It has been wisely said that what matters most in life is not how you start the race, but how you finish it.
Famed Olympic ‘Flying Scotsman’ runner and missionary Eric Liddell embodies this sentiment. His 1924 Olympic race is depicted in the movie Chariots of Fire. The movie portrays a scene of Liddell running a 400-meter race in a Scotland-France dual meet. He is tripped up, falls to the ground and makes up the 20-meter deficit to win the race in dramatic fashion with his unconventional running style of head back and mouth open. Indeed, sometimes we stumble out of the gate, but the true test is whether we get up and keep running.
While we certainly want to give attention to the start of the race or “calling out the called,” we want to give at least equal care to “continuing in the race as the called.” How do those called to gospel ministry, regardless of whether it’s across the street or across the sea, run until the end?
There are so many distractions and temptations that compete for our devotion. For many called into gospel ministry, the trappings of fame, position, power, relationships and the like can cause us to stumble in the race.
Author Paul David Tripp helps gospel leaders understand that running the race until the end comes by our identity being in Christ and not in ministry. He explains, “Since the fall, people look horizontally for what they were designed to find vertically. They ask people, places and things to do for them what only identity in the Lord can do. And what people fail to understand is that wherever you look for identity will then exercise rulership over your heart and, in so doing, will direct the way you live your life” (Tripp, Leadership: 12 Gospel Principles for Leadership in the Church, 164).
From missionaries overseas, to church planters in hard- to-reach cities, to pastors in “normal” towns across the states, each are tempted to measure their “success” on peoples, places and things. In doing so, their misplaced identity will rule over their hearts and lives and zap the joy out of their call.
The New Testament is replete with passages that speak to our identity being rooted in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Peter 2:9; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 8:16-17).
Our “identity in Christ is intended to be the defining element in the way that a believer makes sense out of who he is and what he is supposed to be doing” (Tripp, Leadership, 166). Thus, the call of any gospel servant must be foundationally anchored to our identity in Christ lest we wane in our devotion and get tripped up along the race when fatigue and temptation and challenges confront us. After all, we certainly want to compel missionaries, church planters, pastors and church leaders to answer the call. But we don’t want them simply to answer the call, we want them to finish the race.
What matters most is not that you begin the race, but that you finish well, as your identity is rooted in Christ.
Doug Williams is missions strategist for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.