11. The last lap.

Faith, resembles a marathon. But why do people punish their bodies to run a gruelling marathon race? The sense of personal reward they get and the physical benefits of the exercise are often the reasons given. The same two rewards apply in the spiritual realm : great prizes await those who keep the faith and the very process of living by faith builds strong character.

There are three stages to a long distance race: The intial laps tend to be faster but before long, their pace slackens and the runners are faced with the nagging temptation to drop off. However, some refuse to give up and they press on to reach the finish line. On entering the final lap, the cheer of the onlookers spur them up and they seem to draw on an energy sourced from within the soul and pick up their pace as they come closer to the finish line.

So also the Church has entered the last lap of this gruelling race. After the Acts of the Apostles and the Apostolic fathers, the early Church gradually started losing momentum and then as it made through the medieval ages, it barely managed to trudge along until the call to revival started reverberating through the last few centuries. Since then the Church has picked up pace and now but it has reached the final moments of this race. ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us throw of everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’ ( Hebrews 12:1-3) The prize is not just for those who come first but for everyone who finishes the race. Therefore Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness …” ( 2 Timothy 4:7)

Even the greatest of saints have fallen prey to this nagging temptation to drop off. While fleeing from Jezebel, Elijah lay down under a broom tree and prayed, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” (1 Kings 19:4) Exhausted from the ordeal, he fell asleep but was woken up twice by an angel, only to find a cake of bread baked over hot coals and a jar of water, by his head. Strengthened by that food, he travelled forty days and forty nights to reach Horeb, the mountain of God and there he was told what to do next, and thereafter he was caught up in a whirlwind to heaven. Similarly, when John languished in prison, because of Herodias, he send his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back to John and report what you see and hear … Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Matthew 11:2-4,6 ) Assured that his labour was not in vain, John went on to lay down his life and was undeterred even in the face of death. If these giants of faith fumbled on their tracks and needed some prodding to gather pace, we too definitely need some prodding to spur us up, as the ‘fulfillment of the ages have come upon us’. ( 1 Corinthians 10:12)

The Church started out loud in the Upper room on the day of Pentecost and it is not going to end in a whimper! ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all the nations and the desired of the nations will come and I will fill this house with glory … The glory of the present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the Lord Almighty. (Haggai 2:6-9) Amen.

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