Every distance runner knows that the point of the race is the race, it is not the finish line. What makes a distance run significant is that it is a distance run, not a sprint. Distance running is about endurance, perseverance, and determination. Crossing the finish line is the reward for the effort expended.
I have struggled recently with the idea that Christianity is all about going to heaven when we die. Obviously, that is a piece of the story, but that is like saying that running a distance race is all about the finish line. Our eternal home is the motivation for running the race in this life, but it is not the whole thing.
Over and over again, the Bible makes it clear that God cares about how we live our lives now. God has placed us on this earth for a purpose. He does not want us to just mark time until we die. Twice in Paul’s letters he specifically expressed the need for us to take our race seriously.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians 4:1)
And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, (Colossians 1:10)
How we live our lives now matters to God. We can make the most of the life we have or we can squander what we have. The choice is ours. But a day is coming when we will have to give an account of how we lived our lives. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)
If the finish line is really all that is important in life, then Jesus really blew it. At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus was led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by Satan. At the end of 40 days of fasting, Satan hit Jesus with three powerful temptations. One of those was to take a short-cut to the finish line.
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours."
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'" (Luke 4:5-8)
It would have been easy for Jesus to give in to this temptation, if His goal was just to get to the finish line, but it was not. When Jesus said that we are worship and serve God only, He was not just refusing to worship Satan, but was revealing that there is more to the journey of life than getting to the end.
Too often in life, we are looking for short-cuts to get us to some benchmark in life without having to run the full course. We try to shorten our race by compromising with Satan. When we do that, we forfeit the benefit we would have gained by following through. It is like beginning a marathon, jumping into an Uber at mile two, and getting out at mile 26 so we can run across the finish line. In that case, getting the medal at the end is pretty meaningless.
As believers in Christ, we need to keep our eyes on eternity and live fully in the moment. Each leg of our life’s race is an opportunity to serve God and make a difference in our world. Each obstacle we face, each challenge we overcome enriches the ultimate reward of crossing the finish line. Paul encourages us to live life wisely, making the most of every moment of life that we have been given.
Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)
Keeping our eyes on eternity is what gives us the strength and courage to live life to the fullest. Christians should not be less engaged in life but more. We know that our life has purpose. We know that the things we do in this life will make a genuine difference for now and for the future.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Our faith in Jesus Christ is not just pie in the sky wishful thinking. It is not about escaping this world and going to a perfect place called heaven. The Christian life is about living our life fully for the glory of God. Running the race matters!
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58