Finishing the Marathon

by Mike Ratliff

In 1978 I decided to become a runner. I was 26-27 at that time. I began running a mile or so out from my apartment in Forestville, Maryland then running back. As I was able, I added distance to that run in half-mile increments on the outbound route. That would add a mile to my run. By late 1979 I was able to run 5 miles in about 30 minutes or so. In 1980 I moved from the Washington, DC area to the Oklahoma City area. By this time my Dad had taken up running. He could not run the distance at my speed, but he could run all day. He ran marathons.

We belonged to the Oklahoma City Running Club. We ran in club races or special races like the Oklahoma Governor’s Cup. I would run the medium distance race and my Dad would run the marathon. I remember very well the day my Dad ran his first marathon. We drove to Enid, Oklahoma to spend the night at my Aunt and Uncle’s house then run our races the next day. His race started at 7am and mine at 8am. My race was a 10K while his was the marathon. I ran my race, got my trophy, (a granite paper weight) went to my Aunt’s house to take a shower, put on street clothes, and then returned to the place where the race was being held. I found that my Dad’s race was still not complete. No one had finished yet as I checked with the official starter.

Later, I heard a fellow standing on top of an RV yell that the leaders were approaching. I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to find my Uncle standing there beaming. He was my Dad’s older brother by about 15 years. He had driven to the turn around point for the marathon to await my Dad and pick him up if he couldn’t finish. He told me that my Dad looked great and was going to finish just fine. We watched the leaders come in one at a time. They were all in my age group or younger. About 45 minutes or so later, I looked at the timer. It showed 3 hours and 28 minutes. Then as I turned back to the finish line I could see a figure in the distance that looked like my Dad. He was running very well. He was wearing a maroon top and black shorts. His gait looked like my Dad’s, but I wasn’t sure. Then my Uncle cried out, “That’s him!”

It was surreal as this man in his late 50’s ran across that finish line in his first marathon. He ran it in 3 hours and 30 minutes. He looked as fresh as he had when he started. However, when I got close I could tell that he was a bit weary. As we walked around the area together as he “cooled down” I asked him all about the race. How tough it was, how he felt at the turn, how weary he had become, etc. He marveled at my incredulity that he could finish such a race. He actually beat scores of younger runners, some of them from our own club. He had trained with some of them.

This Christian walk is a race, but it is not a sprint nor is it a mile. It is a marathon. No one can tackle a long run like a marathon unless they put in the miles and the training in order to build stamina. It is imperative to learn how to pace yourself. It seemed that in every race I ran at least one person would start way too fast and could not finish. In this walk, many appear genuine only to “burn out” and fall away or perhaps they “get bored” with church so they turn back to their former lifestyles. That is not what genuine believers do.

1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NASB) 

Even though all with genuine faith are justified in God’s sight and are secure in their salvation from the moment they first trust Jesus, believers are not those who “make a decision for Christ” and then live a life indistinguishable from the world around them. Those with true faith persevere until the end, and only those who persevere until the end have true faith.

Notice that those who do finish this race run it patiently. They lay aside every weight, and the sin that easily besets them. They learn to be Spirit-filled. They learn to live godly lives. They are able to do these things by constantly looking unto Jesus. They may suffer much, but Jesus lead the way by enduring the cross, despising the shame. Through His joy, which He give to His children liberally, they can run this race with patience and endurance.

What must we to do? Let us commit ourselves to lives of patient obedience. We must learn to be Spirit-filled; then as we draw near to the finish line we will discover that there will be multitudes awaiting us, cheering us on as we cross that finish line. My Dad ran marathons into his 70’s. He lived to be 86 and went to be with his Lord in 2010. He finished his race well. In a way, I envy him.

Soli Deo Gloria!