The Great Race

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (ESV)

Woman racing through autumn forest into the sun

One of the things I love about autumn is the 5K races that pop up in my area. If you’re a runner, you know there’s no better time for a 5K than a crisp fall morning when the leaves on the trees offer their finest display of stunning color and the air smells of apples and cinnamon.

Recently, my son invited three of his friends to run a 5K with him. Although I was slightly disappointed over not being invited to join them, I was content to wear my cheerleader hat.

About 20 minutes into the race, my anticipation grew when the first runner in my son’s group sprinted past the finish line. I knew my son had to be close behind. But 20 minutes turned into 21 minutes and another of my son’s friends came barreling through the finish line. Over 22 minutes into the race, and my son and the last friend in his group were nowhere in sight.

Just as concern began to settle in, I spotted my son and his friend rounding the final turn toward the finish line.

After the race, I asked my son if everything was okay. He grinned as he answered, “I decided to take it easy for this one.”

Knowing his competitive nature, my son’s response was somewhat puzzling, but I decided to let the matter rest.

It wasn’t until later, when I was talking with an acquaintance, that it all made sense. She shared with me that she also participated in the race and happened to be running behind my son. She explained that he was making good time, but then held back to finish with his friend who was lagging behind. It turns out, my son’s friend was recovering from an injury and was struggling to finish the race.

I can’t help but think that this is what the Christian life is all about—encouraging others to finish the race. There are people suffering all around us, but often times we’re so focused on our own “race” that we fail to notice others who are lagging behind. Maybe someone we know is facing a financial setback, an unexpected medical diagnosis, a failed marriage, or is grieving the death of a loved one.

My son’s race showed me that I’m missing opportunities to be God’s instrument of hope. If only I would take a moment to notice the other runners in the race.

The Apostle Paul was a first-century missionary in what is known today as the Mediterranean. During the busiest times in his ministry, he consistently noticed the other “runners” and placed their needs above his own. We see this illustrated in 1 Thessalonians 3:1-9. Paul sent his co-worker, Timothy, to encourage the Thessalonians who were suffering persecution for their faith. At the time, Paul and Timothy had their hands full.

Paul could have decided that he didn’t have the time or resources to send Timothy to Thessalonica. In fact, 1 Thessalonians 3:7 explains that Paul and Timothy were experiencing great hardship of their own. Despite their troubles, Paul made an intentional effort to encourage the Thessalonians.

So imagine what a surprise it was for Paul when he learned that the Thessalonians were not only surviving but flourishing in their faith. (1 Thessalonians 3:6) More than that, by investing in the lives of the Thessalonians, Paul received a blessing during his own time of hardship. Paul states in 1 Thessalonians 3:7-8, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.” (NIV)

Did you catch that? For now we really live…

Paul gives from his deficit and it becomes a source of life to him.

Therein lies the key to running the race well—laying our lives down for the sake of another. What seems like a forfeit is actually a victory. But Paul isn’t the only example of someone who gave when it appeared there was nothing to give.

1 Kings 17:7-16 tells the story of a widow and her son who were living during a time of famine. Elijah, a prophet of the Lord, asked the woman for something to eat. The only food she had was “a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug.” (1 Kings 17:12) Yet, because she was willing to take her eyes off her own need, the Lord blessed the widow’s household with enough food to survive the famine.

Friends, I’m convinced there isn’t a purer form of the Gospel than when we place another’s need above our own. Running in God’s great race takes intentionality. We do not run without a purpose. We run to grow God’s Kingdom. We run for a crown that will last forever! (1 Corinthians 9:25-26)

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