With the virus spreading around the globe, somehow nobody I know has contracted it or even knows somebody that has. Yet even with this, several people that I know have passed away from various causes. Some were extended family, some friends of friends, or people that have impacted my life whom I have never met, like Ravi Zacharias.
The reality of death and moving beyond this life is something that we all have to come to terms with. Death is happening around us whether we like it or not. Perhaps it doesn’t come through Corona, but something comes along that shows us how fleeting our lives are; something shows us that we will all die. (Keep reading; I promise it gets better and I say “death” less).
I was in a conversation with someone about the passing of Ravi, and we noted that he finished strong.
As it says of Moses in Deuteronomy 34:7, “His eye was undimmed, and his vigour unabated.”
This is a powerful encouragement. It is unfortunate that I am unable to say this of many people that have passed away in my life. And then I turn the camera to face myself and ask, “Will I finish strong?” I am foolish to think that I can finish better than others apart from the grace of God.
We know the declaration that Paul makes at the end of his life all too well –
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
He was ready to meet his Saviour because he knew that he could stand before Jesus with a pure conscience. He had done everything that God had asked of him; he had finished the race of life and was able to enter into eternity with God. What a beautiful description!
In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul takes us deeper into this truth: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”
It is worthwhile to note that this letter was written many years before 2 Timothy. This was a philosophy Paul was living his life by, not only towards the end, but also from the beginning.
I know we’ve been in lockdown for a long time now, but try remember back to when we saw the students running on the field, competing for that number 1 spot. Or when we watched top athletes during the Olympic Games battle it out for victory. To achieve this, the word ‘casual’ has to be removed from the athletes’ vocabulary. Rigorous training in all areas of life must be embraced. Now obviously Paul is not saying that only the top person is going to enter into heaven. But he is saying that the life of faith must be lived with intense pursuit of the Prize; of the imperishable wreath that is unbroken and unhindered fellowship with our Lord. He insightfully likens our life to a race; not just any type of race, but one that involved your physical body; a race that required much training and endurance.
If we dedicate ourselves to great achievements here on Earth, how much more for the imperishable wreath that we will receive in heaven? All our other accomplishments will perish, but what will remain is the quality of our faith. I don’t believe Paul’s intent was to urge us to work harder or be better. His encouragement was to throw ourselves into the arms of our Creator and Sustainer. Only running with His strength and grace are we able to run with endurance until the end. Apart from Him we will continue running, but we will quickly move outside of the lines; we will be distracted by everything going on around us and not focus on the goal.
Paul goes on in 2 Timothy to say that all who have loved His appearing will receive the crown of righteousness (4:8). This must be our motivation for running. Just as the athletes fix their eyes on the finish line, so we too must fix our eyes on the One who will greet us when we move on from this life; the One who will reward us for running the race.
There is a famous quote that goes, “death is a comma, not a full stop.” I want to make sure that the life I live before the comma is pleasing to the Lord. I want my reason to head towards that comma to be because of Jesus and Him alone. Oh, to be counted among those who finish the race well! To be embraced by the Saviour; to be told that I lived my life as a good and faithful servant. Let this be the goal for us all.
May we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).
This should also enable us to approach our last days with eager anticipation and longing for our Saviour. The bittersweet transition of death from this Earth to the next must be more sweet than bitter. The sweetness of being with God will outweigh the bitterness of leaving our loved ones, as real as that is.
So the question for us is: Are we running well? Will we get to the end of our life and know that we ran well?