“Perseverance is a lowly virtue whereby mediocrity achieves an inglorious success.”
“Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.”
It has been called one of the most dramatic scenes in all of sports – the moment when the solitary marathon runner reenters the Olympic Stadium for the final lap of the grueling 26 mile, 385 yard race. All eyes are upon the fatigued figure as he compels his aching, throbbing muscles toward the finish line. The crowd rises to its collective feet, cheering their approval as they encourage him toward the conclusion of the contest. With every sinew in his body straining, the athlete pushes through the tape and before the watching eyes of the world is awarded the most coveted gold medal! Undoubtedly it is one of the most celebrated events in all of sports.
This famous race – the marathon – began approximately 2500 years ago after the decisive battle of Marathon. Though greatly outnumbered, the Greek defenders attacked the invading Persian army and conquered them. History records that the commander of the victorious Greeks dispatched his fastest soldier to run westward and carry the message of victory over to the beleaguered city of Athens. After running through the night, Pheidippedes delivered the news just before collapsing dead from overexertion. Thus the marathon was born! The 26 mile race celebrating Pheidippedes’ run was adopted as an integral part of the ancient Olympic Games, creating a storied tradition which continues to this day.
This is the exact imagery the writer of Hebrews uses as he compares the Christian life to a race. In Hebrews 12.1-2 he writes: “…let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him…lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”
The author challenged his readers to not just enter the race of faith, but rather to go all out and prepare in such a way that they could win this competition! In other words, God want us to be more than merely contestants, but winners! So how can I apply this and make my life and leadership more effective? What can I do, what principles can be embraced to enhance my leadership effectiveness? Here are 4 specific principles worth noting:
In any athletic competition, no one can win with a half hearted commitment. On the contrary, a strong resolve or a determination to win must be present. Legendary coach Vince Lombardi recognized this as he observed: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.” We must take seriously our Christian life and the privilege of leadership. We must push ourselves to the limit as we pursue excellence and lay aside every barrier to personal or professional growth.
In the ancient games, victory depended upon the athlete’s training program. Every runner was compelled to enter 10 months of strict training under the watchful eye of an official. Even the best of athletes necessitated stringent discipline to compete. As former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach stated: “Spectacular achievements are always preceded by unspectacular preparation.”
Winding through the surrounding landscape of the area, the marathon course was clearly marked. It was critical that every runner knew exactly the specifics of the route was and to make no deviation. To do so would mean disqualification. The divine track that we run as Christian leaders is known as God’s will and it is clearly marked by His Word. Winning the prize requires seeking His direction as we avoid obstacles and impediments to our growth and effectiveness.
Every athlete was required to forego certain comforts in order to compete so as to win the prize. Throughout his training regimen, the athlete punished his body, relinquishing a life of ease in order to get his body in topmost shape. In Christian leadership this same denial is absolutely necessary as we resist the temptation of selfish pursuits and privileges and embrace the honor and integrity of servant leadership.
After the lengthy race was completed, the most anticipated moment occurred. Each runner was brought to stand before the raised, wooden platform in the middle of the track that supported the presiding judge. Each contestant would be either crowned, passed over or disqualified. So it will be for us as believers in Christ (See 2 Cor. 5.10). At the end of our race we will stand before the Savior and have our race reviewed. In that final day, may He place the imperishable crown upon our head as we give Him glory, saying “Thanks be to God who gave us the victory through our lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Stay the Course,
Dr. Greg Morris