fix your gaze
I’ve run a lot of road races in the past 20+ years. I’ve been on courses in the woods and courses in the neighborhoods. I have run alongside of rivers, the bay and the ocean. I’ve run over I-85, through a military base and through a college campus. Probably my most enjoyed race was my comeback attempt at the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta. The previous year’s race presented awareness of my insufficient training and left me feeling disappointed. I went south the following year with more miles under my belt, great tunes loaded on my ipod, and a fortified spirit ready to overcome a hilly course and searing hot temperatures. I actually remember smiling as I ran along the streets crowded with onlookers. I call this my comeback race because I completed the 6.2 miles without stopping or walking; I went the distance and enjoyed it.
Sounds like the race we are all in, doesn’t it? “… let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith… “ (Hebrews 12:1-2). In fact, I imagine that there are some similarities to both kinds of races. Crossing the finish line at our sporting events, we find a plethora of satisfied people. Although everyone has a different finish-time, there’s great joy, celebration and congratulations offered of races well run. Endorphins flow and spill over into lively conversations and laughter. We enjoy all the food and drink that we worked so hard for, a smorgasbord of fruit and bagels. However, if Chick-filet happens to sponsor the race, we happily indulge in chicken sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies. Who wouldn’t run for that?
I’ve been told that we can expect a finish filled with euphoria when we arrive in heaven. It won’t be a matter of who got there faster than you did, it will be a celebration of having finished the race! There are some exciting reunions awaiting us at the finish line. We can anticipate shouts of glory, high fives, and conversations that fill us with wonder. Feasting? Oh, you can count on it! The wedding feast of the Lamb is already on God’s kingdom calendar. Who wouldn’t run for that?
Let’s focus a moment on the course leading to the finish line, because for all of God’s children here on earth, this is where we find ourselves currently. The Word of God illuminates our path to the finish with exhortations such as Proverbs 4:25-26: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm.” I have found that in both the physical and spiritual races, I am wise to know the direction to the finish line. I need to be clear on the path marked out for me, because it is easy to get off course and to run in a direction that is not at all leading me to the finish.
I remember running the half-marathon four years ago and hitting “the wall” at mile 10. I was determined to finish, so I kept pushing ahead to the 13.1 mile goal. And I assure you, nothing within me would have said, “I think I’ll veer off course and check out this neighborhood to the left!” In the same way, the spiritual races we run offer many scenic side routes. They are not necessarily bad diversions; they just are not on our marked race course. So how do we know if the course we are running is the plan of God or not? I believe it goes back to that core question for the believer: “God, who am I to You?” You see, when we have our God-given identity and sense of purpose for the kingdom of God, we are more apt to look straight ahead toward that goal. Many wonderful opportunities will arise, but we will have the self-discipline to say, “I will fix my gaze directly before me and run the race God has marked out for me.”
In the past three years, I have stayed the course while averting scenic routes that included offers of part-time and full-time work away from the home. I have also said “I can’t” to a ministry opportunity that was very fulfilling to me in a previous season. Don’t get me wrong: I have entertained the thought of how much I would have enjoyed any of those opportunities. But the quiet nudging of the Holy Spirit reminds me of the course I am on and the certainty of the calling of God. I know that I am to “take only ways that are firm.”
How about you? Is your spiritual race course clearly marked out for you? Do you have a sense of the direction you need to take to arrive at the finish? Have you been distracted by routes that exposed you to wonderful opportunities but have also left you knowing, “This isn’t it” ? Seek the Lord for clarity concerning your race. He is ready to direct your steps and show you His good, pleasing and perfect will.
Run hard, fellow sojourner! There’s an all-surpassing prize awaiting you at the finish line! Regardless of your finish time, may you hear the Father in heaven proclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”