This last Sunday, I was leading my Ladies group in a study of Philippians 3:12-21. I was suddenly struck by the beauty of Paul’s words in verse 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus (HCSB).
We tend to recognize that racing, reaching the prize, pursuing the goal, as favorite metaphors of Paul. One of the most well known being found in Hebrews 12:1-2 (bold) Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne.
I realized while reading it with my class, that I had the wrong vision of what Paul’s race might look like. I admire Olympiad athletes who can run full out in quick sprints and break records of the fastest run in so many seconds, but it never truly echoed in my life.
Christian life is not a sprint. It is a marathon race where we do not get to pass off the baton to someone who can do that scary obstacle course right in the middle of the race. Reading the various race metaphors before, did tug a little on the heartstrings, but it never sank in in regards to the enduring dedication that is needed to continually run when your energy is flagging.
My life has been more of a marathon. It has never been a sprint. Racing round a track in under 4 minutes is an amazing feat, but the energy is gone. I have had to see some people race ahead of me in life while others fall behind, and still I must doggedly continue to race towards the goal of my life- complete humble perfection in Christ Jesus. The prize that will hopefully await me upon entering the heavenly kingdom of God.
The vision I now carry with me is the idea that the marathon race that I am in the midst of is closer to what the amazing Team Hoyt might go through.
Team Hoyt is a father son duo who have ran in various races since 1977. The duo officially ran their 1077th race as of April 2012.
What is so amazing about Team Hoyt?
Dick Hoyt, the father, is now in his 70s and races for the benefit of his son Rick, who was diagnosed with spastic quadriplegia. Rick had told his dad after their first run together, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.” Since that moment, Dick has done whatever he could so that his son could feel freedom.
They have raced in marathons, triathlons, and the difficult Ironman competitions. They have also biked and run across the United States in 45 days.
Throughout the races, Dick carries his son. Depending on the competition, Rick is either placed on the front of the bike in a special chair, pulled behind his father on a small boat, or pushed in a specially designed racing wheelchair. He is in the midst of the race. And he always finishes before his father.
So why did reading Paul’s “pursue as my goal the prize before me” suddenly make me think of Team Hoyt? I’ve known about Team Hoyt for years. I’ve always greatly admired the duo and follow them on Facebook. I remember praying that they weren’t near the horrible tragedy at the Boston Marathon, which happens to be the duo’s favorite race.
So why now?
Perhaps my last year of life has focused my attention more on the fact that I cannot face this race as a sprint. Becoming mature in Christ is not a quick one-two thing that happens. It is something we must struggle with. We must sweat, cry, and bleed over our spiritual life.
Dick Hoyt shows how important his son is to him by continually bleeding and sweating over that which makes his son feel free. I’m sure he has shed more than his share of tears over the years as exhaustion and illness plague him, but still he continues to strive towards the goal of the finish line. His focus is totally on that which is in front of him- Rick, his son.
It is not about the ‘prize.’ It is about the growth of his son’s sense of freedom.
Applying this to Paul’s metaphor might seem like a stretch, but stick with me.
Paul, throughout his letters has mentioned that that he has shed blood, sweat, and tears in the service of Christ. He praises that that which is behind him (the old him who despised the salvation of the cross) no longer has the power to sway him from his goal. He has beaten his body into submission and is wholly focused on coming perfection at the end of the race. He encourages those he writes too, to bring their own bodies into submission and run with endurance towards the prize, to not be swayed by the world’s glitter, but focused on the true reward.
I’m sure that Dick Hoyt has wanted to just collapse in the middle of the Ironman competition more than once (or any of the races), due to the exhaustion of going from biking, to swimming, to running. But, rather than give into his flesh, he puts one foot in front of another, his eye on his prize- his son’s joy.
Paul was not a sprinter. If he was a sprinter, I believe he might have renounced Christ rather than go through torture at the brutal hands of the Romans. A sprinter would not have the fortitude to withstand his faith being questioned. Sprinters in the faith burn brilliantly and quickly. The first time there is a small bump in the track they will fall away, unable to handle the difficulty of the race.
Marathon racers on the other hand, will conserve their faith in the midst of the race. It is for when those hiccups come their way, they have the knowledge and strength they built up during the calm moments that will help carry them through the tough moments.
Christian marathon racers should not be trying to leave everyone in their dust, but rather be helping our fellow racers finish their race well. We all are striving for the same goal.
The beauty of racing for the prize of fellowship with Christ, is that there is enough of him to go around to all the winners!
You can read about the amazing Team Hoyt here on their website