It was the most bizarre race I had ever witnessed. How peculiar those runners must have felt! Didn’t it throw them off their game?
I can’t imagine running a race without an opponent.
Here on the grandest sports stage of the planet was a woman taking her place in the starting blocks with no competitor to her left or to her right. All alone on this asphalt oval she positioned herself with head down, baton in hand, waiting to hear the blast from the starter’s gun. And she would have no one on either side with whom to track her progress.
Just one runner against the clock.
To be accurate it was more than this one runner. She had teammates ahead of her, each in her own position in the same lane. Each waiting for the baton that eventually would be placed in her hand. And just like the runner before her, she would have no competitor next to her.
Just the runner against the clock.
It was the women’s 400-meter relay in the 2016 Olympics. It’s my favorite event in all the Olympics. Ever. Always. And this race was unlike any I had ever seen.
The circumstances leading to this sports anomaly are both involved and controversial. The race has replayed itself in my mind’s eye time after time, and it has taught me a valuable lesson; a lesson about the races God has assigned each of us to run.
We’re all just racing against the clock. Nothing else.
We may think there are others in the lanes alongside us, and that’s a dangerous situation. That’s when we begin to compare ourselves with other runners. The spiritual life is not a life of comparison. It’s not about competition. It’s just about running the race. Period.
I recently read a compelling description of the race God has for us to run. In her book “Unstoppable“, Christine Caine compares our spiritual race to this very relay. She writes about exchange zones, batons, and handoffs, and her words pumped spiritual adrenaline through my veins. Maybe it spoke to me so vividly because in high school I ran that race. I know the feeling of the starting blocks. I experienced the sensation of expending every ounce of energy to place the baton in my teammate’s grasp. I had run that race… at least in the realm of sports. As I read “Unstoppable” I was preparing to run another kind of race: the kind of race Christine Caine wrote about.
I was in the starting blocks to begin a race God had assigned to me.
This race took me to the other side of the world. (See my previous post.) My exchange zone was South Africa. The baton God had given me was the message of Freedom. I finished the race. I made the handoff. Now I’m waiting for my next baton. In the meantime God has been gracious to show me a bigger picture of the race, of all our races. They are not competitions. They are not a stage where we try to outdo other runners.
Our races are only against the clock.
The clock is critical. The clock drives us to reach our exchange zone at the appropriate time. There was a runner in the lane God had assigned to me, a teammate. She was waiting in my exchange zone with her arm stretched back, focused forward, ready to run her leg. She was in the stance of a trained runner. She had not turned her back to her destination. She wasn’t gauging the progress as the baton drew nearer. This runner was facing forward in the direction she would run. Her focus was on her race and she was positioned for the handoff. That’s how the exchange is made if the race is to be won.
There’s something about standing in a position like that. It’s a difficult position to maintain. A runner waiting for the baton can’t hold that stance indefinitely. Had I not started my leg of the race when God signalled me, my teammate may have given up. She may have stopped waiting for the baton. She could have left her lane in search of another baton; a baton that was meant for someone else. My steps of obedience had to be at the pace God intended, and they had to begin at the time He intended.
Because the clock was ticking.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2
But, what if I had been looking around at other runners? What if my focus shifted from my handoff to the ones I believed to be my competitors? What if my concern had been their performance as compared to mine?
What if I allowed the cancer of comparison slow me down?
It’s not only the things we put in our spiritual backpacks that slow us down. (That post is still on the way.) When we begin to compare our performance with others running their own races, the cancer of comparison strikes us like a deadly disease. It drains us of our health, our strength, our energy, and our endurance. We can’t run. We can’t persevere. And we will wonder why the race is becoming so hard.
When I ran the 400-meter relay in high school, I ran the first leg of the race. My favorite lane was lane 2. Because of the stagger of the starting points in each lane I could see every competitor in front of me except one. All but one of the runners appeared to be leading me as we exploded out of our starting blocks. Only one runner seemed to be trailing me.
Of course, this was only the way the race appeared. As the race continued the stagger of the lanes made it a fair race because of the layout of the track. But, I liked the feeling it gave me of needing to catch up. I relished the way it pushed me harder, keeping the lane 1 runner behind me while trying to make up ground on the runners who seemed to be leading me. I wasn’t worried about the clock. I only cared about out-performing the other runners.
Our races are not competitions.
However, I consider my life nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. Acts 20:24
We can believe we’re being outrun by other runners when:
- we see their ministry as more successful than ours
- we view their service as more worthwhile than ours
- we believe we can’t serve as well because we aren’t as educated
- we think we can’t be as effective because we aren’t as talented
- we feel it’s too late to run any longer because we’re far older than the rest of the field
These misconceptions, plus a multitude of others, will only hinder us. And these are not our only hinderances. We’re also severely hampered when we begin to believe we’re winning the race because of our abilities.
We can believe we’re outrunning other runners when:
- we see our ministry growing and becoming successful – even more than the ministries of others
- we view our service as meeting needs that others can’t seem to touch
- we rely on our education or our wisdom to run our race, or even to choose our own race
- we feel good about our God-given talents, especially in relation to the talents of others
- we determine the race we should run based on our youth, our age, or our maturity
We don’t choose our race, and we don’t choose our pace.
We do, however, choose whether or not we will run. We choose if we will obediently take our place in the starting blocks. We choose if we will hold our stance waiting for the baton in the exchange zone. And when we drop the baton, we choose if we will continue the race. That’s the choice the US Women’s 400-meter relay team faced. The US team dropped their baton.
A US runner was tripped just before she was to make her handoff. She lost her balance. She nearly fell. With dreams of winning the race seemingly shattered, she hesitated for a moment as she found herself left in the wake of the rest of the field. In an instant her one chance of finishing seemed to vanish. Then, just as suddenly, she heard a voice.
Pick up the baton. Finish the race.
Whether it was the voice of a teammate, that of a spectator, or a still, small voice within her, she heard it. More importantly, she obeyed it. She picked up the baton and she handed it to her teammate who then ran her leg. She made her handoff. Then the next was made. And the next. The final member of the US team crossed the finish line far behind every other competitor in that race. But they crossed the line. They finished the race.
And the clock was still ticking.
Because they went on to finish, the team had the opportunity to challenge that race due to the foul. They won the challenge. They remained in the competition. They went on to win the gold medal. All because they finished the race. And in the midst of it all was that peculiar race with no other competitors. That race against the clock.
If you’re still breathing, your clock is still ticking. If God continues to speak to you about doing something, going somewhere, or serving in some way, your race clock is still ticking. If you’ve stumbled in your race, if you’ve fallen, and even if you’ve dropped the baton, your race isn’t over.
When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble. Proverbs 4:12
That Hebrew word for stumble as it is used in Proverbs 4:12 is kashal. Yes, it can mean stumble as we use the word in English, but kashal also means “to fail” or “to be overthrown”. The Enemy does’t want you in the race. If you’ve started running he’ll try to stop you. He will try to make you look around and collapse from the cancer of comparison. If you refuse to do that, he may try to trip you. When he does, get back up. Keep running. Make the handoff. Because your race is not over.
Falling is not failing.
Your clock is still ticking. It’s not about the other runners. You have no competitors in this spiritual race. Only the race, the clock, and the finish. Because everyone who finishes her race wins.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now, there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8
In loving memory of my aunt, Wanda Todd, who finished her earthly race August 28, 2016. I know her crown is beautiful!