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Mar8ThuIn our faith journeys, we should run the race with perseverance and encourage others along the way. March 8, 2012 by Major Danielle Strickland
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- Opinion & Critical Thought
I'm not sure what your new year's resolutions were, but the statistics are not very encouraging. Apparently only 20 percent of people keep their resolutions past March. We don't seem to know how to finish what we start.
Years ago, I started running simply to work off some extra calories. Eventually, I became inspired by the activity of running itself. I ran a marathon in San Diego called the Rock 'N' Roll Marathon, which was an incredibly fun event. Every five miles along the route there is a massive rock concert, with a “rock star” telling the crowd to cheer for the runners. As you weave through the crowd you begin to feel like a rock star yourself and don't even notice the distance for the first half of the marathon. As soon as the music fades behind you, the next rock band can be heard faintly ahead of you, beckoning you forward.
However, no matter how great the course is, everyone hits “the wall” during the final 10 kilometres of the 42-kilometre race. This is the part of the marathon that is hardest to finish. Your entire body is trying to convince you that running this final leg of the race is not worth it. People call it “the wall” because it feels like you've literally hit a wall. Not a happy feeling for sure. At this race, the organizers did something quite profound to help the runners make it through the last quarter. They lined this final section of the course with members of the U.S. Marine Corps. Dressed in fatigues and armed with sponges and buckets, they cheered us on. Well, more accurately, they yelled us on. After dipping their sponges in the cool water, they threw them at us and yelled marine slogans. “No pain, no gain.” “Finish what you started.” And, “Suck it up, Buttercup,” said one marine with a huge smile as I laboured forward.
There was no way I could stop. I mean, would you quit in front of all those soldiers yelling you forward? It was an incredible experience and I finished the race with a sore body but a soaring spirit. I wasn't just a starter, I was a finisher.
The Apostle Paul likens our faith to a race and mentions the importance of finishing. Actually, in Hebrews 12, we see a picture very much like the San Diego marathon. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [perhaps the Marine Corps of believers: Abraham, Moses, William and Catherine Booth?] … let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Sitting down at the end of the race is the fun part. I usually try to find a hot tub to sit in. And it's OK to revel in your accomplishment. I think this is what God had in mind when he instructed the Israelites to remember the things in their lives that they had done and to celebrate them. If all the Israelites marched 10 abreast in a line, it would have taken them 27 days to cross the Red Sea. It's no wonder that God told them to take the time to set up an altar and to celebrate the completion of their journey. They had walked a marathon together out of Egypt and then began another kind of race as they prepared for the Promised Land.
In our faith journeys, it's important to learn not just how to start but how to finish. Celebration is part of it. Encouragement is another. Affirmation is key. Shame only motivates for a small time. Yelling at yourself to “suck it up” also only works for a short time. But affirmation, celebration and encouragement have the power to move us forward for the long haul. We can do this together. You should try it. Why not join the race as a participant and a contributor?
As you fix your eyes on Jesus, follow his lead and help point others to his amazing example. Be an encourager to those who are trying to run, celebrate what God has already done in you and the pace at which you are moving and affirm the people around you who are giving it their best. I think Hebrews 12 is a beautiful picture of the community of God's people in action—not just starting things, but finishing them with style. Suck it up, Buttercup, and finish what you started.
Together with her husband, Major Stephen Court, Major Danielle Strickland is the corps officer of Edmonton's Crossroads Community Church. She has a personal blog at djstricklandremix.blogspot.com.