I saw a great picture this weekend of what God wants us to be. Let me set it up:
I was watching the Run for God Junior Triathlon Team compete at the Clermont Draft Legal Challenge in Clermont, Florida. We had some great performances and it’s always inspirational to watch these young people work hard to reach their goals. This was the first race of the season and the first ever draft-legal race for several of our athletes. They did a great job! I don’t want to take away from anyone’s performance, but I’d like to focus on one athlete in particular.
This was a very unusual weekend because there were two races, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The races were identical, other than a few entrants who would only race one day. Lane Hollis completed both races and was on the podium in both. On day one, the race went like this:
Lane came out of the swim within 15 seconds of the leader. By the time they were on their bikes, he was in a pack of three riders who would ride together for the duration of the bike portion of the race. The three of them swapped duties at the front of the pack and worked together to keep their distance from a pack of fast cyclists behind them who were trying their best to catch up. Going into the run, Lane and the other two guys were headed for a battle over the 1.6 mile run course. Lane is a fast runner and we knew he had a chance to take the overall win.
The course was out and back on a single road, so we watched them run over a hill and out of sight and waited for them to return hoping to see Lane come back over the hill first. As the time for them to return approached, I was nervously watching the top of the hill. When I saw the first head appear it was clear right away that it was not Lane. As the leader came down the hill and into the last 300 meters of the run, there was a large gap back to the next runner. When I saw the second place runner, it was still not Lane. My heart sunk, but I knew Lane was one to give it all he had, and so I was disappointed for him (not IN him).
Lane finished third, but he was disappointed in his run, and I also knew that he could run faster. I asked him what went wrong and he said that he didn’t feel good on the run from the first step. He also said that his stomach was hurting and that affected his run. We talked about the fact that you don’t use your stomach to run and that, unless you were debilitated in some way from the issue, you can’t let that slow you down. If it’s just extra pain, you have to dig deep enough to push it to the side and just run (I know, heartless coach, right?). It was still a good day, but it just seemed unfinished.
On day two, race conditions had changed and it was unclear how things would play out. As it turns out, the swim and first transition were similar, but there was an unfamiliar guy who had a lead and the second place finisher from the day before was in second place again. Lane was in a pack of athletes about ten to fifteen seconds behind the leader. The pack grew as some strong cyclists entered the pack from behind, but they could not catch the leaders. As they entered transition, the pack had worked its way back down to three representing the third through fifth spots. When they came out of transition, somehow Lane had worked his way into second place. I found out later that the second place athlete had crashed his bike just before going into transition. He would get up and continue, but he started the run in fifth place.
As they began the run, Lane and his good friend Sam Tullis were in pursuit of the leader. They had about 15 seconds to make up if they were going to catch him. Just like the day before, the anticipation of seeing them come over the hill was excruciating! When they came over the hill, I couldn’t believe my eyes! All three of them were shoulder to shoulder with 300 meters to go. It was going to come down to who could finish the fastest. As they came down the hill, Lane surged into the lead. He had committed to the finish line first. The other two responded by picking up the pace and staying with him. 120 meters from the finish line, Lane hit another gear and pulled away by about 10 feet. As soon as the finish line was clearly in sight, the older and bigger athlete (Justin Free) who had led the entire way until Lane and Sam had caught him surged ahead and took the victory over the last 40 meters. Lane used all he had left to finish second (Pictured Above). The top three were separated by five seconds! What a great battle!
So, why do I share this? I think this was a perfect picture of what God wants from us. My first thought was that He wants us to commit to the finish in everything we do. He wants us give it all we have. He doesn’t want us to give up when things get tough. Just like Lane and Sam ran as hard as they could all the way through the finish line (even though they finished second and third), God wants us to give our best no matter what the outcome is going to be. Lane didn’t win, but he left everything he had on the course. God tells us that we won’t win every battle. He tells us that we will face tough situations. In James, the phrase is, “WHEN we face trials,” not, “IF we face trials.”
But then I thought about it some more. God wants us to put everything into each situation we find ourselves in, but He wants more than that. You see, Lane was the first to launch himself to the finish line by starting his kick first, but that wasn’t the beginning of his commitment. Lane had committed himself to that finish line before he began that race. He could “see” that finish line the night before as he thought about race strategy. He committed himself to that finish line weeks, months, even years, before by working hard in practice even when things got tough. He had “conditioned” himself to deal with adversity before the adversity came. When he didn’t face the adversity to his liking the first day, he dug deeper and found a way to overcome it the second day. Lane told me after the second race that his stomach once again hurt, but he was able to push it the side and not let it be a factor in the outcome.
We are going to be disappointed. The Bible clearly tells us that we are all sinners, so many of the letdowns will be failing to live up to what God wants us to be. But, how are we going to respond to those failures? God wants our very best, our “first fruits.” He doesn’t want us to give up just because things don’t go the way we think they should. In addition, He wants us to prepare for all of life’s battles by forming a daily relationship with Him through Bible study and prayer.
But, we must be careful how we define failure too. Lane finished second. While it is good to think about how to finish first next time, that’s kind of the point. God doesn’t always give us victories, but He wants us to continue to give our best. Lane put everything he had into trying to win that race, but he didn’t. However, he kept his chin up because he knows that he did the best he could do on that day.
This applies to all of us. We may not be vying for a win in a triathlon, but we may be victorious by going for a run five days this week. Maybe our success is getting to the local food bank to volunteer and share Jesus with someone. Perhaps your battle is with the food you eat? Or, maybe it’s teaching a Bible study class. Whatever you do, do it with all your might and with His help. One thing I know is true; you have to commit yourself to the finish line of whatever race you enter, and that starts now. It requires planning AND execution. To be more specific, it requires planning in order to execute to the best of our ability.