Riccardo Russo is a motorcycle racer in Europe. He recently was competing in the Italian championship race. Coming to the end of the race, he was the leader. He was ready to win.
The problem was that he started celebrating his “win” a lap too early. He began fist pumping in the air and celebrating, and about that time some of the other racers went past him. He dropped from 1st place to 14th because he celebrated one lap too early. He didn’t finish the race.
In contrast to Riccardo, you might remember John Stephen Akhwari. He represented Tanzania in 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
He ran the marathon. You will remember that the race was actually completed a couple of hours before he ever came to the finish line. He had fallen during the race, gotten to his feet, and struggled the whole distance to the finish line. He was battered, bruised, and bleeding. He severely injured his knee and ankle. His leg was wrapped in a bloody bandage.
Many of the spectators had left. People heard a police siren at the entrance gate and saw John staggering in. He continued running until he crossed the finish line. People gave him a thunderous standing ovation.
He was later interviewed and asked, “Why did you keep running the race after you were so badly injured?” John gave the simple reply, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles just to start the race – they sent me to finish the race. I couldn’t let them down.”
A lot of people start the race well, but along the way they stumble or encounter a difficulty, then quit. That is always a temptation. Winners are not determined by who is ahead at the halfway mark or three-quarters mark, but you have to cross the finish line in order to win. God calls us to finish the race that we label life.
There is a lot being written today about “finishing strong.” I always look back to my Dad. He was stronger in his faith in life at age 96 than he was at any other time! He finished strong!
One of the deterrents to finishing strong is developing an arrogant attitude. We begin to celebrate early. We think we have achieved something on our own. We feel like we deserve it. Pride can bring down the fastest and strongest runner. The only time for celebration is when we “cross the finish line.” A great old preacher Sam Jones once said, “I’ll only be sure that I am in heaven and can celebrate when I hear the gates click behind me.”
Whenever you get discouraged or depressed, just remember that God didn’t send you into the world just to begin the race – He sent you to finish the race. At the end of his life, Paul writes his young friend Timothy and testifies, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;” (II Timothy 4:7) He finished strong.
Finish – then celebrate!