Last week, I stated that I was negatively impressed with the eight disqualified badminton players for not doing their best in the Olympics. This week, I’m positively impressed by someone who did their best, but still lost.
Nineteen-year-old Sarah Attar ran in an 800-metre competition and was 150 metres from the finish line and 43 seconds behind the winner. That could be considered a crushing defeat, but Sarah finished the race wearing 10 times as many clothes as any of her competitors … but also the biggest smile.
The Brisbane Times captioned her run as, “The last place that meant more than any medal.”
For Sarah, the privilege of running, the principles involved and her personal attachment to the race were more important than where she placed. She was the first Saudi woman to compete in Olympic track and field.
Most of us were raised with the adage, “It is not whether you win or not, but how you play the game.” I was a little dubious about that one, but as I watched Sarah compete, I knew it was true. And I was simultaneously reminded that the Bible compares the Christian life to a race.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says, “Do you not know that in a race, all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly …”
In this text, we see that like an Olympic runner, Christians run to win the prize — they do their best. And as in the sports world, intensive training is required, as is skill and discipline, as opposed to “running aimlessly.”
Another text, 2 Timothy 2:5, highlights the importance of rules. “If anyone competes as an athlete … he competes according to the rules.”
Finally, Hebrews 12:1,2 states that a Christian should, “strip off every weight that slows us down … And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.”
This passage underscores two more essentials to running a race; shedding all unnecessary weight and keeping the goal in sight.
Like a runner, the Christian must have both initiative and finish-iative … and like Sarah, we run our best, but coming in first is not required.
Why not? Because those who finish the Christian race receive not a gold medal, but they are assured of “a crown” and this crown “will last forever.”
How is your race going?
Pastor Ross Helgeton is senior pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church.