(September 2, 2021) Brian Bell encourages finishing the race of life…
Exciting and yet in the current climate, challenging as the 2020 rescheduled Olympic Games in Japan may have proved, they may not have been your favourite ‘must watch’ event of 2021 to date.
In 1 Timothy 4:8, Paul tells Timothy that ‘Bodily exercise is of some benefit, but godliness with contentment is of greater gain.’
While I believe the apostle’s words about bodily exercise were specifically directed to Timothy’s situation, as with all scripture we too may benefit from its general exhortation.
Paul’s words remind us about priority (a common theme in scripture) our aim as believers is for ‘God likeness’ in our attitudes and daily living but if we are able to take physical exercise, it is good to do so within our limitations.
At the 1968 Olympic Games held in Mexico City, Tanzania was represented in the marathon by John Stephen Akhwari. Part way through the race, Akhwari fell and was injured. He decided to get bandaged up and continue, which he did, finishing in last place over an hour behind the other runners.
When interviewed later Akhwari was asked, ‘Why did you bother to get up and finish the race’ to which his reply was ‘My country didn’t send me to Mexico to start the race, they sent me to finish.’
Very clearly Akhwari could have stopped, he had a genuine injury, he could not have won a medal position and yet no one would have faulted him, but he decided to keep going.
I have been following the Paralympic Games in Tokyo and it is wonderful to see people some who are in a wheelchair, put such tremendous effort and energy into their particular sport. I have never heard any of them bemoan their disability rather they have exemplified ability.
For almost 30 years I have been a volunteer with a small Christian charity in Northern Ireland – Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. Many of the dear folk who come to us as members were born profoundly disabled. Some acquired a disability in later life which took them from a life with a worthwhile and promising career to a position where they are now wholly depending on others for daily care to help them live.
In all those years I have never heard any one of these folks ask, ‘Why did God allow this to happen to me’ or ‘Why doesn’t God heal me.’ They have been an example to me of what it is for a believer to demonstrate God’s strength in our weakness as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:9. These dear people are an example and challenge to me as a more able-bodied person of how to keep going.
Let me ask you…
- Have you ever felt you couldn’t keep going?
- Has some situation of life has left you injured physically, emotionally, or spiritually?
- Have other people have hurt and or disappointed you?
- Could it be you remember how you have hurt or disappointed others?
- Do you feel you have ‘failed’ the Lord in some way, made a poor decision and he won’t forgive you?
The race of life, just like Akhwari’s marathon, is not a smooth run. Believers can tend to feel difficult circumstances must be an indication of sin in their lives, or that they have displeased the Lord in some way. While disobedience may have consequences – very often in the form of regrets about what we have or have not said or done – we must remember the Lord Jesus reminds us ‘the rain falls on the just as well as the unjust’ and adversity, sickness or struggles of one form or another are common to all people of all faiths or none.
In the race of faith there are times when we need to get up, ‘bandage up’ and keep going.
Here are three more simple thoughts to help us aim to finish well in our Christian experience…
1. Keep praying
The believer is encouraged to pray in every situation and for me this means trying to live in a prayerful attitude. Our specific times of prayer include ‘private’ prayer in what is often called the ‘closet’, but we should also aim to follow the example of the early disciples who met together for public prayer leading up to that ‘upper room’ experience as recorded in Acts chapter 2.
Remember the Lord loves us even if we are injured or feel we can’t go on we can tell him what has happened and why or how we feel as we do, pray even (especially) when you don’t feel like it. Some words from an old song say ‘Just a little talk with Jesus makes it right’ so if that is what you need to do ‘just do it’… talk to him.
2. Keep reading
Scripture is full of ‘real life’ stories about men or women who had experiences similar to our own for example Abraham told lies to get out of a difficult situation, Jacob cheated to get what he wanted, Moses felt inferior, David gave in to his lustful desire, Naomi’s experience left her feeling bitter, all the disciples forsook Jesus and fled, Peter denied his Lord with oaths and curses.
The Lord will speak into your situation from his word, he may help you to see how you may need to change in some way, but despite our imperfections he is always interested in our well-being and equipping us for his kingdom service.
3. Keep meeting
One of the most difficult aspects about the restrictions around covid-19 has been the impact it has had on believers assembling together. It has perhaps helped us to be more aware of those who constantly live under threat of persecution and who are most often isolated.
It is scriptural and good to have fellowship with others with whom we can share our burdens, to mutually encourage each other – cheer each other on. We can praise God for the availability of computers and other forms of media (such as producing CDs/DVDs which my local church as well as DCFI distribute to our members – little is much when God is in it). This will enable folk to keep in touch, even meet using on-line services.
The finish line
Unlike those Olympic athletes who may be able to see a distinct finish line or other tangible marker, for believers it is not a visual or physical goal we can see and yet Paul said in writing to the Philippian believers ‘I strain to reach the end of the race’ (Philippians 3:13).
In context I believe Paul was talking about life and faith. For some the end may come more quickly than others however, wherever you are in the race, even if you need to get back on track, you’ve started!
So, keep going, keep praying, keep reading and so far as possible if you are independently able keep meeting and by God’s grace aim to finish well.
Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. He describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’