Thursday, June 11, 2009

Eye on the Finish Line

Harold Abrahams, the "other runner" whose story was portrayed alongside Eric Liddell's in Chariots of Fire, was no slouch athlete either. His unofficial time broke a world record in the hundred meter dash, and he won both gold and silver medals in the 1924 Olympics.

Abrahams was able to shave off time in his runs by disciplining himself to keep his eyes focused on the goal. Earlier on, he had made the mistake of glancing back at the other runners, costing him precious tenths of a second. On the day of his gold medal run, he kept a short reminder in his pocket written to him by his coach. "Only think of two things," it said, "the report of the pistol and the tape. When you hear the one, just run like hell until you break the other."

There are plenty of things to look at when you are headed down the track. A runner's focus makes all the difference. Abrahams looked back at the other runners. Other racers might be tempted to focus on the track itself, noting its imperfections and difficulties. Still others might look back at the distance already covered. But in order to run most efficiently, the runner must focus on one thing: the tape at the finish line.

We, too, are in a race of sorts. As we run, we too will benefit from where we train our gaze. My tendency is to look at my fellow runners. From the outside looking in, they always seem to have it together, at least more than I do. They are wiser and so much more spiritual than I can ever hope to be. They They even control their tongues so much better than me. Comparing myself to them is downright discouraging.

Others might be looking at the track ahead. The surface is not even and contains hazards and even pitfalls. The runner worries about injury or even becomes discouraged about persisting on such a rough road until the finish line. His focus becomes all about the logistics of the race instead of about the reason he is running.

A third place to focus is on where we have already been. The runner who continually looks back on the distance he has covered is looking in the wrong direction. He congratulates himself on his accomplishment thus far. And in doing so, he may lose his sense of purpose for the rest of the race still ahead, preferring to rest on his laurels rather than continue on.

Peter experienced the damage a lack of focus can have. When Jesus called him out of the safety of the boat to walk across the water to him, he quickly obeyed. Things went swimmingly well at first (forgive the pun) as Peter set out toward the Lord. However, when he began to notice the wind blowing and the waves mounting around him, his steps began to falter. Peter began to sink until the Lord reached out and saved him. Had he kept his focus on the One who had already calmed a storm in Peter's presence, who created the water and waves to begin with, his journey would have ended much differently.

Hebrews 12 tells us: "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith..." Jesus stands at our metaphorical finish line, having already run and completed a perfect race before us. He faced the same rough track, never losing sight of his end goal: the joy of the finish line. He alone provides adequate inspiration as we run.

Learning to keep our gaze where it belongs is a discipline to be learned and practiced. Harold Abrahams sliced off tenths of a second in mastering that skill, and it won him a gold in the 100 meter race. Our reward for doing the same is this: "Consider Him... so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 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. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

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