If I had a time machine and could go back in time to give myself one piece of advice, what would it be? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Have you ever wished you could go back in time and stop yourself from doing or saying something you regret? Haven’t we all felt that way before?
If only I knew back then what I know now. In 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul is also unable to go back in time to give the younger version of himself any advice, but he can give some final advice to a young man he is mentoring. This advice is a gold mine not only for the young minister but also for us today.
However, there is one thing he says to Timothy that has been standing out in my mind more and more lately. 2 Timothy 4:7 (ESV): “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” As Paul realizes that the time he has left on this earth is short, he seems to be thankful for the fact that he has “finished the race.”
To think of the Christian life as a race makes a lot of sense in my mind. I’m not much of an athlete, but I will try to go for a run as often as possible to try and stay in shape. Something I have noticed is that the start of my run is usually the easiest. I have a lot of energy, and I feel pretty good. I take off at high speed and feel pretty good about myself. It doesn’t take long, however, for that to change. After just a little bit, my heart starts to pound, and I begin to feel out of breath. My feet and legs get heavy, and my lungs start to burn. I don’t have the energy I did just a few moments ago, and I start to wonder, “Is this worth it?” I want to slow down and maybe even quit. I would quit, except I haven’t made it to the finish line yet. Isn’t that the way it can be following Christ?
Often when someone experiences the saving grace of Jesus, it is an amazing feeling. To know all of my sin and shame have been forgiven can be and should be exhilarating. It feels good, so we take off chasing God with all of our strength and passion. We willingly surrender our wants and desires to please him. We are excited to study the Bible, to spend time praying and worshiping; and going to church is the highlight of our week. I have seen it time and time again and have walked through it myself.
After a little bit of time, that passion seems to wear off. We start to realize what Jesus often foretold, but didn’t think applied to us, that the Christian life is hard. John 16:33 (ESV): “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
We begin to feel the pain, the tiredness, and ask ourselves “Is this worth it?,” “Is this what I want?,” or “Is this even real?” We start to slow down and consider stopping altogether. The things that once brought us great joy are now feeling like a grind. We read our bibles because we know we should not because we are hungry to hear from God today. We go to church but were not paying attention. We are just kind of there, anxious to get home. Suddenly, an incredible new beginning in our life has now become a daily grind.
So what’s the answer? Well, did you notice Paul did not tell Timothy he had started the race or that he got halfway through the race? No, he felt good because he had finished the race. It’s finishing that matters. We are often good at starting projects, but it doesn’t matter how well we started or what it was like halfway through. What matters is that we finish! The reward comes at the finish line and not a step before.
In my mind, what Paul is telling Timothy here is essentially this: “DON’T GIVE UP!, keep going even when it hurts.” It’s these difficult moments in the race that define our Christianity. These moments tell whether we follow Christ because of what he can do for us or because we know that he is God. A race isn’t supposed to be comfortable or easy. If it were, everyone would run. No, a race is simply about finishing and finishing strong.
Let me encourage you today, if you call yourself a follower of God but feel discouraged, you are probably doing it right. Pain is a real part of the journey. God could zap it away, but that’s not how he does things. Instead, he uses the pain of the journey to encourage us to keep our eyes on the finish line. Realize we can’t do it in our strength but instead can only survive this race because of his grace, his steady hand keeps us from going off the narrow path, his strength picks us up when we trip and fall. You see, it’s the daily grind that God wants us to feel to remind us we still need his grace and mercy to be renewed every day.
When you feel far from him, then push in close. When you have lost interest in the scriptures, change up your routine but keep pressing in. When you lose interest in church, then volunteer, or reach out to other church members to renew your fellowship. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Finish the race.
Trevor Rickard is an Associate Pastor at New Life Christian Fellowship.