In November 2012, 530 runners were poised on the starting line for the Heaton Harriers 10km race through Newcastle, England. As is customary a cyclist familiar with the route—or “rabbit” as it is quaintly known—was employed to ride just ahead of the frontrunners to lead them. The rabbit, wearing a conspicuously fluorescent yellow top, pedalled ahead moments before the starting pistol sounded.
At the bang the racers charged off enthusiastically. However, shortly after the rabbit and a small pack of frontrunners crested a blind rise and turned left, a local cyclist who perchance was donned in a fluorescent yellow cycling top pedalled briefly onto the route and then turned right.
The obliging runners dutifully followed him on a meandering, seemingly random route through Newcastle until the biker serendipitously crossed the actual route again, having taken what was in effect a substantial shortcut.
The man who thought he was winning the race, one Ian Hudspith, suddenly found himself being bested by a straggling group of bemused slowcoaches.
The organizers soon realized what had happened and promptly called everyone back to restart the race.
Les Venmore, one of the organizers, confessed it “wouldn’t have looked particularly good” if the race had been won by someone who had never won a race before because of an unintentional shortcut. It appears most of the runners took the incident in good cheer and there was much jocularity about the mistake.
And laughter is the appropriate response to something as inconsequential as a foot race. But imagine at the end of your life you appeared before the judgment seat of Christ and instead of hearing the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” you heard the words “Well tried my misguided and silly servant, you ran aimlessly for a good eighty years, pouring your time and energy into some pretty insubstantial pursuits.”
Paul warns against this disconcerting eventuality in a letter he addressed to the somewhat misguided church in Corinth.
1 Cor 9:24-27 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
There are three obstacles to finishing your race well that can be avoided by taking this passage to heart.
The pitfall of inconsequence is the threat of living a Christian life that leaves little to no impact in God’s kingdom.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.”
We all know Christians who seem to have as their life’s ambition to do the bare minimum for Christ, and finish their race without breaking a sweat. Paul says we should run like we want to win. Make your life count.
Two London missionaries attempted to take the gospel to the New Hebrides Islands in 1839 but they were unceremoniously killed and eaten by cannibals only minutes after going ashore. Then in 1858 John G. Paton and his wife set sail to the islands, but not without some well-meaning opposition. On one occasion a respected elder warned, “You will be eaten by cannibals!” To which Paton responded with wry candidness,
Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms.”
Food for thought, right?
Another hurdle that impedes our progress in effectiveness for Christ is to live a life that affects this life, but not the next.
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.”
Sincere but misguided Christians sometimes devote their lives to meeting the temporal physical needs of people while neglecting their eternal spiritual needs.
I’m all for mercy ministry—who better to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned than Christ’s ambassadors on earth (Matt 25:40)? But if we aren’t doing these ministries in his name, we fall short of our mission. We build a ministry with straw and hay instead of lasting materials (1 Cor 3:12-15).
Another sacrificial missionary C. T. Studd said it with pith:
Only one life it will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
A third impediment to effectiveness we need to avoid is undoing the good ministry we’ve done by undermining its credibility by an incongruent witness. This is achieved by the sinister cancer of hypocrisy.
“But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
If you undermine your ministry by your hypocrisy, you waste your life.
Puritan Thomas Watson averred,
The hypocrite fools man in life, but in death fools only himself. …he feigns humility, but it is that he may rise in the world. … He carries his Bible under his arm, but not in his heart. … He can be as his company is and act both the dove and the vulture.”
May the Lord help you spend your life, not running aimlessly nor boxing the air, but making it count, making it last, and making it stick.