Are you at the starting block for something new in your life? Just about to launch ahead into the "unknown" and at the ready? If so, you are probably wondering about what lies ahead - this is only natural. Whenever we begin something new, we have a lot of questions about what is going to happen, when it will happen, how it will unfold, and where we will be in the end. We plan it all out one way, but we all know the best laid plans can be waylaid along the path at anytime! Do you know what the most important part of the race is? Some will say it is the start - because if you start well, on solid footing and with great gusto, you are establishing the direction you will take with each new step. Others will say it is the finish - simply because everyone has the potential to start, but not everyone has the tenacity to finish. I am thinking the most important part of the race is often the most overlooked - the middle! Why? Think about the Preakness, the third leg of the triple crown in horse racing, for just a moment. I am not an avid fan of horse racing, but I usually like to catch this one each year. Why? I think it is all about the "middle" of the race! There is so much hype at the beginning, lots of hoopla at the end, but it is those tenuous moments in between which really catch my attention. In those moments, with each furlong those horses take, the "stakes" become higher and higher for both horse and jockey. Why? Those furlongs represent the breaking point for many a good horse and expert jockey! It takes one set of skills to run the short race - but quite a different set to go the distance!
A life frittered away disgusts God; he loves those who run straight for the finish line. (Proverbs 15:9 MSG)
You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself. (I Corinthians 9:24-27 MSG)
The middle is what makes or breaks the runner - it is the countless "furlongs" of the race where we either burn out, suffer injury, or just slow down. Going the distance is a term used to describe someone "doing the whole thing" - to continue to do something until it successfully completed. Henry Ward Beecher is quoted as saying, "We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started." Although his statement is true, getting one or two furlongs away from the finish is not the end we were striving for! We indeed ran, but did we run well? The "middle" of the race determines the answer to this question - for in "running well" we are paced and focused. At first, this may not seem very significant, but these two factors make the difference between crossing the finish line and falling short of it!
To be "paced" suggests there is a method to our running. Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest in the Dutch church. He once said, "Intimacy is not a happy medium. It is a way of being in which the tension between distance and closeness is dissolved and a new horizon appears. Intimacy is beyond fear." What I think he may have been describing is this idea of being well-paced in our walk with Jesus. Intimacy is not just "being in the race" - it is this "closing of the distance". At the beginning of any long race, the runner wonders if he will endure till the end. The middle is concerning to him because he knows the distance is great and he considers the "work of running" which will take a toll on his body. I don't think we stop very often to consider the "work of running" in this "race" with Jesus. As we move from distance to closeness, we are encouraged, re-energized, and renewed in our passion to see the distance between where we are today and where we can finally say we ran well become less and less. Paced runners run well because they have the endurance to "remain" in the race when others will falter and stop short.
To be "focused" suggests there is a commitment in our running. I think the runner who establishes a goal for each furlong of the race begins to see the possibilities of finishing the race. Too many times, we focus on the "big goal" of crossing the finish line. We forget about the smaller accomplishments along the way - making our focus very far-sighted. Many times a runner who must go the distance will focus on shorter goals - one furlong at a time. Each furlong has different demands of his body, spirit, and emotion. At some point, his body tires - demanding energy to continue in the race. With each change in the course, the runner's spirit can be challenged to make it beyond the more demanding parts of the run. Each furlong brings conflicting "signals" he must quickly interpret and act upon or reject. Why? Endurance for the long haul requires maintaining his focus - not succumbing to the pull of his emotions which will signal he is too tired to continue, or that it is taking him too long to finish this leg of the race. Our emotions will break us in the "midst" of the race if we focus on them rather than the "furlong goal".
Yes, we need to keep the end in sight and mind - but the "furlong goals" along the way are what help us to know what pace we are to be setting in order to finish the race! It isn't how fast we run, but how well we run the "middle"! Just sayin!