Some years after both of my parents had died, I drove to Alabama to handle some business matters with my family. After our meeting, my oldest sister, Ann, told us she had come across a note Daddy had written her many years ago, that she thought we would like to read. The note was hand-written on a homeowner’s insurance invoice that my Daddy had sent to Ann and her husband.
Daddy had worked for many years in the local bank and sold insurance on the side. The year before the note was written, the bank had been sold and the new owners in the process of taking over had accused my Daddy of embezzlement. He was arrested by the FBI and formally charged. In waiting for the trial, Daddy was without work. To make ends meet he continued to sell insurance and peddled fruits and vegetables in an old truck we affectionately called “Moses.”
Mother and Daddy had five children. Ann, the oldest, was married and had two daughters at the time. Next was Linda, she was in college. Jerry, the oldest son was fifteen, a freshman in high school. And my twin brother and I were four years old. Times were difficult for my mother and daddy. As the hardships and disappointments loomed over their heads, the note dated September 12, 1960 read:
We are still having bad luck, Jerry got his arm broke and his lip busted in the first football game, but he is feeling good today. We don’t think it will keep him from playing and we are not quitters.
Daddy’s words “and we are not quitters” appear almost an afterthought in reporting Jerry’s injury. Perhaps, using this phrase was his way of encouraging my sister. Perhaps, it was his way of reminding himself of what he had taught and demonstrated for us kids. Either way, my Daddy did not quit. The charge of embezzlement was eventually dropped. Daddy began a new business. He would not give up. He continued in the race. In fact, he finished strong.
Our human tendency is to quit too soon. Our human tendency is to stop before we cross the finish line. Our inability to finish what we start is seen in the smallest of things: A partly-mowed lawn. A half-read book. Letters begun but not completed. An incomplete landscaping project. An abandoned diet. Or, it shows up in life’s most painful areas: An abandoned child. A job hopper. A course to finish a degree. A wrecked marriage.
Am I touching on some painful areas? Any chance I’m addressing someone who is considering not finishing the race? If I am, I want to encourage you to look at Jesus.
The author of Hebrews urged. “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2 HCSB). The star in this race is Jesus. The rest of the runners in the competition are people who are being beaten up; they are discouraged and downcast; and often, they are on the wrong end of whips and chains suffering from overt persecution. They are counting the cost of the tough life of faith and are considering quitting. They are looking back and wanting to go back, but the Hebrews’ author is exhorting them to finish the race. Don’t quit. The writer is encouraging them to look at the star runner—Jesus.
Jesus was not a quitter. Did he ever want to quit? You bet. Tempted by Satan. Burden by the needs of the masses. Frustrated by his closest friends. Plummeted by the words and tortures of his enemies. But he did not quit. He finished the race. That is why his last words spoken from the cross are so fitting, “It is finished!” (John 19:30 HCSB).
Stop and listen. Can you imagine the cry from the cross? The thunder has silenced the crowd. The lighting has raised their eyes toward Jesus. Then drawing his last breath, pushing his feet down on that Roman nail, he shouts, “It is finished!”
A cry of defeat? Hardly. No, this is no cry of despair. It is a cry of completion. A cry of victory. A cry of fulfillment.
He “endured a cross and despised the shame” (Heb. 12:2 HCSB). His track led him to a cruel Roman cross unjustly accused for crimes he did not commit, but running his race taking our place instead. Credit his strong sense of mission. He knew why he had come to earth and what he had to do to finish his race. Take a hard look at him. “Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever” (Heb. 12:2-3 Msg). He has set the standard. Study his performance. He ran straight through the tape at the finish line. He died in our place.
Why did he do it? “So that you won’t grow weary and lose heart” (Heb. 12:3 HCSB). He has provided a model and an example for us to follow. He has run the extra mile, endured the hardships, faced the pain, felt the scorn, heard the ridicule. When the going gets tough, he comes alongside of us and says, “I know the pain, the hurt, the agony, but you can continue, you can finish. I am with you.”
Where is he now? He is seated “at the right hand of God’s throne” (Heb. 12:2 HCSB). He has finished the race marked out before him. He is seated in a place of honor alongside God, the Father. He has finished the race victorious. Only after he completed his race did he sit down when and where it was appropriate to sit: at the right hand of his Father.
With Jesus’ run to the finish line the history-long plan of redeeming man was finished. The message of God to man was finished. The works done by Jesus as a man on earth were finished. The job was finished. The song had been sung. The blood had been poured. The sacrifice had been made. The sting of death had been removed. It was over.
Jesus was not a quitter. What he began, he finished.
What about you and me?
Are you close to quitting? Please don’t do it. Are you ready to give up on a relationship? Give it another try. Do you feel like calling it quits with a child? Tell them you love them and offer a new start. Are you pessimistic about your job? Roll up your sleeves and go at it again. Can’t resist temptation? Accept God’s forgiveness and go one more round.
Remember Jesus selected you for the race. He doesn’t want you to quit. He is beside you to encourage, he is before you to model, and he is behind you to support. Listen to the chorus of the committed testifying from the stands that you can finish.
An amazing story came out of the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City. The closing ceremonies had just been completed. The spectators and athletes, still warm from the euphoria of the celebration, were gathering their belongings to leave the stadium. Then the announcer asked them to remain in their seats. Down the boulevard came the whine of police sirens. From their vantage point, many in the stadium could see motorcycles with their flashing blue lights, encircling someone making his way toward the stadium. Whoever it was, he was moving slowly.
Everyone remained seated to see the last chapter of the Olympics take place. By the time the police escort got to the stadium, the public address announcer said that a final marathoner would be making his way into the arena and around the track to the finish line. Confusion was evident among the crowd. The last marathoner had come in hours ago. The medals had already been awarded. What had taken this man so long? The first sign of the runner making his way out of the tunnel and onto the track told the whole story.
John Stephen Akhwari from Tanzania, covered with blood, hobbled into the light. He had taken a horrible fall early in the race, whacked his head, damaged his knee, and endured a trampling before he could get back on his feet. And there he was, over 40 kilometers later, stumbling his way to the finish line.
The response of the crowd was so overwhelming it was almost frightening. They encouraged Akhwari through the last few meters of his race with a thundering ovation that far exceeded the one given the man who, hours earlier had come in first. When Akhwari crossed the finish line, he collapsed into the arms of the medical personnel who immediately whisked him off to the hospital.
The next day, Akhwari appeared before sports journalists to field their questions about his extraordinary feat. The first question was the one any of us would have asked, “Why, after sustaining the kinds of injuries you did, would you ever get up and proceed to the finish line, when there was no way you could possibly place in the race?” John Stephen Akhwari said this: “My country did not send me over 11,000 kilometers to start a race. They sent me over 11,000 kilometers to finish one.”
He was running for himself; he was running for his country; he refused to quit.
When you are tempted to throw in the towel remember that you are not running for fame or fortune, but for your God. It doesn’t matter that you may set no world records. It doesn’t matter whether you finish first or last. God has called you to run this race and he expects you to finish. Here’s the secret with God: Everyone who finishes gets the gold.