It was Sunday morning, March 19, 1989. I was in the fourth block of runners, standing next to my friend, wondering what I had gotten myself into. When the gun sounded, I didn’t move. I couldn’t. Twenty thousand runners were crammed into the streets of Los Angeles, more than half of which were in front of me! It was like waiting in a long line of cars when the light turns green. I stood there and waited—and waited. Finally, like a huge boa constrictor, we started moving.
Training for the Los Angeles marathon while attending college and working part-time was a challenge. As a high schooler, I had never been in track or cross-country. But when we trained for basketball season each fall, I always enjoyed the long-distance running.
A marathon is the ultimate in long-distance running! My friend and I ran every other day in preparation for the event—sometimes three or four miles, sometimes six or eight. What a blessing it was to have a partner in training. He pushed me when I felt like giving up, and vice versa.
During the latter stages of training, I had fixed three definite goals in mind. First, I wanted to finish. Second, I wanted to do it in 3½ hours. And third, I wanted to sprint the final stretch to the finish line. Above all, though, I absolutely had to finish.
Spiritually, we can all identify with those same goals.
Our Spiritual Race
In Hebrews 12:1, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” The Living Bible, although merely a paraphrase of the Scriptures, begins verse 1 like this: “Since we have such a huge crowd of men of faith watching us from the grandstands, let us strip off anything that slows us down or holds us back ….”
There was a huge crowd watching the marathon the day I ran. As an added prod, I had convinced nine of my fellow Ambassador College students, besides me, to run the marathon. Had I dropped out or failed, I felt like I would be letting a lot of people down. It helped motivate me.
Spiritually, there are a lot of people in the grandstands waiting to see how we will do—family, friends, even Laodiceans. God may have even used some of us to bring others into the race. That kind of prod should help motivate us spiritually.
At the end of verse 1, Paul admonished us to run with patience the race set before us. That word patience means to run with cheerful endurance. Another definition is constancy. Never drop out of the race, Paul says. Never stop! That is one of the seven laws of success—perseverance—enduring to the end.
In verse 2, he says, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” There is so much joy and excitement associated with finishing the race. But look at what Christ went through en route to finishing. He had to endure the cross—and the shame associated with such a humiliating crucifixion. It was a difficult race—one that He even felt like dropping out of on several occasions. Yet He remained steadfast, endured to the end, and today sits at the right hand of God on God’s throne.
Now, Christ is doing all He can to help us finish our race. He is like our track coach.
Of the 20,000 runners who lined the streets of L.A. that spring day in 1989, there were many different types: Some were big and strong, others tall and thin, some short—there were even a few pudgy ones. All came from varied ethnic and gender backgrounds. I even saw quite a few competitors in wheelchairs.
Yet despite the diversity within this cross section of humanity, all were optimistic. That much we had in common. All the runners intended to finish the race.
Surprisingly, half the contestants did not. Obviously, I knew some would drop out because of injury. But 10,000? I couldn’t believe it.
It’s even harder to believe how many dropouts there will be in our spiritual race. At least 95 percent of God’s people have been led astray in this end-time Laodicean era. It’s as if they have stopped running. Of these, half will end up having quit the race altogether. In Matthew 25, Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to 10 virgins—five of them wise and five of them foolish. The foolish virgins did not have enough oil (a type of God’s Spirit) in their lamps to endure to the end. The wise virgins, though they had fallen asleep spiritually, had just enough of God’s Spirit to awaken at the last minute and finish the “race.” These are those who repent of their rebellion against God during the Tribulation.
Sadly, of all God’s people in this end time, it appears that only 5 percent will actually finish the race strong.
Finishing the Race
Like God and Christ, we must finish what we start. Jesus said we would not be saved unless we endure to the end (Matthew 24:13). In Revelation 2:10, God told the brethren in Smyrna that if they remained faithful unto death, they would receive a “crown of life.” In verse 26, He said to the brethren of Thyatira, “He that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations.”
Similarly, God promises Philadelphians the reward of being pillars in His temple for all eternity so long as we never deny His name (Revelation 3:8). Throughout these messages to the seven Church eras, God makes it obvious that receiving our eternal reward depends on our finishing the race.
