dr-rev-joaquin-willis_web.jpgA Christian life is, metaphorically, a long-distance race.

Each participant — a runner — needs certain qualities:  He must be focused upon the finish line.  He must develop good relationships with the coach, trainer and team owner.  He must acquire self-discipline and patience, while avoiding temptation along the way.

A determined athlete would cite three principles as essential to winning:  “they must fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith” (II Timothy 4:7). Scripture tells us to “Run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).”

During the writing of Hebrews, amidst persecution, the faithful were still urged onward.  Though they faced obstacles and became discouraged, they knew that the real danger was in giving up, in failing to finish.

Like good runners, we must maintain mental discipline, mindful that we have Jesus as our coach, the Holy Spirit as our trainer, and, sitting in the stands, our owner, God.

Christians keep the finish line in sight, knowing that He is watching, and will intervene when we stumble or are distracted, or have our path to victory blocked.

Fighting the good fight, says Paul (II Timothy 4:2), is when we are, “Prepared in season and out of season; we are ready to be corrected, rebuked and encouraged — with great patience and careful instruction.”

We are never alone in the race, with Jesus, our coach, and the Holy Spirit, our trainer, ever present. Nor are we alone in our experience; it is important to remember those who have weathered far worse.

Suffering, it is said, is the training ground of Christian maturity.  And, hard though it may be to move forward amidst setbacks, we can do so — being blessed with inner strengths, and reserves enough to help those who have fallen along the way.

The Christian runner does not quit, but keeps the faith, though it may require smiling through tears and pain.

We know that keeping the Faith, fighting the good fight, and finishing the race has its rewards.  As Paul told young Timothy (II Timothy 4:6-8), “Now there is in store for (you) the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to (you) on that day- and not only to (you), but also to all who have longed for His appearing.”

Obedience, or disobedience, and earthly reward are not linked. If this were so, good people would all be rich, and sin would always bring certain and obvious catastrophe.  Life presents no such causal realities.  Christ was not rich, and “God knows on the cross He suffered.”  Whatever the calamities and reversals we encounter, we are assured our reward will be found at the finish line, in heaven, with Christ cheering us on.

As believers, we know our true reward is not material, but is the gift of being in the presence of God, and of enjoying, at every step, divine help from Jesus and the Holy Spirit. As winners, we will know the thrill of “Finishing” because we fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the Faith.

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami. To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or email the pastor at pastoropendoorc@bellsouth.net.