The runner is speechless. With barely any breath he soaks in a blanket of heat. Drops of sweat slowly bead down the forehead and drip off his hair. Small puddles begin to grow under his head on the asphalt. His heart pounds through his back as he is lying down. His eyes follow drifting clouds above. His mind continues to race while his legs have stopped. The race was still going, but this runner’s race was over. The background noises fade from the cheering spectators. The only thoughts loud enough to hear are his own. The thoughts of accomplishing a race he had tried many times to finish.
It did not matter how the runner started. What mattered was how he finished. Are we not like a runner? Life requires us to have a place to start. It does not matter how we start. It does matter how we finish. It does not matter what “it” is. We all want to start something. Pick a subject and fill in the blank. It could be an iron man race for one person. It might be refacing the house so it can keep up with the trends. It will be different for all of us. Many of us start a goal with good intentions and zealous ambition. In these moments of ambition, it feels like nothing can stop us. We leave the starting line filled with strength. We see the finish line as if it is right under our nose. Somewhere along the way, those good intentions accompanied with zeal start fading. Our steadfast pace turns into a slow crawl. Then we come to a point where we are not even moving at all. We begin to question what went wrong because we started so strong.
Jesus is no stranger to asking questions either. With a large crowd following Him, He started with this, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’” This is a passage from Luke 14. The runner I mentioned earlier did not run out of money, but he did run out of endurance. Could he be feeling a bit like the person Jesus was describing and wrestling with a bit of embarrassment? How many times have we found ourselves with no more endurance to continue too? Jesus lead the crowd to a provoking invitation. It was simple, but not easily accepted. He left this on the table for them to chew on, “So then, any of you who does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus was not trying to stop the crowd from following Him, or was He? Jesus knows people. I bet there were many in the crowd that day “jumping on the bandwagon.” I think Jesus’s real goal was to expose motives. He wanted to challenge them on why they were listening to His words. He wanted them to think about why they were following Him. God is not fooled by our actions. He knows why we do the things we do, even if we do not. All our motives are laid bare before His eyes. I think He knew some were following the crowd and not necessarily following Him. His goal was to redirect those who were following blindly.
At the end of Luke 14 Jesus remarks, “He who has ears to hear, let him listen and consider and comprehend by hearing!” Jesus had no intention of turning anyone away. His intention was to start them on a journey they would finish. He wanted those listening to realize the cost. He wanted them to understand what it meant to be a disciple. He knew everyone in the crowd was not willing to make such a commitment. He did not want larger crowds for social popularity. He knew all that were present were not really listening to Him. Why would He say, “he who has ears to ear, let him listen,” if people were not actually listening?
God knows humanity. He knows some are great with commitment. He knows some are not. He knows getting started on anything can be tough. How much more does He know the difficulty in finishing?
Many of us start off strong with God. He fills our hearts with understanding. He makes us a new creation through the power of His Spirit. We leave the starting line with vision. Somewhere on the narrow path we stop. We stop because we get tired from frustration. We lose endurance through doubt. We stop moving because of discouragement. I am no stranger to throwing in the towel myself. I have quit on the Lord many times out of frustration. I have grown past that now because God’s promises exceed my faithless attitude.
God makes a declaration over anyone who accepts Him. He makes a promise to us that He would never leave us or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31:6) God wants us to come into alignment with His thoughts. Once we make the commitment to believe Him, he ties himself to us. The three-legged race articulates this well.
The three-legged race is a race where your leg is tied to another person’s leg. The only way you can run is when your leg and the other person’s leg operate in unison. The principle is to work together to reach the finish line. The two legs joined must work at the same time. If this does not happen, there will be resistance between the two running. In the same way, we must learn to sync our actions with His. Then we will be working with Him and not against Him. God ties His Spirit to us, and this is how we maintain endurance.
God has invited us to a three-legged race. He will tie His leg to our leg. He will set a pace of steadfastness so we will endure. He will teach us how to move with Him. He will guide our steps into a path with the least resistance. When we trip as we learn, He will reach down and pull us up. His arm will wrap around us again and again as we secure our footing. He will pull us closer than a brother. He will be the voice of hope in the noise. His voice will stand out from the crowd to strengthen along the way.
From earlier, we remember the runner’s race was over. He is still lying on his back. As his eyes gaze upon the clouds, a shadow appeared. A hand stretched out toward him. He reached up and gripped firmly. The runner stood to his feet in tears. High fives lined up one after another. The pats on the back reassured his race was over. He looked back and stared at the finish line he just crossed. He tried many times to finish this race without success. Even though he came in last, that was irrelevant. He remembered the words of his trainer from months ago. His trainer promised to be with him till the end. It was his trainers hand stretched out in the shadow that helped him up. The runner stood proud from his finished work of success.
In a similar way, we must remember our race with God is not about being first. He who is first will be last and he who is last will be first. It does not matter how we begin with God. What matters is how we finish with Him. God is not looking for performance that produces perfection. Jesus’s finish work on the cross brought perfection for us. God is looking upon our faith. When our faith begins to tire like a runner, we must find His pace for endurance. We will endure because we are not running alone. In the end, we will see God’s hands stretched out waiting for us.
– Jonathan Blanchard