It was May 6th, 1954, and a miler named Roger Bannister became the first human to ever have run a mile recorded in under four minutes. That world record lasted only six weeks, when an Australian, named John Landy, beat his record by more than a second. The rivalry was not over though, as the Empire Games were scheduled for August of the same year, and Landy and Bannister were set to square off in one of the most anticipated races in history.
The two runners could not have been more different. Landy loved to set the pace and start off strong, he usually led most of his races from start to finish. Bannister was different, he liked running from behind most of the race, only to take over first place in the final lap. The final proved those stereotypes right as Landy led for most of the race, with Bannister behind by quite a big margin going into the final lap. But then, something happened; the crowd started cheering as Bannister made his move and Landy began to get nervous, and in a moment of panic, Landy broke racing’s number one rule, don’t look back. As he looked over his left shoulder, Bannister went zooming by on the right to take first place in the race that would be forever remembered as the “miracle mile.”
This moment has served coaches well for all the years since as a lesson to runners to keep their eyes on the finish line. This moment was so big that to this day in Vancouver, a bronze statue stands depicting the moment when Landy looked over his left shoulder. Landy took the loss in good spirits as he famously said, “While Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.”
While we may never experience the level of embarrassment that John Landy did that day, despite the fact that our race is eternally more important than the “miracle mile” was, we, too, must realize that all too often we get distracted as we are running our race. Whether it is the simple distractions of life, or whether it is the sin or sins of our choice, we are all too easily prone to wander and prone to slow down in our race.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that our race is very difficult. Hebrews 11 is an incredible reminder of that. He lists person after person that, though they had faith and were commended for it, suffered greatly at the hands of the world. Some were even sawn in two, Hebrews 11:37 tells us. It’s incredible to think about how well these men and women ran their race despite the incredible trials they faced.
As we look to the new year, I’d like to encourage us to run a race that pleases our Savior. If we follow the advice of Hebrews 12:1-2, I believe that we will do well.
First, we must LOOK to the faithful who came before us.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also…
Many people have taken this verse to mean that people are looking down on us from Heaven, that they are in the stands cheering us as we run. But, this verse is more talking about us watching them, not the other way around. We are to consider the men and women of Hebrews 11 and think upon their faithfulness and faith in order to be propelled to run our race better. We spend all too much time listening to the “heroes” of the world. Whether they are actors, athletes, or politicians, we spend far too much time listening to them and forming our worldviews based on what they believe. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to imitate the faithful, those who, out of a great love for Christ, suffered greatly for Him. Who’s your hero? Who do you listen to, read, or watch the most? Let’s aim, this next year, to read about and to listen to those who have come before us; but not only them but to those around us who have faithfully served Christ for many years and have much to teach us on how to run a proper and faithful race until the end.
Second, we must LOSE excess weight
…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…
Every new year comes with promises of losing weight, but I’m not talking about pounds, although losing a few would be nice, I’m talking about resolving to fight sin. Runners know that running with excess weight slows you down dramatically. The Biggest Loser shows this every season on their first episode. They take some of the biggest people in America, who have been eating as much as possible since finding out they made the show, and, on the first day at “boot camp,” tell them to run a mile. Well, let’s just say that there is high drama and very few finish the race. Fast forward a few months and they take the remaining contestants and have them re-run the same race. By now, the runners have lost dozens of pounds and could run very easily. But, as they go outside, they find out that they will be running their race with a body suit that weighs the exact amount of weight they have lost. It’s fascinating to hear what they say at the end of the run as they get out of the body suit as quickly as possible, “I can’t believe I was carrying all that stuff around for so long!” As Christians, we do the same thing; we are running our race carrying around so much baggage. Some we might be blind to, but a lot of our sin we are holding on to despite the fact that we know it slows us down and displeases our Savior. We must lay it aside, kill it, and run our race faster. No Christian has ever said no to sin and then regretted it.
Third, we must LOCK our eyes on the prize
…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.
Of course, Landy’s problem was that he got distracted, instead of just running his race as fast as he could, he allowed his fear to slow him down. Lot’s wife, on the other hand, loved the world that God hated, and couldn’t bear the fact that God would take it away from her. Our problem is the same when we stumble in our race. We think, even if it’s just for a split moment, that we can derive happiness out of this world, and we place our hopes and desires in sin. The problem is that those hopes and desires will not satisfy. If our desire for running the race is fame, then we will never be satisfied because there will always be someone more famous, if our desire is money, there will always be someone richer; but, if our desire is Christ, if He is our goal and reward, then we will experience true joy and we will run a race that pleases Him.
John Piper asks a very important question that gets to the heart of this. He says,
“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation— is this: if you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?”
Of course, the perfect answer is, “No, I would not be satisfied,” but the fact of the matter is that we all struggle with saying yes to that question. So, I think that a good new year’s resolution would be to set our minds on Christ so much and so often that it would be much easier to say no to Piper’s question.
Much more could be said about these incredible two verses, as they have so much to offer us in order to run a good race, and we need all the help we can get. The Christian life is difficult because we can never be satisfied with how we are performing in the race. Also, we cannot get distracted and must stay fixed on our Savior as there are threats on every corner. Praise God for His patience and His forgiveness as we stumble this next year, but let’s get up quickly and look to other faithful men and women around us, let’s lose excess weight we don’t need, and let’s lock our eyes on our sweet Savior who humbled Himself and came to earth to die on the cross for us. He is alive and we get to see Him one day! Let’s run in 2017 with these truths in mind. Happy New Year!