Australia’s “Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon” was a grueling 544-mile test of endurance. In 1983, as the participants gathered and awaited the starting gun, one runner seemed conspicuously out of place. At 61 years old and dressed in overalls and Wellington rubber boots, the potato farmer named Cliff Young bore little resemblance to his highly athletic, properly dressed and corporately sponsored competitors. Other than rounding up sheep on foot, he had no training in long-distance running. Spectators, officials and other participants laughed at the very idea that this man would even consider facing off against an elite group nearing the boundary of superhuman abilities.
When the other runners dashed ahead at the starting signal, Cliff just shuffled at an easy and painstakingly slow pace. For seasoned athletes, the race would normally take seven days to complete. As Cliff began his leisurely pace, he was unaware of the normal and accepted strategy for approaching the course. The participants would run for eighteen hours of the day and then sleep for six. Not knowing this fact initially, when the media asked about his race tactics, Cliff replied that he would “run through to the finish.” As the other runners lay their heads onto their pillows for some much-needed rest, Cliff continued to shuffle onward through the darkness. Day after day he overtook packs of runners. On the last night, Cliff moved ahead of all the world-class racers, and by the light of day it was clear: no one was ahead of Cliff, and no one was close to catching him. He finished in five days, fifteen hours and four minutes, shaving two days off the record. His closest competitor finished ten hours later.
Upon crossing the finish line, Cliff discovered that the prize for first place was $10,000 but explained that he did not know that there was money involved in winning. Saying that he only wanted to see if he could complete the race, Cliff divided the prize between the five runners arriving after him. Through sheer endurance and consistent movement, he met victory earlier than anyone expected.
Like Cliff Young’s endeavor, our daily, spiritual race requires patience and disciplined movement as we press forward. We will, at times, grow weary. Darkness will press close. Voices will tell us to stop running. But if we determine the right focus, the determination to finish will follow. The writer of the book of Hebrews explains this idea perfectly: “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:1b-2). The race is not our ultimate focus; the One who ran the race perfectly is our focus. He begins our race of faith, and he will bring us through to the finish. When he does, we will be able to proclaim, like the apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
If you are running low on strength, remember that we are intended to run with the infinite power of Christ. If the course seems too dark and you don’t know where to plant your next step, ask Jesus. He has run this race before us. If you don’t see yourself making quick strides, understand that through Christ “our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
When asked why he used his signature shuffle as the way to run the race, Cliff Young replied, “I reckoned it was the easiest method.” Spiritual growth takes time. Sometimes we feel like sprinters; often we feel more like shufflers. But no matter the pace, we must press forward for Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14).
We will run our spiritual race for Christ with discipline and self-control. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 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.
We would find strength in Jesus to continue to move forward. – Hebrews 12:12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees…
We will remember that God is gradually, but surely, changing us into the likeness of Christ. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.