“YOU are an Ironman!”
This is the glorious announcement that greets every athlete who finishes an Ironman triathlon. On two different occasions I’ve had the privilege of being at these events, cheering on friends and family throughout the grueling race.
An Ironman isn’t for the faint of heart. It begins with a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike race, and culminates in a 26.2 mile marathon. In all, it demands 140.6 miles of raw courage.
The Ironman website flat out states: IRONMAN is a statement of excellence, passion, commitment. It is a test of physical toughness and mental strength. IRONMAN is about persevering, enduring and being a part of something larger than ourselves. It shows the heights that can be achieved when we push beyond our boundaries and go the distance.
If you finish an Ironman, no matter how long it takes, you deserve to be honored.
As supporters for the athletes, we spend race day running, driving, or walking between vantage points, hoping to be in the right place at the right time to cheer on and encourage our friend or family member to keep going.
It is the finish line however, that is the clincher. It is here, while waiting to celebrate the victory of our loved one, that we also celebrate the victories of others. The sight isn’t always pretty, but it is always beautiful.
At the start of the race, the athletes are fresh and strong. At the end, it’s another story. Some straggle in, willing their battered bodies, through sheer grit, to keep moving; others sprint to the finish line like they could do this all day (and they already have); a few limp to the end, wounded from a fall but unwilling to give up. Without exception, they are sweat stained, disheveled and determined. With eyes fixed on the goal, they surge forward to the finish line and are celebrated. As each athlete passes by, the crowd erupts in thunderous applause and shouts of encouragement, and the announcer calls them by name declaring their new status as Ironmen.
As I joined the crowd at the finish line this last time, it occurred to me that there are similarities between the rigor of an Ironman, and what it takes to really follow Christ. Being a follower of Jesus is not for the faint of heart.
Signing up is easy because Another has already paid the registration fee. However, the training, sacrifice, single-minded focus, and discipline required to finish well can feel formidable. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth it.
I know that in my life, without the Spirit, friends and a faith community rooting for me to stay strong until the end, I might not have made it until now.
It takes faith to believe we are part of something larger than ourselves; that there really is a cloud of witnesses cheering us on; that there is something more worth fighting for; that the unseen is more real than what is visible; and that excellence, passion and commitment are key to finishing well.
Interestingly enough, at each Ironman, the crowd typically grows larger, not smaller, as the night progresses. Athletes who finished earlier, along with their supporters, return to the finish line to urge on those who are still running the race. What is celebrated there is not record times, but tenacity.
This same inner drive and determination to keep going and not shrink back is also what will be honored that day when we finally complete this earthly race and receive the heavenly prize. A great cloud of witnesses will erupt in praise and we will hear our names called out, our new names, along with the welcoming words from our King, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17
“But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” Hebrews 10:39
Tamara Carpenter is part of Newsong’s Board and a regular contributor to this blog.