Running the Race

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Two weekends ago, more than 20,000 runners, joggers, walkers, and wheelchair participants left the starting line of the OneAmerica Indy Mini-Marathon. 
The race is one of the world’s premiere 13.1-mile annual events.  It begins and ends in downtown Indianapolis, and famously includes a single two-and-a-half-mile lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the “500.” 
For some participants, the Mini-Indy is the greatest spectacle in costuming.  People dress up as animals, vegetables, and superheroes.  This year one runner was a lobster.  Another was decked out head to toe as Batman.  It’s all fun and games at the starting line.
Then the race begins. 
I joined the spectators who lined the route, eager to cheer on my son Mark and 10-year-old grandson Nico (both of whom have completed full marathons).  I stood at about the 11-mile mark – the point at which you can definitely tell the contenders from the pretenders.  The lobster ran by, looking cooked.  Batman was a few paces behind, urgently in need of the Bat Shower.  When Nico and Mark came into view, they were smiling and waving. 
As if to underline the challenges of pushing one’s body to the limits, 15 runners participating in last weekend’s Brooklyn half-marathon in New York City had to be hospitalized because of high temperatures and humidity.  Tragically, one 30-year-old participant made it to the finish line, only to die of heat exhaustion. 
Historians suggest that footraces are the oldest form of athletic competition.  Anybody can run, since no special equipment is required.  But long-distance running is rigorous, which is one reason why the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews, whose identity has never been established, boldly describes following Jesus as a race that lasts a lifetime:   
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of faith,” we read in Hebrews 12:1-2.
Note that our race has been “marked out for us.”  Those who follow Christ don’t run aimlessly.   
When the editors of Life magazine compiled a book on the contemporary search for the meaning of human existence, they packed its pages with a variety of first-person testimonies.  Here’s what Jose Martinez, a taxi driver from New York, said about the meaning of his life:
We’re here to die, just live and die.  I live driving a cab.  I do some fishing, take my girl out, pay taxes, do a little reading, then get ready to drop dead.  Life is a big fake!  You’re rich or you’re poor.  You’re here, you’re gone.  You’re like the wind.  After you’re gone, other people will come.  It’s too late to make it better… We’re going to destroy ourselves, nothing we can do about it… Life is nothing.
If you end up taking a ride in Jose’s cab, I suspect you may find yourself a little more depressed by the time you arrive at your destination.  But here’s the irony:  If he’s a good cabbie, you will indeed arrive at your destination.  That’s because he will follow the pathways that are “marked out” for a successful journey between two points – something which he thinks is impossible when it comes to human life.
And how do we discern what route is marked out for us?  We “keep our eyes on Jesus.” 
That means continually immersing ourselves in the stories of Jesus, the words of Jesus, and the example of Jesus as found in the Bible’s four Gospels.
It hasn’t been easy to for me to keep my eyes on Jesus.  That’s because I’ve spent virtually my whole life keeping my eyes on me.  I’ve been preoccupied with my own needs, my own hurts, and my own appetites.  Learning how to pay attention to Jesus doesn’t happen in a few days or a few weeks.  Being a disciple isn’t a quick sprint.  It’s a marathon – in truth, a race that will continue as long as I’m alive in this world.
Therefore the author of Hebrews writes, “Let us run with perseverance…”
If you’re reading these words, you’re off and running.  You’re in the race.
Maybe you’ve stumbled along the way.  Maybe you left the path that was marked out for you.  Maybe you want to quit.
But it doesn’t matter how we start.  What matters is how we finish.
Finish well – with your eyes fixed on the One who is setting the pace just a few steps ahead.