The Secret To Finishing Well

A few years ago, Kelley and I flew to Los Angeles to see our oldest daughter Anna, who was a sophomore at Westmont College in nearby Santa Barbara. And since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to run in the Los Angeles Marathon. This was Kelley’s second marathon and my first.

Obviously, this wasn’t a last minute decision. We had dedicated ourselves to training the four months leading up to the race.

Running a marathon is probably the third hardest thing I’ve ever done—after writing a book (16 and counting) and being married. Here are a few thoughts that hit me during the run:

Every Person Runs A Different Race

Despite running the same 26.2 mile route, all 26,000 people ran the Los Angeles Marathon with different concerns in mind. I was concerned about re-injuring my calf (which I tore two weeks earlier). Kelley was concerned about aggravating the plantar fasciitis in her heel. Everyone was concerned about finishing. Ironically, my calf never bothered me while Kelley’s heel refused to cooperate. Nevertheless, I sustained a painful foot injury on mile 13 and hobbled the rest of the way to the end. During a marathon, weird injuries can materialize out of nowhere.

Whatever race you’re running, avoid the temptation to compare yourself to others–because they’re running a different race than you.

Injuries Happen

Days before the race, I explained my concerns about my calf injury to a veteran marathoner. She told me, “Everybody who runs a marathon is dealing with some kind of an injury.”

Most of us begin our lives injury-free, only to sustain bumps and bruises along the way. We all get knocked around in the course of our lives. How we respond to those injuries determines how we finish the race. So don’t be surprised when pain hits. It goes with the territory.

Everyone Who Finishes Wins

While training, veterans advised me, “Don’t try to break any records on your first race—just make it your goal to finish.” When my foot injury materialized out of nowhere, I asked myself, How can I  run another 13 miles with this kind of pain? Everything within me wanted to quit. I actually considered spending the $20 in my pocket to pay for a cab that would transport me to the finish line.

In the middle of my pain, I ran past a café, where a man sat at an outdoor table enjoying his breakfast. When he saw the grimace on my face, he looked at me, pointed at an empty chair next to him. His gesture was an apparent invitation to join him for breakfast. I shook my head, fixed my eyes on the road in front of me, and kept running.

I couldn’t think about mile 15 or mile 21—all I could think about was finishing. But in order to reach my goal, I would need to run one mile at a time. When I completed mile 13, my next goal became mile 14, then mile 15.

Although my time wasn’t as fast as I had hoped, I was relieved once I crossed the finish line. At that point, my time didn’t matter. I finished. Sometimes life is painful…but you just keep going on.

We’re all running in a race, but the goal isn’t to beat everybody else, the goal is to finish. Sometimes you just have to bear down and grind through the pain. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). Sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is stand. You don’t have to look victorious–all you must do is not give up.

We all run in a race. We all sustain injuries along the way and we all can come up with excuses to quit.

So what will you do?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He tried running a second marathon a year ago, which didn’t go nearly as well as the first. After a 15 month hiatus, he’s getting back into shape and focusing on running 10k’s.

One note: The Daily Bible Conversation blog is shuttering its doors at the end of August…at least for now. The blog has run its course, so Michael, Eugene, and Brendan will direct their energies in other areas. Beginning September 7, Michael will begin a new blog entitled “God Meets Culture” at


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8 responses to “The Secret To Finishing Well

  1. Georgie-ann

    very true:

    “Every Person Runs A Different Race

    Despite running the same 26.2 mile route, all 26,000 people ran the Los Angeles Marathon with different concerns in mind. …

    Whatever race you’re running, avoid the temptation to compare yourself to others–because they’re running a different race than you. …

    Everyone Who Finishes Wins”

    We tend to take our collective “American mindset” so for granted, that trying to understand “why we are the way we are” (individually) often doesn’t probe very deeply into our commonly experienced “formation processes” — including schooling, family/neighborhood/church(if even), and popular consumer and media influences. Somewhere in all of these is contained an expectation (or many) that we should think and behave in certain patterns that we have been “programmed”/(influenced) to imitate from a very early (and not very aware) age. We sure do acquire a lot of very bad (and/or unexamined) habits in this way. Poor kids — made to be an unquestioning part of a generally accepted “herd mentality” from a very young age.

    (Not that there aren’t also “very good things” included along the way — but it’s certainly not as “all good” as it is presented to us as being. The particular “missing element”, that I would be referring to here, is the extreme disinclination to admit that “the collective”/(universal) approach does not face and admit to its own weaknesses and its tendency to distract from the “weightier” questions of life and personal significance.)

