We have now been living under the cloud of COVID-19, wearing masks and practicing social distancing, for over a year. Maybe, like me, you hope that the finish line is around the next bend.
What has made this past year difficult is that the finish line always seems to be moving. At one moment, we’re told that it is just over the horizon and then at the next, we’re told that it is a long way off! This uncertainty can cause us despair. Why? It has less to do with the distance of the race and more to do with the uncertainty of how we will know when the race is over.
COVID is one of many examples of how running the race can be difficult should we not know where the finish line is. Maybe you’ve faced this with an illness or the loss of work. Just knowing that there is an end in sight is often enough to give us the strength to finish the race.
If these feelings are true in our trials of this life, like with COVID, I wonder how uncertainties can impact our walks with God? Maybe you have looked to God for answers in the midst of your trials. While our foremost desire is for relief, for things to return to how they were, scripture reminds us of another way that we can face trails. First, we should remember our goal in running the race: “All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:25)
The goal of running the race of faith is not to merely finish, but to claim the eternal prize awaiting those whose hope is in the salvation claimed for them in Christ. Paul testifies of how his hope impacted the race that he ran, “I don’t care about my own life. The most important thing is that I finish my work. I want to finish the work that the Lord Jesus gave me to do—to tell people the Good News about God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24) He looked beyond the trials to the work ahead of him by fixing his eyes on the finish line, on the eternal prize that awaited him.
Hebrews 12 uses this image to call us to run by fixing our eyes on the eternal hope claimed for us by Christ, “… let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (1-2) Our goal is not merely to start the race, but to finish.
To endure to the end, we must not only know why we are running but where the finish line is too. Paul describes the race we’re running by faith this way, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:14) While the goal of the COVID protocols are to “slow the spread,” the goal of fixing our eyes on Christ is to claim the prize of eternal life promised to those whose hope for salvation are in Christ alone.
Paul rebuked the believers in Galatia for their failure to stay the course saying, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”(Galatians 5:7) He encourages them to keep their eyes fixed on the finish line; to continue on without stopping or turning back no matter the obstacles they face. Possibly, we like the Galatians have been distracted by COVID or something else that has stepped in our way and resulted in us taking our eyes off the finish line.
In this life we will face obstacles of various kinds. Are we able to respond with joy? Can we share Paul’s assurance, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.” (Romans 5:3) Remembering the prize of eternal life that lays ahead gives us the strength to endure our trials.
Finally, as the finish line comes into view, remember Jesus’ words, “I’ve said these things to you so that you will have peace in me. In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.”(John 16:11) Don’t allow the distractions of this life destroy the eternal hope Christ brings to those who trust in Him.
Eldon Peterson is pastor of the Cache Valley Bible Fellowship. His column appears on the Faith page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.