Running my first half-marathon at the end of April was a blast. Not just because my wife, son, and mom all met me at the finish line (though that was a huge thing), but just for the fact that I was able to accomplish something I hadn’t previously done. The training was hard and the discipline to fulfill the training significant. Most of the time the training was fun and doable, but as it ramped up to longer and longer distances, it was definitely challenging. There were both physical as well as mental challenges involved, and the combination was perhaps the hardest part.
The same was true during the run, though because of the training I’d been through, I felt comfortable during most of the 13.1 miles. There were clearly portions of the race where I struggled to keep going but I could think back to my training and remember I had been there before. Because of what I had done previously, I realized I could keep going forward now.
When it was all said and done and I finished, there was an enormous sense of accomplishment and relief. And yet … there was a part of me that felt a longing to do another half. Don’t get me wrong, I realized that there were a bunch of other people who had already run 13.1 miles that day and were in the process of running another 13.1 because they were running the fullmarathon. That’s NOT me. But nevertheless, though I had just finished the half, I could also sense that the beginning of something … another half or whatever … was bubbling up. In that sense, it was hard to discern whether I was at the finish or start. Perhaps it was both.
A good example of how this works in our lives is King David. We’re all familiar with how King David slew the Philistine giant, Goliath, and perhaps many of us are acquainted with his reign over Israel as God’s anointed thereafter, but it’s key to look at what equipped David to take down Goliath in the first place. By doing so, we’ll see how a finish of sorts for David led to a start, and then a finish, and a start, etc. We see in 1 Samuel 17:32-36 …
“Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!” “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.” But David persisted. “I have been taking care of my father’s sheep and goats,” he said. “When a lion or a bear comes to steal a lamb from the flock, I go after it with a club and rescue the lamb from its mouth. If the animal turns on me, I catch it by the jaw and club it to death. I have done this to both lions and bears, and I’ll do it to this pagan Philistine, too, for he has defied the armies of the living God!
Let’s not skirt past what led David to feel not just equipped, but confident that he would succeed in taking down this fearsome beast of a giant in Goliath. (That is, other than God Himself, obviously). For quite a long time (say, the equivalent of running 13.1 miles), David tended to sheep and goats. This is not a small, menial, safe task. It’s taxing, tedious, intense, and as we note, fraught with frequent peril. “When a lion or a bear comes,” doesn’t suggest “if,” as in, it could happen. It suggests that it happens with regularity … ongoing danger against scary, fearsome animals that – let’s face it – posed danger not just to the sheep and goats, but to David.
As he “finished” that race … having completed (in a manner of speaking) tending to sheep and goats against lions and bears, he “started” a new race as someone who would not only slay Goliath, but then “finish” that battle having now become prepared to “start” as King over God’s people. As he “finished” becoming King over God’s chosen, he “started” as a warrior / leader to secure the nation for God’s chosen. The finish equipped the start, which resulted in a finish, which facilitated a start, and on it goes.
Such is life. If we get particularly retrospective, we can see how one race prepared us for another and but for the precedent training, we may not have survived (let alone thrived through) the current challenge. Just this week, as I was talking through a business challenge with a colleague, he noted, “you don’t get particularly stressed or rattled by this stuff, do you?” I thought about it for a second, and realized, 1) if we follow Christ, what do we have to fear (answer: nothing), but also, 2) because of what I have gone through in business over the past 25 years, I feel as though I’ve largely “seen it all” and as a result, I feel equipped to deal with whatever comes. I’d completed the training and run and bunch of the business version of half marathons, so I had been prepared for this one. My prior “finishes” led to prior “starts” which became “finishes” and helped me “start” this present situation.
Maybe you’re in the middle of a start that hasn’t yet become a finish. My encouragement to you is to see yourself as working toward a finish. I don’t know if you’re at mile 2 or mile 12, but I assure you that you are in process of a “finish” somewhere down the road. Keep going! I know it may be a really hard 13.1 you’re on, but there is a “finish” ahead of you. And yeah, the concept of a “finish” leading to a “start” might sound scary, but in life those aren’t always strung together (though sometimes are, in fairness). Regardless, the “finish” you’re about to reach will prepare you to take on the “start” to come with – like King David – equipping and confidence.
Most important of all … if we, like King David, realize that in the end it’s God that is the Victor on our behalf, our progressing from “start” to “finish” will be far easier. When we don’t feel like going on, He can carry us. The primary reason is because of a “Finish” that really was a “Start.”
Jesus, our Savior and King … “finished” on the cross of Calvary. Many at that time, including His closest friends, felt that the “finish” was all there was. And yet, the best and most important “start” ever was when, overcoming and overpowering death, He rose, buying us not just forgiveness of our sins, but freedom for the races of life that we run. He paid our penalty so that our eventual “finish” could be a “start” of eternal life with Him.
All the more … He doesn’t leave us to just battle and struggle it out in life, a sort of cosmic, “hey, good luck, and see you in heaven.” No! If we have a relationship with Him, He runs EVERY SINGLE STEP of our “starts” and “finishes” with us. When we can’t go on, we can trust that He will help us. All we have to do is ask.
No matter who you are, no matter what race you’re running … there’s a “finish” ahead. But it’s also a “start.” A good start, which will lead to a good “finish.” Run alongside your Savior … He’s longing to join you through to the very last “finish.” I assure you it’ll be worth it!
Soli Deo gloria!