Not Just to Enter but to Finish – Part Fifteen

“Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.  I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats 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.”  (I Corinthians 9: 24 – 27)

In the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City John Stephen Akhwari, a Tanzanian Olympian, became an Olympic icon as an entrant in the marathon. The sun and insufferable heat caused many participants to drop out because of exhaustion, dehydration, cramps, and fatigue. Out of 74 entrants 17 did not finish the grueling race. 

In an entanglement with other competitors he suffered a fall injuring his shoulder, leg and head. Spectators along the race route urged him to stop and seek medical assistance. Instead he, at great effort, got up, personally worked his dislocated knee joint into place, and bandaged his significant wounds.

Darkness fell over the stadium, the awards ceremony was over, and most of the spectators had long left the stadium. Only a few hundred remained when out of the darkness of the Mexican night, Akhwari emerged in agony. Those who remained were rewarded by seeing one of the most glorious moments in Olympic history. Spectators rose and applauded him as he crossed the finish line last in the competition, but first in their hearts.  

When interviewed and asked about his never-say-die attitude, he responded:  “My country did not send me 5,000 miles just to start the race; they sent me to finish the race.”

Akhwari is an example of the loyal Christian in the spiritual race. We have a divine exemplar, Jesus Christ, who experienced suffering and knew pain, yet He remained faithful and finished well. He knows your losses and crosses and offers to sustain you.

As a follower of Jesus you can expect injuries and insults. The goal is to keep the objective in mind. He who faithfully ran His race awaits at the finish line to extend His nail scarred hand and say, “Well done.” Focus on this fact and be encouraged by it.

God’s word appeals: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and LET US RUN WITH ENDURANCE THE RACE THAT IS SET BEFORE US, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Often this passage is interpreted as meaning we are all in the stadium of life with the faithful who have gone before us in the heavenly stadium watching to see if we will be faithful.

It rather depicts those who have gone before us not as spectators watching us, but rather as experienced witnesses testifying to God’s sufficiency in their lives. As He was with them, so He is with us. It is as though they are saying He is able to make you a winner, fight on. They struggled and became victorious. In your struggles, fight on, you, too, can be victorious. Finish strong.