The Greatest Last Place Finish
The year was 1968. The place was Mexico City. The event was the Summer Olympics. Out of the darkness, he entered the far end of the stadium. John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania hobbled with pain every step he took. His leg was bloody and bandaged. During the race, John was accidentally knocked to the ground by another runner. His knee and shoulder were badly hurt. However, the winner of the Olympic marathon had been declared over an hour earlier. Most of the spectators had gone home. As John crossed the finish line, the small crowd clapped and cheered. Afterward, a reporter asked the exhausted runner why he did not stop running when he realized there was no chance to win. With a confused look upon his face, John Stephen Akhwari responded, "My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race."
As I reflect upon this story, I am reminded of a historical description of a meeting of church leaders following a time of persecution during the Dark Ages. The circle of Christian leaders consisted of men with missing arms or other appendages. Scars were etched on some of their faces or bodies from brutal torture. Each of these men could have escaped the torture and disfigured bodies. All they had to do was to recant just a little—just enough for the council to give them a pass. Or they could have gone off into the hills and found a cave or lonely place in which to hide. But they, too, like John in Mexico City, were not sent to hide, but to finish the race.
Life can be horrendously tough on all of us. I have four close relatives and friends embattled with cancer as I write. All extremely serious. But, praise God, I received an email from one friend yesterday in which she expressed joy because the scan did not show a trace of cancer. I have two friends struggling with kidney stones. Another with a heart condition. Another's job is in jeopardy. If we keep making the list, we all will be discouraged and feel like crawling into a corner on the couch with a warm blanket and a book and not go out into the world.
But when you go out into the world and make a positive difference in someone else's life, then our own life somehow gets and looks better. I received another email two days ago. A friend was making visits to a number of people who had requested free Discover Bible lessons from the mailing of enrollment cards. My friend took another lady with her to make the visit. One of the homes they visited was not a positive experience. The lady said she was not interested. As they exited the front porch via the sidewalk, she called them back, invited them into her home and spilled out her personal story. Through moist eyes, hugs and prayer, they set up an appointment to return and begin studying the Bible together. My friend and her visitation partner left the home glowing in the power and presence of God. In their lives of mishaps and pain, they had found joy in pointing someone to eternal life and a present walk with God.
You see, God knew life would be this way. We read about it in John 16:33. "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
God is right up front with us. He does not "beat around the bush"—He simply spells it out. God then gives us the solution to making it in this sin-battered world, "As You (God the Father) sent Me (Jesus) into the world, I also have sent them (you & me) into the world." (John 17:18)
That is the salve to a wounded life and world—to GO! Go and make a difference in someone's life. There is more than one way to make a difference. It is not only knocking on the door of someone wanting Bible lessons. It can be cheering on the next door neighbor's kid at a soccer game, mowing the neighbor's lawn or shoveling their sidewalk when they are down sick with the flu, or even a phone call to cheer up someone. You see, in the life of Jesus, He healed the sick, He comforted the grieving, He made the wedding reception better, He ate a meal at Zacchaeus' home, He talked with the children and yes, He gave what we would call today Bible studies and biblical presentations. But in all cases, He pointed people to a source of a better life now and eternal life in the future.
Our solution to survival in a sin-battered world? Finish the race. When you are a bit down—go make a difference in someone else's life and it is true, life will be better for you!