“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
“They will still bear fruit in old age, healthy and green.” Psalm 92:14
“Pray that I finish strong.” The words spoken to me from a dear friend and mentor in the faith. Each time she says it, I am taken aback a little. Here is a woman who exudes the joy of the Lord, whose heart is set on eternal things. She is a selfless, kind, and giving woman, yet her prayer is that she finishes strong. More than once this has caused me to pause and reflect on her words. At times, I am puzzled. Sometimes, I shake my head and chuckle because she is the last woman who should be worried that she wouldn’t finish her race of faith strong.
Yet, in the last few weeks, these words have hit me differently, striking a chord within me. Perhaps it is because another birthday has since come and gone. With each passing year, the days feel fleeting and the urgency to fulfill God’s plan and purpose for my life kicks into high gear. Perhaps it is because I am now left with only one child at home and I am faced with the question, “What’s next?” since all I have known is motherhood. Either way, finishing strong is at the forefront of my brain these days. Yesterday I ran another half marathon, maybe my eighth, possibly my ninth, but I have stopped counting. The last few miles are the most difficult. The first few, I am just warming up. Miles four through eight, I am settled into a groove, running on autopilot and feeling pretty good, but I know the toughest miles are just ahead. Miles nine and ten are manageable. But it is the last three that are the do or die miles–every single time. I’ve run it enough to know that it becomes mind over matter, so to speak. When you’ve been running for that many miles. one would think that the last three should be the easiest because you are almost there. But it is in those miles that I am truly tested. Do I have what it takes to finish strong? Perhaps this is why the apostle Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” The last few miles are often the toughest.
Paul packs a lot into those three sentences. Paul didn’t just say, “I finished the race.” What would it all have mattered if he merely finished the race of life, yet failed to keep the faith? Three important things we learn from this verse.
- The Christian life is a fight. In the book of Jude, Jesus’ half-brother writes these words in verse three: “I found it necessary to write, appealing to you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all.” Contend for the faith, fight for the faith, go after the faith, argue for the faith. Nothing about fighting the fight is passive. We do not grow spiritually by accident. We will face suffering and trials, just as Jesus did. Jesus Himself said that the world would hate us as it hated Him (John 15:18). The book of Acts is the story of the early church and how the Gospel, our faith, was spread far and wide–namely through the persecution of the church. Sometimes the fight will be internal, our flesh nature versus our spiritual nature. Paul speaks of spiritual battles in Ephesians 6. This Christian life is not for the faint of heart, but we have a God who sustains us in battle and we are reaching for the upward prize in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:14).
- The Christian life is a race. Paul is not the only writer in the New Testament who refers to life as a race. The writer of Hebrews in chapter 12 verse 2 says: “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.” Just like in a physical race, the spiritual race requires endurance. We need to train, to be ready, and to fix our eyes on Jesus who is the example for us. Yet we don’t run this race alone. Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us, “Let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” In the last mile of my half marathon yesterday, a fellow runner joined me and began making conversation as the race neared its end. It was exactly what I needed to finish strong–just like we need each other to finish the race of the Christian life strong.
- Keep the faith. When all is said and done in this life, what we do for eternity is all that will matter in the end. Where we live, how much money we made, what accomplishments we have–none of this matters if we have not kept the faith and used our time here on earth wisely. Kingdom work is the focus of our faith. Are we pointing people to Jesus in our daily lives? Are we living for today or are we living for eternity?
Thinking back to the desire of my friend to finish strong, it resounds with startling clarity. Life wears us down. We grow tired and weary. We lose our motivation. Life, like long races, makes us want to give up and to quit at times. I once thought it would be easier to let the things of the faith slide during the bewitching years of life–when life is full of carpools, ball games, activities, and commitments. Yet, I see now how difficult the challenge is to keep it strong until the end, as it nears the final stretch. As life changes and the demands on us decrease, it would be simple to slide into the thought patterns that what we do next will not matter as much. Yet, God promises to complete the work He began in us (Philippians 1:6). He also says that the righteous will bear fruit in old age. How we finish matters to God.
The last three miles are the toughest, for sure. Yet what awaits us at the finish line is only the beginning and a cause for celebration. As I finished the half marathon, I wasn’t focused on how tough it was to get there. I was elated that I finished strong and I finished well. When we cross the finish line of this life’s race and reach our heavenly destination, we will be in the presence of Jesus. And every battle we fought, every setback along the way, every aching muscle will fade away and be totally worth it. We will be celebrating that we fought the good fight, we finished the race, and we kept the faith. Finish strong, friend, because Jesus is not finished with us yet. We will bear fruit in old age!