See the Race
Updated: Apr 2, 2020
I used to live in a small town in Kansas, a tiny town in Kansas, the population of which was 2,500 people. Mallory and I never aspired to live in a small town. When the opportunity to move to this town first came onto our radar, our immediate response was an emphatic, "no." After receiving the initial inquiry from the church, we took to Google Maps and quickly discovered that the closest Walmart was an hour away. For a recent bible college grad, who had dreamed of large cities and thriving mega churches, the thought of ending up living the rural life was not appealing. However, the plans of God often do not conform to our own thoughts of what might be a preferable path.
What followed were 4 1/2 years where we came to love the town, its people, the vast plains, open skies, and pace of life that rural living had to offer. To give you an idea, I once wanted to buy a car and was told by the local bank to write a check, which they would cover, and then come by at my convenience to figure out the specifics. We ended up loving our sweet life and ministry in Kansas, but there was always one part of living in a small town that I could never embrace. It was the hour-long drive to Walmart. That was just the closest Walmart, too, to get to a place that had eating options and a Starbucks, the trip took 1 1/2 hours. These treks in the car crawled by, but something I noticed was, when we would take trips to Oklahoma to visit family on holidays, that first hour and a half went by incredibly fast. What do we get from that?
Perspective matters. When the town with Walmart was the destination and focus, the trip was daunting. When it was just a stop along the way, it seemed to take almost no time. I'm reminded of Paul's writings to the church in Philippi.
I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Phil. 3:14)
The temptation during difficult times is to focus on what's right in front of us. We see the current struggle and say that we need to get past this next little bit. When our perspective is in our ongoing battle, we lose sight of the race and despair. But when our thoughts and eyes are on the result of our faith, when we see the finish line as the destination, our afflictions, though difficult, are seen as temporary. With this perspective, not only do we see the temporary status of our struggle, but we can also see what that struggle can do to mold and shape us for the purpose to which God is calling us.
In Matthew 14, during a storm, Jesus calls Peter out of the safety of the boat to meet him on the water. Peter steps out of the boat, which already shows tremendous faith, but is quickly overwhelmed once he gets away from the boat and is confronted by the waves. I am impressed that Peter stepped out of the boat, and I am empathetic to his succumbing to fear, but when Jesus pulls him from the water, his response is, "Oh, you of little faith! Why did you doubt?" Where I see actions, Jesus sees the heart. Yes, Peter had the faith to step onto the water, but soon, he began to trust the power of the waves over the power of the one who commanded them. Your affliction and pain are real. The devastating effects that they can have on your life are both terrifying and palpable. However, we serve a father who has our best in his plan, but as we have hopefully learned from our fathers, mothers, mentors, and friends, it is often through the hardest times that we experience the most growth. The worst outcome of pain is to let it pass without learning from it. In his book on suffering, Tim Keller writes, "...suffering does not have to be a waste and could be a meaningful though painful way to live life well... but in every case, suffering poses and responsibility and presents an opportunity. You must not waste your sorrows."
When we see our lives as a journey or race, our focus is drawn to the finish, our eyes rest on Jesus, and our desire is for him. It is through this focus that we can experience trials and loss as checkpoints along the path and not at ends in themselves. We can take hardship and learn to trust and be transformed by it, and then, through it all, arrive at the end of the race transformed by our creator into the form for which we were created. We will greet Christ as a friend knowing that we have run the race well, and then the words of Paul from 2 Timothy 4 will be ours.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:7-8)