Did you hear what happened over the weekend at a college invitational race in the northwest? Oregon runner Tanguy Pepiot had a commanding lead down the final stretch of the 3,000 meter steeplechase. Obviously, he felt it was insurmountable so he began to wave in appreciative response to what he thought were the cheers of the home crowd. Instead, they were screaming out warnings to him. Then second place runner, Washington’s Meron Simon, figured out Pepiot did not know he was surging. Consequently, Simon overtook Pepiot in the last step of the race to win by a tenth of a second! There are so many life’s lessons to learn from this. It’s never over until it’s over. Don’t celebrate too early. Pride goes before a fall. To me, nothing is more significant than the importance of never quitting. Simon was counted out, at least by Pepiot, but he simply would not quit. As a result, he won the race!
The apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win” (1 Cor. 9:24). Similarly, the writer of Hebrews says, “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” (Heb. 12:1). Paul exemplifies the principle, telling Timothy he finished the course (2 Tim. 4:7). This repeated imagery of Christian living as a race holds within it the same dramatic idea as that illustrated by the Washington runner. He ran to win while his opponent lost because he prematurely celebrated. The ultimate winner ran with endurance and he finished the course.
It is wonderful and helpful to get a strong start in the Christian race. Pushing hard and accomplishing good for Jesus helps the “runner” and those who may “watch” him run. But, among the saddest experiences of my life has been witnessing many who quit too soon. They were overtaken by improper relationships, discouragement, stumbling blocks, distractions, doubt, or any number of other factors. Overshadowing the cause is the tragedy of the result. Those who fail to finish the race suffer far worse than humiliation and an earthly prize. These sacrifice eternal life and a heavenly home.
Today, you may be wrestling with whether or not to stay in the race for whatever reason. May I plead with you to let the cheer of the “witnesses” (cf. Heb. 11) give you second wind. But, please don’t stop running!