This principle is reaffirmed in numerous other scriptures. In Romans 2:6-7, Paul wrote that God “will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.” The Greek word for “patient continuance” is the same one used in Hebrews 12:1, meaning cheerful endurance.
In Hebrews 3:14, we find this added directive: “For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.” In other words, God wants us to maintain that same enthusiasm and optimism we had at the beginning of the race all the way to the end.
In fact, with God, it is more important that we finish strong.
Go for the Gold
Paul notes this fact in 1 Corinthians 9:24: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” A prize is waiting at the finish line with your name engraved on it!
Paul describes that prize in the next verse: “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible [crown]” (verse 25). If we are not in this race to win, we are in danger of losing our crown. That’s why the last specific warning God gives to Philadelphians in Revelation 3:11 is to “hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” God inspired that to be our final warning because He knew in these latter days that many would drop out of the race.
Paul concludes his thought in 1 Corinthians 9, “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway [or become disqualified]” (verses 26-27).
The Gun Lap
To drop out of our spiritual race at any point is tragic. How much more so now that we are on the home stretch?
One of my goals when running the marathon, as I mentioned earlier, was to sprint to the finish line. After about the 10th mile of that marathon, when I hit what long-distance runners call “the wall,” sprinting was the furthest thing from my mind. I seriously doubted whether I would be able to finish the race. My legs felt so heavy—and I hadn’t even reached the halfway point.
Somehow I made it through to my “second wind.” By mile 17, there was a spring in my stride! I now realized I was about two thirds of the way home! The thought of finishing now seemed much more real to me. Shortly after the 24th mile marker, charged by a full rush of adrenaline, I began my sprint. And to my utter amazement, I maintained that pace for the final mile-and-a-half. I passed what seemed like thousands of runners.
Now suppose, while in the midst of that sprint, that I stopped running with only 100 meters to go, walked over to the roadside curb, and sat down. No one in his right mind would be so foolish as to do such a thing! That’s absurd!
Spiritually, however, that is what many thousands are now doing.
“What is the living glorified Christ going to say to you,” Mr. Armstrong asked in a 1967 letter, “when He comes to call you to account—and you have to face Him? Is He going to ask you, ‘Why did you quit, right at the most important time of all? Why did you lay down on the job, give up and quit just when the race was almost run?’
“What would you think of a man in a mile race who was running so well he was just about to win the race and set a new world record—and then, halfway through the ‘gun lap,’ he just quit running and sat down to rest and say, ‘Ho hum!’” (Aug. 28, 1967, co-worker letter). Mr. Armstrong repeatedly referred to this “gun lap” that God’s Work had entered into in these latter days. He always spoke with a sense of urgency, admonishing us to “tighten our belts” financially—to bear down spiritually—in preparation for the tough road ahead. Now, he would say, is the time for our final burst of energy toward the finish line!
How much more should we apply this exhortation today in this end-of-the-end-time work? What God needs from all members and co-workers of Christ is that final extra burst of energy down the home stretch! Here is what Mr. Armstrong wrote on Oct. 29, 1967: “We must give this great work a mighty additional push! The time is short—and it is vital. It is the most important thing in our lives right now!”
Here is how Jesus Christ puts it in Matthew 24:45-46: “Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.” When Christ returns, will He find us “so doing”—sprinting to the finish line? If so, Jesus says He will “make him ruler over all his goods” (verse 47).
That’s what it means to endure to the end—to run with patience. It doesn’t mean that we are plodding along at a snail-like pace, as if we have another 25 miles to go. It means we are flat-out sprinting!
We are far beyond the “sign up” stage of our spiritual marathon. We have even gone through the extensive training in preparation for our race. Think of the many grueling “workouts” we have gone through to get to the point we are at now.
And where are we right now? We are in the race! In fact, the race has long since begun! We’ve already “hit the wall.” We are well beyond that point. The adrenaline rush is here! We can seethe finish line! We only have 100 meters to go! Our crown is waiting for us!
How fast are you running?
From the Archives: Royal Vision, September-October 2000