Move past comparisons to embrace true potential

When I was a kid in Montana, there was a young man who loved to run.

He had a gift that allowed him to run and enjoy the time, alone and with his buddies who also liked to run. He was content to run and admire those who excelled, just fitting in where he felt he could.

He was the second of six children growing up, and when he ran cross-country in the fall or the mile/two-mile in the spring, he would compete to his “potential” — usually second place. His Dad would affectionately call him No. 2.

Every race ran would be prepared by, “If I run well, I could come in after Rich Axman or Don Blankenship or Dan Margrave…” The depth of the competition would determine where he would be content to “take his place.” He was content with being No. 2.

Young miler No. 2, at the end of his junior year, was given a chance to attend the Junior Olympics in Havre, 110 miles north of his hometown in Great Falls. His dad sat down and had some serious conversation. The training was not much different; the teenager had already run all winter and trained throughout the entire track season and had even attended the state track meet, placing (not winning) in both the mile and 2-mile events.

He was hoping to place in the regional Junior Olympics event and come home with some dignity, but Dear Old Dad had a different agenda. He gave him some motivation, worked on some 1320s, timed him and told him his problem wasn’t ability but attitude. His dad also told him that he would have to walk home if he didn’t win the mile event in Havre.

At the state meet a runner from Great Falls Central had won the mile named Rich Axman, and No. 2 felt Axman wouldn’t participate at the Junior Olympics event because it was an age-sensitive race, 16 and under. He was absolutely floored when he showed up and waiting for him at the starting line was No. 1 himself, Rich Axman.

The old feelings came back, and No. 2 was measuring the field and placing himself back in the pack because he was quite aware of his “potential.”

The life of faith is a race. The Hebrew writer tells us in Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2, New Living Translation).

This was not the beginning of the Hebrew writer’s message, but toward the end of a thought that began in the tenth chapter as he was talking about how important it was to have faith and persevere.

“Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. …

“Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. … You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised” (Hebrews 10:23, 32-36 NLT).

My mind immediately goes back to a time several hundred years before when Isaiah was writing to a people of God in another generation. They were in Babylonian captivity losing hope and really feeling the abandonment of God.

Isaiah wrote in Isaiah 40:28, “Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31 NLT).

Isaiah 40:31 is one of the most-quoted Scriptures of the entire Bible, and for good reason. Interestingly, the word I read as trust is quoted to say “wait”, “hope”, or even “have faith.”

The word signifies an incredible reliance on God defined in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1 NLT).

What God teaches us in Hebrews is possible only by viewing the cross.

“All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us” (Hebrews 11:39, 40 NLT).

“But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. … So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord — who is the Spirit— makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18 NLT).

From glory to everlasting glory. Faith is more than just coming into covenant at baptism; it’s a process continuing from there.

The race was set and the gun sounded. The first lap was fast but usually was all nerves. The second lap was positioning, and No. 2 tried to play with Axman’s mind by running the curves and striding the straightaways. They were side by side coming into the final curve of the gun lap, and there was a lot of pain — the burning of the lungs, pain in the shoulders from the need of oxygen, the legs that felt like rubber and that feeling that it was just about time to coast to the end.

The words of Dear Old Dad rang loud, and No. 2 dug deep as he began the kick around the outside — 110 yards to go. As he gave everything he had, he heard Axman gasp. He knew he had the race; no longer would he be No. 2. He looked up and saw his dad with a friend close to the finish line with a stopwatch. The fastest he had run to that point was 4:32, and when he crossed the finish line he didn’t care what time he had, he knew he was going to get a ride home. The watch said 4.24.

The ride home was what he was looking for, not the ride itself, but sitting next to his dad wearing the medal around his neck — No. 1 — hearing him say “well done.”

Our ride home? “And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ … And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega — the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children’” (Revelation 21:2-7 NLT).

From glory to everlasting glory.

Del Hamon is pastor of Northside Christian Church in Greenfield. This column is written by local clergy members.