“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:7–8

Thankfully, as every marathoner knows, every race is finite, there is a beginning and an end. For the spiritual marathoner, the race of your lifetime starts when you are saved and ends when you die. This life does not go on forever. There is a finite amount of time that we sojourn on this earth and we do not have long to get it right. We are most blessed that we have a Sponsor in this race of a lifetime. He supplies your every need so that you may succeed and gain the crown!

Entry into the race is fully paid through the sinless blood of the perfect Sacrifice, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through faith in His finished work on the cross, you receive the gifts of forgiveness, acceptance, sonship, and eternal life. With a spiritually quickened heart you are now able to grow in stamina and maturity. You are now able to compete for the prize.

At the moment of implanted faith you are off from the starting line. The crowd of runners surrounding you begins to thin out. As you settle into your stride you make a mental check of all your preparations, you review your knowledge of the course, you assess how your feet feel in your running shoes, and you take note of your breathing. You review the feedback your body, muscles, and joints are giving you. You are alone with your thoughts and the track lies before you leading to the goal.

Stepping across finish line is behind your every thought. This one object tempers every pace adjustment that you make to conquer the course. It determines what refreshment you take along the way. It calls forth stamina when your muscles begin to ache and it blinds you to all the distractions that might be encountered along the way.

Mental preparation and strategizing are just as important as your equipment, nutrition, and conditioning. Every experienced runner knows that there are difficulties in each race unique to him. For some there is a mile marker that identifies when you can expect your reservoir of strength will feel almost expended and your body is most likely to want to quit. Is it mile 18, mile 24? Often it is at about 3/4ths through the race. Your legs don’t want to work. It is at this time your dauntless mind has to speak to your daunted body and say, “I have come this far, don’t stop, keep going, come on, one foot in front of the other.” You may notice the people on the sidelines encouraging you to keep on. It will take all your grit and determination to refocus on the race, the work that is yet to be done, and the finish line that surely lies ahead.

This is also when other runners become strong motivation. Whether the others are doubling your time or passing you, or if you find a guy to keep pace alongside, your co-participants now share a common bond—you are almost there. The quiet presence of a stranger individually struggling beside you now heats up the determination to finish with excellence and not slow down. These strangers are now your race family; they have proven they have been equipped with the mental, physical, and spiritual provisions to share in each passing mile.

Paul takes all these emotions and cogitations in hand when he says in 1 Timothy 4:8ff, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come…For to this end we both labor [to the point of exhaustion] and suffer reproach [agony, strive], because we trust in the living God….” This is not the time to quit, to step off the course, or to whine. Paul also says in 2 Timothy 2:5, “And also if anyone competes in athletics [effort and determination, untiring pursuit of victory], he is not crowned unless he compete according to the rules.” These words harken back to what he said in 1 Corinthians 9:24ff: “All run, but one receives the prize…Run in such a way that you may obtain it. Everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty…I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”

Paul was serious about the spiritual marathon of life. He was going to take nothing for granted in this grueling race. In Philippians 3:13ff he says, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended [laid hold of in full grasp]; but one thing I do, forgetting [neglecting] those things which are behind and reaching forward [stretching out completely] to those things which are ahead, I press toward [bear down upon] the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Your mind’s eye can see Paul as he approaches his own finish line in 2 Timothy 4. His resolution swelling despite his legs burning as he “pours on the coal.” His heart is excited for he has given the race his all. He sees the approaching line and knows that the imperishable crown awaits him. His legs carry him onwards and upwards right across the line in victory, with an exalting spirit. At the end of the marathon, amid the cheers, the “well-dones,” and the inner joy of the end of striving, someone else will put the “medal around his neck.” That someone else is the Lord Jesus Christ as He fits on Paul the crown with His own nail-scarred hands. How Paul’s heart focused on that moment!

The same prospect is in your future, if you know Jesus Christ. Expend your life’s stewardship well; press on; do not flag. Run your spiritual marathon, not far ahead is your finish line. There the Savior awaits with your crown of righteousness for running and finishing well. Let nothing get in the way of that day. Trust and obey.