Theology: Let’s finish together

Hebrews 12:1 

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us.”

Every year, bar the last few Covid years, the world sees thousands of runners endure one of the world’s most extreme ultra-marathons from Durban to Pietermaritzburg or visa versa. Every year the race produces its fair share of heroes, as well as spectators lining the road urging tired runners to the finish. To be successful, one must run free of any encumbrance, injury or physical restraint. You cannot keep the warm jacket or black bag that you had on at the start, all the way to the finish, as it would most definitely impede your ease of running. The copious number of runner’s guides and manuals will correctly tell you what you should add to or discard from your running routine. 

In a few words, Comrades and the preparation leading up to the race could be described as requiring patience, endurance and steady, active persistence. This race is not the 100m, adrenalin pulsating, ten second dash. On the contrary, the need for adrenalin is replaced with the need for a strong mind, guts and a little bit of blood. There are no ten second rushes (except maybe for the last runner as they make their last horrid dash to the finish line  before the gun goes off), but rather eleven hours of one foot in front of the other. Every refreshment station is met with eagerness and as the hours drag on, the distance from one lamppost to another feels like an achievement in itself. 

The Comrades journey does not start on race day, with the interlude of chariots of fire and the buzz of excitement. But rather, the journey begins in much earlier in the year, as slowly, yet ever so definitely, you begin to put some miles in your legs. The next goal is to run your qualifier, and then the weekend dawn patrols follow quite religiously. It becomes a lifestyle that directly implicates your family. It becomes very hard to mow the lawn on a Saturday morning when you’ve just done a forty or fifty kilometre training run. In many ways the preparation demands that you be both selfish and undistracted. Constantly thinking: When will I run? How am I feeling? It’s the tiptoe in the darkness of your bedroom as you grope about trying to find your running gear to prepare for your morning session (interrupting your spouse’s sleep at ungodly hours of the morning is never a good thing. By the way, there is a new support group called the “Comrades Widow Group”. They gather together at most runners braais.)

To get that precious medal requires looking away from all distractions.

Jesus, our mentor, embarked on a journey to save the lost world. Tradition and authenticated history tells us that His was a journey was met with much hardship. His race was defined by the prize, being at the right hand of the Father . The journey resulted in Him being lonely, misunderstood, misrepresented and eventually murdered in a very painful way on the cross. His goal was to see a world of people who could now be reconciled to the Father through His victory on the cross. His life, death and resurrection mark the greatest victory ever. His cry of “It is finished” would signify a job done, mission accomplished and a race run. The universe celebrated a King and His Kingdom.

Where does that put us as Christians? Let the Comrades be a reminder to us that our

Christianity is a journey thwart with Fields hills, Botha’s hills and Polly Shorts, not forgetting Berea Rd, Westville and Cowies…I can go on. Our success on the day and how we tackle these hurdles is directly dependant on the amount of time we spent on the road preparing ourselves. There are no overdraft facilities available to runners who failed to do their homework and make the regular deposits, once the investment has been drawn and you hit the wall – you are finished.

Isaiah 40 reminds us of “Those whose hope is in the Lord — shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”                   I challenge you to ask yourself where you are in your Christian journey? Are you running on a full tank, or are your reserves depleting? Are your warning lights showing? Have you done well so far but the enormity of the task ahead scares you? Do you feel as if you don’t have the spiritual energy to continue? Have you been entangled in sin? Do the words to “lay aside” mean something to you? Does the picture of runners tossing away their unneeded clothing grab you? Have you felt the Holy Spirit convict you and say you’ve been impeded or bogged down by something? Perhaps that “thing” is a relationship that is out of God’s order? Maybe you’re a prodigal? 

ln this life we will always face challenges. To experience break-through, we need to disentangle ourselves from that which restricts our freedom. Let us run towards our futures unencumbered by junk. Let’s meet those refreshment tables that the Father has lined up for us with eagerness. Let’s drink of His Spirit so that we are able to be refreshed and encourage one another as we journey together. Let’s walk together, run together and fellowship our way to the finish.

By Ash Bell