, Canadian Jennifer Heil finished well as she skied an almost perfect run in the freestyle downhill moguls. There was only one skier left, American Hannah Kearney. As well as Heil finished, Kearney did even better, pulling off a flawless run, shocking her competitor, and walking away with the gold. Kearney and Heil both finished well.
The following day, there was an exciting finish to the Nordic Combined Event, an event that’s been around since the very first winter Olympic Games. The American athletes did great! They finished strong, and one even took the silver medal. But the Frenchman Jason Chappuis exemplified how to finish a race well as he out-sprinted the other athletes to take the gold in dramatic fashion. He certainly finished well.
Starting a race well is important, but finishing it well is also critical. The Bible compares the Christian life to a race. Hebrews 12:1 says, “therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The Apostle Paul uses a race analogy in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” And referring to the fact that he is nearing the end of his own life, he writes to his protégée Timothy saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Perhaps Paul had Stephen in mind when he thought about finishing his own race. Before Paul’s dramatic conversion to Christianity, he was a young, up-and-coming Pharisee named Saul. Some believe Paul was the one who oversaw, and approved of Stephen’s brutal stoning. If so, he witnessed the death of the first Christian martyr. He witnessed a man finish his race by dying in a manner that magnified God. (Acts 7:54-60) Perhaps, Paul wondered if his own death would also magnify God.
It makes us uncomfortable to think about finishing our lives on this earth, but in truth, everyone will come to the end of his or her race at the appointed time. Will we finish well? Will we be able to say, as Paul said, we have fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith? Or will we fall by the wayside when the path is rocky and steep? Will we be like Stephen, keeping our eyes on the prize set before us—eternal life in heaven with Jesus, or will we focus on our own discomfort and pain? Oh, that we might magnify God, and reveal Christ to others in all we do, even in the way we die.
We should also remember Paul’s words to the Philippian church, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21 NASB)
By Steve Doyle
Church Planter/Pastor, Dacula, GA