Just a few weeks ago, I ran a five-mile turkey trot with my two younger brothers. For those of you who might not know, a turkey trot is a charitable race that is run the morning of Thanksgiving Day, which lessens the guilt of that fifth piece of pie, seventh helping of stuffing, or tenth hour of NFL football. If you’ve ever run a charity race of any kind, or even a competitive track or cross country meet, you understand the importance of having someone there to cheer you on. As I approached the first mile marker I was already in pain and realized that I had a long way to go. Thankfully, there were some friendly police officers and volunteers to share a friendly smile and a few words of encouragement. Mile two brought with it more of the same. At the halfway point of the race, I accepted a frozen glass of water, gasped “thank you”, and continued only because some cute little kids told me that I was “halfway there” and “doing great!”. By mile three, I only pressed on because an older man with a turkey hat gave me a high five and told me to keep up the good work. At mile four, my aching feet and calves were numb, but smiling spectators and shouts of “happy Thanksgiving!” kept them moving until I crossed the finish line to still more cheering and limped to claim my free pumpkin pie. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for the support and encouragement of the race officials and spectators, I might not have finished the race.
What sorts of cheering keep us running in our races of life? It’s fairly safe to say that parents, grandparents, and other family members give us support and encouragement when we want to give up. Some of us have that friend, classmate, or coworker who always shares a friendly smile and reassures us that we are doing great. As a future pastor, I have been encouraged and supported by many pastors, teachers, and members of my congregations over the years. However, the horrible consequences of sin make it so that even these well-intentioned earthly supporters can’t always help us keep running. The devil’s clever and constant temptations threaten to slow us down as we are weighed down by our repeated and regular sins. Earthly hardships and trials often make us want to give up as the pains of death, sickness, and disaster plague us every day. Our inward struggle between our sinful nature and our new man weary us to the point of doubt and despair. If we rely on ourselves or our earthly relationships as our strength, there is no chance that we will finish our race.
However, we don’t have to run our race alone. In fact, we don’t have to run our race at all. God our heavenly father knew that we couldn’t run on our own. He saw how sin had weighed down and wearied his people on earth, so he sent his son Jesus to run the race for us. Jesus lived his life without sinning, something that we could never accomplish. He suffered torture at the hand of sinners, was hung on a cross, and experienced the torment and isolation that we deserved because of our despicable and damning sins. Then he died. Our Savior experienced the punishment of death so that we wouldn’t have to. And then, to prove to all people that he had conquered the stingless enemy of death, he rose on the third day, assuring that our race will end with eternal life in heaven. Even if there is no one on earth to cheer us on, Jesus already finished the race for us.
The apostle Paul uses a race to describe our lives on this earth as well as the saving work that Jesus did on our behalf. He writes in 2 Corinthians 9:24-25, “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.” Let us run in such a way as to get the prize, and when we grow tired or pained, let us remember that Jesus already finished the race for us. Thanks to him, we have a crown that will last forever, eternal life in the perfect paradise of heaven. 2 Timothy 4:7 says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul knew that his victory was won, and so do we. So just keep running, because an unimaginable prize is waiting for you, and your biggest fan is right by your side. Only God knows how many miles are left, but when we get to that finish line, our reward will be so much better than any pumpkin pie.