Back in 490 B.C., Greece came under serious attack by the Persian Empire and a great runner named Phidippides saved the day in the thriving influential city of Athens. Long story made short, the outcome also gave birth to the first marathon. About 550 years later, Paul was about to set sail from that part of the world, carrying a financial gift for the needy in Jerusalem. When he learned that the Jewish religious leaders in Syria were plotting to take his life he took the long way around. Instead of sailing the direct route he was able to reconnect with believers at various places along the coast of the Aegean Sea. As Paul trekked great distances, he strengthened and challenged new Christians with his teachings. Knowing the danger ahead of him, Paul shared with his Ephesian friends who met him along the way: “But none of these things move me; neither do I esteem my life dear to myself, if only I may finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have obtained from [which was entrusted to me by] the Lord Jesus, faithfully to attest to the good news (Gospel) of God’s grace (His unmerited favor, spiritual blessing, and mercy).”
Phidippides ran his course and Athens was saved. I wonder if Paul thought about him as he pressed on with his course. Scottish athlete and devoted missionary to China Eric Liddell once said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast! And when I run I feel His pleasure.” God did not make me fast, but I sure do feel His pleasure when I run. I had been running for over twenty-five years when I ran my first and (to date) only marathon in northern Thailand. The center of Chiang Mai’s ancient walled city was lit with lanterns and the minty smell of muscle cream filled the cool air. The stillness was broken by a sound like distant thunder: running shoes hitting the road. It was the start of my forty-two-kilometer course and excitement surged through all that was me. My feet went forward as the sun rose and God brought people to my mind to pray for as I ran. Family and friends cheered me on and I thought about how God’s Word says we are to encourage one another to run the good race. I felt God’s pleasure in a breeze and smiled, remembering Eric Liddell and how he faithfully lived his life. When the run became hard, Isaiah came alongside me, helping me keep pace. Sophie carried my iPod shuffle when that burden became too great for me to bear. Knowing the end was near, Russell joined us on the brick road calling out cadence to finish strong. Hannah’s finish-line hug began the celebration; I had completed the race!
God, we all have different races to run and I pray that each of us would be strengthened by You to finish our course with joy. This takes intentional focus on You no matter what challenges lie ahead of us. May our story be faithful to Your Story as we live out the life You have blessed us with. Amen.