I recently read an account of one of the world’s most dangerous and demanding races. Over the course of a week, participants must run nearly 300 kilometers over scorching desert terrain. Once they set out, they are expected to remain mostly independent and to follow a track that has been staked across flatlands and dunes, dry river beds and infrequent oases. To ensure participants have the provisions they need, the race organizers leave stores of food, water, and medical supplies at a number of locations. The racers set out smartly with great pomp and vigor, then stagger and stumble bedraggledly across the finish line 6, 7, or even 8 days later.
These being modern times, each of the racers carries a GPS tracker with him so he can later trace his route and analyze his progress. Each of the racers sets out with his mind fixed firmly on the finish line, and each would insist that he has spent a week exerting superhuman effort in running straight toward it. Yet the GPS would show that while his route has led from beginning to end, it actually led through each one of those supply stations. And, in fact, both are true. His single-minded devotion to the race led him to each of the locations where he could be resupplied.
The Bible often compares this life to a race—a race in which we are to be every bit as focused, every bit as single-minded, every bit as driven to reach the finish line. “One thing I do,” says the Apostle Paul. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” says the author of Hebrews. The Christian life is a long and grueling race through a wearying desert world.
I expect that when we, like the Apostle, have fought the good fight and finished the race and kept the faith, we will also be able to trace the route we have taken between the day of salvation and the day of glorification. I expect that we, like him, will be able to say that we fixed our minds on the great prize of being delivered from all sin and weakness and being delivered to the presence of Jesus Christ. We will be able to say that we ran in such a way as to obtain the prize given to those who persevere.
But then I also expect that as we look back on the course we ran, we will see that God sustained us by laying out great stores of provisions along the way. We will see that our course led from storehouse to storehouse, cache to cache, oasis to oasis. At one point we may have been ready to quit, ready to give up and drop out, but, by his Spirit through the Word, he provided the encouragement we needed to press on for another day, another stage. At another we may have been tempted to follow an illicit route, to veer from the narrow way to the broad, but he arranged to have one of his people gently warn or even sternly rebuke us. At another we may have convinced ourselves that we ought to turn back and find an easier race, but through the mysteries of his providence, he steered us straight.
As we look back on the race we ran, we will see that the God who planned our days, the God whose providence knew the end from the beginning, laid out his provision for us at exactly the points we most needed it, the points we would otherwise have been most likely to be disqualified. We will see that his provision came through the kindness of God’s people, the words of his scriptures, the illumination of his Spirit. We will see that the straightest course was actually the course that led past every one of the storehouses of his providence. We will see that the God who called us to the race provided all we needed in the race. We will know that we never truly ran alone.