Last weekend at Bayside Church I heard one of the most inspiring communion messages in a long while. As part of his message Ps Cameron Butler (CEO of Sports Chaplaincy Australia) told a story that goes back to October 1968 when the first Olympic Games were being staged in Latin America.
According to the Success Stories website it was one of the hottest Sunday afternoons in Mexico City when the men’s marathon started at 3pm. Out of 74 participants, 17 could not finish the race. At 7pm, it was almost an hour since all marathon runners had crossed the finishing line of the 26-mile Olympic marathon, when suddenly a lone runner wearing the colours of Tanzania emerged through the stadium gate literally hobbling. The event left the last few thousand people in the arena amazed at what they experienced next. The man was John Stephen Akhwari who, while running, had fallen down and badly hurt himself. He was bleeding and his knee had been dislocated.
Considering the severity of his injuries, Akhwari was repeatedly asked to quit the race but he refused. He fell, dragged himself along, walked and sometimes ran, but finished the marathon limping over the line. On the finishing line, he received a huge applause and almighty cheers from the little crowd. His body was exhausted but not his spirit. His competitors had overtaken him one by one but his determination rewarded him despite his tremendous pain. Akhwari never won any Olympic gold medal but he became the greatest example of the never-give-up spirit, and an inspirational story of courage.
When he was asked the reason for doing such a crazy act, he replied, “My country did not send me 10,000 miles just to start the race; they sent me to finish the race.”
What a great statement – and it got me thinking of all the times the Bible uses the analogy of a race to encourage us, especially when life is hard or painful and we feel like giving up. Consider these verses …
“Don’t you realise that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Cor. 9:24).
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us …” (Hebrews 12:1).
“I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:13-14).
At the end of his life Paul the apostle wrote these words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful” (2 Timothy 4:7). What a great statement.
The Christian life is a marathon that starts when Jesus becomes our Lord and finishes when we take our final breath. There are many times when I’ve felt like I’m limping along the track but I’m still moving forward “looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
When things are tough remind yourself of these powerful truths – and think again about the inspiring example of John Stephen Akhwari whose country didn’t send him 10,000 miles just to start the race; they sent him to finish the race as well. Let’s choose to do likewise!
Watch John Stephen Akhwari’s amazing finish at this YouTube link: