Perhaps we’re tempted to see Christian discipleship as being a participant in the Olympics. Banners flying, prestigious stadiums, capacity crowds combining to form an extremely heady scene. Responding to the roar of the crowd, we strip off our training weights and begin to run like greyhounds toward the tape. We’re true Olympians, world-class athletes, or so we imagine.

Then, the going gets tough. We find that we are not as lean and speedy as we originally thought. We’ve got a few more years under our belts as well as a few more pounds over them! The truth is that we more closely resemble the Special Olympics than anything else. Some of us are on crutches, others in wheelchairs. Any true Olympians have left us in the dust ages ago.

The most serious concern here at the back of the pack is not winning—that is out of reach for any of us. No, our chief concern is making sure that we finish. Not one of us wants to wind up as Esau. When the race started he was over standing in the food line and completely missed the starting gun! He was too tired and hungry to pay attention and so forfeited his inheritance. Given the present level of our fatigue, abandoning the race and heading for the pub is a real threat for us too.

So we stumble forward, slowly limping toward “the joy set before us.” Our legs ache, our arms droop, and our knees wobble. After a few miles of limping we come to peace with the fact that we’re not at the front but at the rear of this mass of runners. Our egos recover and we discover that we are exactly where God wants us. When we see our fellow runners falter we ourselves stop to help. Here at the back compassion is much more important than competition anyway. All we have to do is finish, why not access God’s grace and make sure that all of those within our community finish as well?

Then we learn the most amazing thing of all: as we stay in the race our broken limbs are healed. It is those who stay on the sidelines who watch their injuries get worse.

Now nothing can keep us down—we will finish the race, we will cross the tape, we will inherit the crown. And it will definitely be worth the cost!