    Have we become like the Pharisees in our own “modern” way?

    Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.”

    Our deeply established and enculturated societal processes make it hard to even begin to ask significant questions about individual “purpose” and “identity” and “goals” and “destiny” and “differences” and “comparative value” and “who am I?” And “God vs culture” questions — (except for those who DO care and who ARE paying very close attention!) — are almost “taboo,” or considered to be “neanderthal,” or maybe even `”really way out there” in a spectrum of fantasy and make-believe on a par with the latest blockbuster technical sensory manipulation,… as if that has anything to do with what God is saying to us at all,…

    Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

    In spite of a strong beginning and tradition in awareness and respect for God’s Word, our culture is fast “slip-sliding away” from protecting and keeping these principles and values “front and center” in the way it “does its business”,… without a map,… if our spiritual GPS stops working,… one wonders, where will we end up?

    Many are trading a “spiritual life” for a “social life” (and even in some churches!), barely noticing the difference,… I guess they suppose “majority rules” will wash with God,… I dunno,… but I think it’s time for each and every one, individually, to start asking some very important questions,…

    It’s up to each and every one of us, as an individual, to “work out their own salvation”,… whether or not the culture, or our neighbor, is “on board”,…

    Philippians 2:12,13 [ Light Bearers ]
    “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

    But we have to be listening to God,…

    • Georgie-ann

      edit: … the extreme disinclination to admit that “the collective”/(universal)/(one-size-fits-all) approach …

      “Whatever race you’re running, avoid the temptation to compare yourself to others–because they’re running a different race than you.” M.K.

      With our X-treme modern focus on social issues of egalitarianism, me-me-me, “I deserve,” etc., we’ve lost sight of an unfolding earthly drama in which there prevailed a rich cultural backdrop, where all things were definitely not outwardly “equal”, but had an intrinsic sense of order, and finding one’s acceptable functioning place within it was not necessarily a distressing living experience. This is not to say that everything was somehow fairy-tale perfect, by any means, as sin still had its hold on mankind, but civil peacefulness could be lived and experienced as a blessing.

      God tells us that He gives different “talents”/(gifts) to each created person — in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) — and actually “dares” to expect a return on His endowments! He even clearly tells of His great displeasure when His gift is unappreciated, hidden and unused! How much more clear can He be? It’s not necessarily up to us to be deciding who gets what to deal with “on their plate in life.”

      In short, (ha ha), I think God is pleased when we chose to deal with “our given lot in life” according to His Laws and the Fruits of the Spirit/(His Nature). If we live to please God, and not ourselves, we will perhaps see ourselves as “His missionaries,” sent out into whatever social and ethnic situations we might find ourselves in (& we are not there accidentally!) — the challenge being to bring His light and peace and mercy right where we are,… being His witness, His testimony, and working to improve the earthly situations which He has given to us at our fingertips, including the domain of our own personal challenges that we find in our heredity and personal situations. These challenges involve not only making the most of talents given, but also resisting the strongholds that satan has endeavored to saddle us with,… (lots of dangling participles, I know,… but I’m thinking on my feet here,…)

      God does not “see as man sees”, and will only judge us according to our hearts and how we have dealt with our personal given challenges. He is our master, our Lord,… He is the one we need to please, and who sets our lives and challenges before us,… He is also the one who determines our rewards,… How interesting it will be to see the reward of a very humble “unnoticed” earthly “servant” (whom God sees as faithful and great!), compared to the disobedient but loud noise-makers and attention-getters and false-proselytizers of our times:

      1 Samuel 16:7 “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.'”

      Matthew 25:14-30 [The Parable of the Talents]

      14 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. 15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey. 16 Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents. 17 And likewise he who had received two gained two more also. 18 But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money. 19 After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

      20 “So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’ 21 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ 22 He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’ 23 His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

      24 “Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’

      26 “But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. 27 So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. 28 Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.

      29 ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

    • Georgie-ann

      edit: “… personal significance and personal responsibility.”

  2. Georgie-ann

    1 Timothy 6:12 “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

    I remember an Easter — a good many years ago — when we were planning music for the services to come. We always have to have a very special Entrance Song for Easter Sunday:

    After a grueling year — for now-(almost)-forgotten reasons (& isn’t THAT interesting??!) — I was joking around (but also almost serious), and suggested that we use the then-popular song coming out of Australia: “I Get Knocked Down, but I Get Up Again (Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Keep Me Down!)”,… I thought it would be “perfect”,… (-:

    After not much consideration (but a good belly laugh by most), we didn’t choose it,… However, It is still one of my personally favorite adopted vernacular “Christian mottos” to this day,… and for good reason,… as you are saying!

