Once, a boy was born into an average family. He was taught to love the Lord and to be satisfied with what he had. The boy's family was not wealthy, but he had all he needed. Then, as most boys do, he grew to be a man. He himself lived an average life. In time, he had his own family.
Through the years, the man had a burning in his heart. His heart wanted to run. And so, starting slowly, the man began to run. At first, he wasn't very successful at running. His lungs burned, his feet hurt and he lacked stamina. However, the man never quit. He continued to run and became quite gifted at it. He began to enter local competitions--some he won, and some he lost. After many years of training, the man finally qualified for the biggest race of his life.
On race day, the man entered the stadium and was impressed with the number of people who had gathered to watch. He stretched and warmed up and got ready for the big race. He concentrated on the finish line, determined to lead the pack. When the shot gun sounded, the man took off. At first he lagged behind the other runners. Slowly, as the man applied his mind, and forced his body forward, he began to catch up and eventually took the lead. With only 10 meters left to go, the man's heart soared as he saw the finish line, knowing he was destined to win the prize.
Just then, pain shot up his leg and the man fell to the ground. All the other runners passed him and crossed the finish line to the sound of a roaring crowd. Blinded by pain and anger, the man forced himself to his feet. He suddenly felt a stranger take his arm.
The stranger said quietly, “Finish the race".
“Why does it matter?” The man moaned. “I gave all that I had, ran my best, and I have failed miserably. I ran in such a way as to get the prize, yet I will go home with no more than a wounded leg and a broken heart.”
“Ah,” said the stranger, “But is the ultimate goal an earthly prize, or a heavenly crown?”
“But the Lord put a burning in my heart to run!” cried the man.
“And run you have.” replied the stranger. “When the Lord asked you to run, you ran. He is pleased with your obedience. He never promised that you would receive glory among men.”
“But I've given so much time and effort to my training. I wanted to stand on the podium and be recognized for my efforts. Doesn't the Lord want to see me succeed?” asked the man.
“Let me ask you something.” said the stranger. “Have you ever cheated or taken drugs to make your body stronger?”
“No” replied the man.
“The first place runner has.” said the stranger, pointing at the podium. “Have you had unlimited resources, and the best possible equipment?”
“No” was the man’s reply.
“The second place winner has.” noted the stranger.
“But I would have been satisfied with third place.” said the man, as he continued to stagger forward. “No one will remember me.”
“Look into the stands.” said the stranger. “Where is everyone's focus?”
“At the winner's podium.” answered the man.
“And your family and friends--where is their focus?” asked the stranger.
Noticing for the first time a small group of eyes, tear-filled and anxious, the man replied, “On me”.
“Then let us finish the race.” the stranger said as they together approached the finish line.
After a few more pain filled steps, the man completed the race. The family and friends stood to their feet and began to cheer.
“You have made your mark on the world.” said the stranger, pointing out the small group watching them. “This stadium will not remember your name, but you have run the race that the Lord has set before you. You have shown your family hard work and dedication. You have a crown awaiting you in heaven. The victors of this race will have glory for a day, but have only an eternity of darkness before them.”
“How can you possibly know that?” asked the man. “Who do you think you are?"
As the man turned to face the stranger, he was no longer there. A soft breeze began to blow and the man heard a whisper. . .
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