If life is a journey or a race, then eventually we arrive at the “last leg” of that journey. And ironically, as any runner would tell you, by the time we get to the “last leg” of our race, we are usually on our “last legs” due to over exertion and fatigue setting in. So we end up running the last leg of our race literally on our last legs.
Now runners usually save something back for the end of the race, don’t they? They want to be able to finish strong. They want to be able to sprint that last leg of their race. But in life’s race how do we run our last leg of the race? In our culture we call the last leg retirement, a time when we are supposed to rest and take it easy. Seems kind of the opposite of sprinting the last leg in order to finish well. Paul talks about how I should run this life race I have been given in Philippians 3:12-14, when he says –
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect,” (in other words, my race isn’t over yet, I’m not at the finish line) “but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
“pressing on, straining” this sounds like a runner sprinting toward the finish line of life to me. Why is the runner sprinting? “to win the prize” and because “he has been called” – he has been called to run the race well – I have been called to run this race well – Paul says this is the goal, to run well, to give it my all. I read in Hebrews 12:1-2,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So running this race will require me to persevere and I may need to lighten my load as I go, throwing off anything that keeps me from running well, anything that would keep me from sprinting as I run the last leg of my race. Runners sprint because they are eager to cross the finish line and obtain the promised reward that awaits them. The closer they get to the goal, the faster and harder they run.
Ironic that when we get to the last leg of our life’s race, we are physically at our weakest just when it is time to sprint. And there may be many runners who are reluctant to keep going, many who want to turn back, many who drag their feet rather than sprint to the finish line. Why? Could it be they don’t want to cross the finish line, don’t want the race to be over, thinking nothing awaits them on the other side of the finish line? But Paul believed something wonderful awaited him, “the prize for which God was calling him heavenward.” In fact in 1 Corinthians 2:9 I read,
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
I feel like I started this race at a crawl, literally. I soon learned to stand, then to walk, and then to run. But I didn’t always want to run. There is much along life’s race path that is alluring if not downright arresting. There is always something to distract and to divert me from moving forward. Then there are the burdens and the baggage I accumulate over the years, making my progress along the race route slower, more painful and more difficult. No wonder I sometimes come to a complete standstill, but even that doesn’t provide me the rest I desire. I guess that’s why perseverance is so necessary, without it I will never finish the race and receive the prize God gives to those who remain faithful and finish the race.
On the first leg of the race, when I first began, time passed slowly. I took my time, jogging leisurely, or even walking, often looking to the right and to the left. (there is much to distract) Any coach will tell the runner – “don’t look around, it will slow your progress. Keep your eyes focused forward.” I need to keep my eyes “fixed on Jesus” like the instruction in Hebrews says. Now time passes much too quickly and I find myself picking up the pace so as to dedicate myself to what remains of the “race marked out for me.”
As I enter this last leg of my race, I call to mind the instruction to “throw off everything that hinders me” even as I feel the overwhelming desire to sprint all out on this last leg of my life’s race. Suddenly nothing else seems to matter but Christ’s call to run this race well. I realize I am going to have to “cast all my cares upon Him” if I am going to be able to run well. These burdens are too heavy for me to carry, but Jesus has offered to take them from me and carry them for me. I need to give them up to Him. It’s called surrender.
What else hinders me? Unforgiveness, fear, pride, doubt, selfishness, old wounds that haven’t healed – I am told to throw them all off so that I can run this race with single-minded dedication, eyes fixed on Jesus. Funny, even as my body is wearing out, I am being transformed by the renewing of my mind, my heart is being cleansed, healed and strengthened and my spirit is being renewed and made right. It is as if I am receiving a new heart and a new spirit as I run the last leg of this earthly race. (Romans 12:2, Psalm 51:10, Ezekiel 18:31)
It is as if old desires and dreams have given way to the promise of what awaits at the finish line and I want nothing more than to sprint all out, arms pumping, heart pounding, feet pushing forward in wholehearted pursuit of the calling I have been given to finish well. As I run (sprint) this last leg of my race through all kinds of conditions – stormy weather, darkness, rocky roads, enemy attacks, jeers of the crowd, betrayal, deceptive road signs, injury, pain and loss, these words of Paul compel me to persevere –
” . . . the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
Every runner knows the last leg of the race is crucial to the race’s outcome. Somedays I can barely put one foot in front of the other and yet, in my heart, mind and spirit I am sprinting all out toward that finish line, these words keeping me company with every step and stride I take –
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31)
sprinting my last leg of this race with faith, hope, courage and perseverance – eyes on Jesus at all times –
sincerely, Grace Day