    Discouragement and “appearances” — (especially of losing or “perceived failure”) — are heavy weapons in satan’s artillery,… but God REALLY doesn’t focus on such appearances when He can see and hear the “heart cry” of those who love Him deeply inside,… I’ve quit trying to “look good” and just ask God to help me “be His” and “BE good and sincere and faithful and honest” in the ways that matter to Him,… He WILL help us if we honestly and sincerely ask Him to, and we DO honestly and sincerely need His help to be able to do so,… simplicity and dedication and determination to “never let go” will bring us into the “higher ground” that we seek and desire,… but it usually doesn’t come without a struggle (or ten),… ALL “overcomers” have “been there” in one way or another,… “keep on keepin’ on” is good for most days, but sometimes “hang on” is just about all we can do,… these are the challenges and trials through which our faith is perfected and strengthened,… if you hold on, you get to keep the purified “gold” that results, and which satan has no power over,… it’s a promise:

    1 Peter 1:6-8
    6 “[You should] be exceedingly glad on this account, though now for a little while you may be distressed by trials and suffer temptations,
    7 “So that [the genuineness] of your faith may be tested, [your faith] which is infinitely more precious than the perishable gold which is tested and purified by fire. [This proving of your faith is intended] to redound to [your] praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) is revealed.
    8 “Without having seen Him, you love Him; though you do not [even] now see Him, you believe in Him and exult and thrill with inexpressible and glorious (triumphant, heavenly) joy.”

    Job 23:9-11
    9 “On the left hand [and to the north] where He works [I seek Him], but I cannot behold Him; He turns Himself to the right hand [and to the south], but I cannot see Him.
    10 “But He knows the way that I take [He has concern for it, appreciates, and pays attention to it]. When He has tried me, I shall come forth as refined gold [pure and luminous].
    11 “My foot has held fast to His steps; His ways have I kept and not turned aside.”

    Zechariah 13:9 “And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined and will test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will hear and answer them. I will say, ‘It is My people;’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.'”

    Malachi 3:3 “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the priests, the sons of Levi, and refine them like gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord offerings in righteousness.”

    Revelation 3:18 “Therefore I counsel you to purchase from Me gold refined and tested by fire, that you may be [truly] wealthy, and white clothes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nudity from being seen, and salve to put on your eyes, that you may see.”

    “I Get Knocked Down, but I Get Up Again (Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Keep Me Down!)”,… and “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”,… AND satan loses, God wins,… these are the important “true things” to keep in mind,…

    “All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,
    but He made Something Beautiful,
    of my Life.” ~~ the Gaithers

    Amen. God’s Truth is ongoing into Eternity.


    • Georgie-ann

      edit: “However, it … ”

      Psalm 51:10,11
      10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God,
      And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
      11 “Do not cast me away from Your presence,
      And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”

      Turning to God, and returning to God, — if we have layers (even some very very deep ones) of inappropriate accumulated “worldliness” to shed or release — can feel difficult,… sometimes even heart-wrenching. Is it simply easier to hold onto the old momentum?,… and keep on coasting into confusion, denial and oblivion — status quo — never turning around, never deeply desiring to separate from sin?,… in fact, clinging to our sin?,…

      To truly receive a “new life” in Christ, we have to also be willing to release/let go of the all-too-familiar, worn-out “old life” and identity and “personal rights” that we’ve called “ourselves” and that we’ve been feverishly/fervently clinging to,… sometimes like a Linus identity-security blanket,… maybe a ratty, torn and soiled, and by now smelly, old identity-security blanket?,…

      … and then we need to seek God’s blessing,… seek His face,… seek His Words and instructions,… acknowledge Him to be on the throne of our lives, and not ourselves,… acknowledge that He IS truly beautiful and worthy of all love and honor and praise, and that I am happy to step down from my imposing, personal, artificial thrones and egotistical props and sorry excuses for sin,…

      “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound …” It IS sweet when we really mean it,…

      • Georgie-ann

        edit: “… in fact, clinging to our sin?,…” sin surely wants to cling to us (it needs a host!), and unless we interfere with its “strong holds” on us, it will never choose to go elsewhere (or allow us to be healed) of its own accord,…

  3. Well said. Running and living life go foot in foot.

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