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What Does It Take To Finish Strong?

Starting something is no problem, but finishing is the point.  But I don’t just want to finish something, I want to finish strong, especially when it comes to my faith.

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One year ago, my brother in law (Ryan Akers) and I were deep into our training to run the Las Vegas Rock and Roll Marathon.  This was my second stab at a marathon, and Ryan’s first.  Neither of us had the experience or outcome we wanted, but both of us finished strong and Ryan recently wrote an article on our experience and what he learned from it to finish strong.

Ryan is the Lead Pastor of Radiant Life Church in Burlington, KS and God is using him and his church to make a massive impact in their community.  While running is the illustration, the principles remain the same.  Whether you’re starting a business, planting a church or living out your faith in Christ, the insights he gives on finishing strong will be helpful for you:

On November 13th I took on the most difficult physical challenge of my life by going to Las Vegas and running my first full marathon. For those of you who are not runners, a marathon is 26.2 miles in distance. For four months I trained 6 days per week. I eventually worked my training runs up to 20 miles in length. The training was grueling but necessary.  By the time the race rolled around, I felt very confident I was ready. And then the race began.

For the first 18 miles I felt great. My timing was a little off but close to where I wanted it to be so that by the last 6 miles, I could pick up my pace and finish strong. My ultimate goal was to simply finish, but in the back of my head I really wanted to run it in less than 4 hours. However, at mile 18, I experienced something so sudden and unexpected that no amount of training could have prepared me.

Both of my legs suddenly, and without warning, completely seized up and my body would not run. I could go at a light jog, but I could very quickly tell that my finish time was the least of my worries. I was more concerned I wasn’t going to finish at all.

Many runners will talk about hitting a wall during a marathon. It’s the moment where your body and your mind are telling you over and over again that you must quit, that you have nothing left, and you need to give up. During the race I could see people hit their walls. Some hit them much earlier than I did. Some a few miles later. Every one of us were faced with the same choice…do we quit before the finish line, or do we somehow find the strength, will, and determination to fight through and finish strong?

That, I believe, is a question we must all face in life, because all of us will inevitably hit a wall. Be it with parenting, marriage, work, money, school, death, sickness etc…somewhere in life we will face a moment where we have to make the same choice to either give up and quit or find the strength, will, and determination to fight through and finish strong.

During the race I did one thing right and one thing wrong. The thing I did right was give my race to God. And when that choice came to quit or fight I simply began to pray for God to be the One to give me the help I needed to keep going. I very much believe He did. The same goes for our lives. To finish strong we need to not trust in our own strength or will, but we need to look to the very One who gave us that strength and will, because it is only God who can truly help us fight through the walls we will encounter.

Isaiah 40:31 reminds us,But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

Even though I did something right in giving the race to God, I also did something wrong.  I began the race with my brother-in-law, and together we encouraged each other and felt confident. However, after 13 miles I did the math and discovered my 4 hour goal was quickly fading simply because he couldn’t hold the pace needed. Eventually he told me to leave him and go on. And so I did. Big mistake. Because when I seized up at mile 18, I had no one to encourage me or push me or cheer me on to keep going.

At that moment the course was in a very isolated part of the city with no bystanders cheering, music blaring, or Vegas lights glaring. I felt very much as if I was on an island alone. At one point I slowed down to let him catch up, but he was too far behind. I learned later that as soon as I left him, he started struggling almost immediately and had to fight through to finish as I did.

Leaving his side and going it alone to reach a goal was my biggest mistake. Having someone with you to fight through your walls is so incredibly important. God has wired us to be in relationships. Going it alone is ALWAYS much harder than going through something with someone along side you who cares for you and is cheering you on to finish strong.

Proverbs 27:17 reminds us that, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”

When we face a wall in life, it’s important to not only have God but also the friends God has placed in our lives to help us fight through and finish strong. In the end, I did make it but you know what helped? Around mile 23, another friend who ran the half marathon found me and ran a half mile with me. That gave me the encouragement I needed to run to mile 26 where my sister and friends cheered me on to the finish line. When we allow people to run with us, facing our walls becomes that much easier.

So whatever you are dealing with today, whatever wall you might be facing, be sure to never try and go it alone. Don’t try to be tough and think that by your own strength and determination you can get it done. Trust first in God. Give him your problems and know that He is with you. And second, let people in to help carry your burdens. Let them encourage you, pray for you, and even run with you. That, after all, is one of the very reasons God created the church.  

When we trust in God and run the race with others, then no wall we face is impossible to break through. In fact, not only can we break through, but we can finish the race strong just as the Apostle Paul did at the end of his life when he spoke the words, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” Trust God, lean on others, finish strong.