Let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. – Hebrews 12:1
When you’re a sophomore in high school and a runner on the track team’s mile relay, a District Track Meet is a big deal. A win, or even a place in the top four positions could have given us (especially me) an automatic letter in track. I could hardly wait to get my high school letter jacket even if it meant wearing it in June in Florida.
On a mile relay team there are four runners, each of which runs a quarter of a mile. They called it a sprint; I called it endurance run. In our District Meet there were eighteen teams running in three heats of six teams each so that you not only raced against your heat, but also against the clock in order to win. According to our team theory, the first runner was to pull ahead and set the pace for the race. The second and third runners were to keep up. The fourth runner was to throw in the final kick to beat the other teams and win. I was the fourth runner. It was a good theory.
I was poised, ready to go in lane two as our third man came around the final corner. He was in second place. I started out slowly trying not to outrun my teammate. My right hand was in position as the baton hit my upturned palm: smooth just like practice, and I was gone. I caught up with the lead runner by the first turn and by the second turn had taken the lead. I continued the lead up the back stretch but knew that they were close behind because I could hear their gasping for air and short spiked, light-weight running shoes slapping against the asphalt track. Like a pack of dogs they were closing in on me, nipping at my heels, trying to run me down. Then, rounding the third curve, I felt it coming – even felt its force pulling me back, slowing me down, draining my energy, stealing my win. Running against the wind is the hardest run of all. But it also had its benefits – the wind was cooling, reviving my senses, reminding me that with each step, each breath, I was getting closer to finish line, the win. In the strain my internal coaching took over: breathe-2-3, exhale-2-3, breathe…don’t look back, endure, pass the wall of wind, look to the goal, look at the finish line, win.
Then, at a precise yet unmarked mil-a-second of a moment, comes the internal question, “Is there a kick? Do I have it in me to win, to push, to give it my all and more? Look at the goal, go for the goal. The crowd is on their feet, don’t listen. The dogs are nipping at your heels, don’t look. Your heart is pounding, don’t feel it. Look at the goal. Concentrate. Run. Breathe. Win. Win. Win.”
I lost the race. I don’t know where he came from, but some long-legged pack of sinew and bones loped right past me in the last hundredth of a second and snapped the tape.
It was my fastest 440 ever, and as a team we broke our own record by six seconds. It was a great race, and, although I didn’t letter in track that year, I’ll never forget it.
Now as I read Paul’s words I am convinced that he was a runner. Paul uses the race as a metaphor for faith, “…forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). He knew that faith like running takes drive, determination, discipline, endurance and a clear goals – the upward call of God. But on the faith race I don’t have to compete. I don’t have to run against anyone else. I just run for me, and occasionally I do a little coaching along the way for others who have joined the race. Someone’s got to tell them not to look back, to press on towards the goal, and, especially, to endure those times of running against the wind.
Prayer: Let me be available, Lord, to help others as they are running against the wind. Amen.