Running to Win

[L]et us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. – Hebrews 12:1

Last Saturday was the culmination of a month of festivities in our new home town. The Kentucky Derby is for many Louisvillians the most exciting two minutes of the year, and Marty and I were privileged to witness it live from one of the many parties that day.

Tom and Julia have been throwing Derby parties for over twenty years, so it’s a special tradition for friends and neighbors, who arrive with hats and “fascinators” on their heads, dishes to share in their hands, and dollar bills for “betting” in their pockets.

I couldn’t have named one horse in the race before we got there, but it didn’t matter. To make the race more interesting, we all drew names out of an envelope so we would have a horse to root for.

When it was time for the big race, the guests gathered around the TVs in the living room, den, and patio. The bugle sounded, the band played Stephen Foster’s “My Old Kentucky Home,” and the horses were led out onto the track in front of 150,000 cheering fans. The sunshine, the bright colors, the music created a solemn but festive mood, and we recognized among the throngs of ordinary people some celebrities who had come to Churchill Downs to see and be seen. We had only lived in Louisville for a few years and weren’t exactly life-long Derby fans. Still, having the name of a horse in my hand and being included in the event, I was starting to get into the spirit.

When the starting gun went off and the horses shot out of the gate, the roar of the crowd at the track was joined by fans in the living room, the dining room, and the patio. I knew that all over the world, on countless televisions, laptops, and phones, millions of eyes were fixed on the horses thundering down the track.

Just then, an unexpected wave of emotion came over me; I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. (The more pragmatic side of me thought, What the heck…???) Suddenly I felt for the jockeys hanging on and urging their horses forward and for the beautiful creatures that were running their hearts out toward the finish line.

The cheering that came from all directions grew louder as the finish line came into view, and one horse that had not been expected to do that well came around the outside and passed the one in the lead just in time to take the prize! The cheering reached a crescendo, and I sat there in tears, realizing that I had not been watching a horserace but an object lesson from God, a reminder to encourage me.

The author of the book of Hebrews wrote out a list of great people of faith in Chapter 11, which some call “the Faith Hall of Fame” – Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and others, whose lives were filled with miracles and whose stories made it into the Scriptures. (Hebrews 11:33-35a)

The passage also commended others, whose names are unknown in the world but known to God. These were tortured, jeered at, destitute, persecuted, imprisoned, and put to death. (“The world was not worthy of them.” – vs 38a) I have always found those verses comforting, knowing that just because I’m not a spiritual “celebrity” and my prayers haven’t always produced miracles doesn’t mean I’m not a child of God or that I am not serving Him well.

But it’s the opening verse of the next chapter that came rushing back into my spirit so unexpectedly that afternoon.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. – Hebrews 12:1

For every one of us who believe in Jesus, we are also in a race, and it can be grueling. I know from experience that sometimes I can feel as though I am struggling on my own to just get through the week, the day, or the hour. You might feel that way, too.

You might be reading this in a hospital room. Maybe visiting hours are over, the floor is quiet, and you feel everyone in the world is asleep except you.

You might be experiencing unspeakable grief, so horrendous that people don’t know what to say to you, so they say nothing, and you’re left feeling utterly alone.

You might be the only Christian in your family, or in your class at school, or in your workplace. Every day seems like a swim against the current, and the enemy might be whispering to you, You’ve done your best, now it’s time to give up.

Or you might just be at a party, wondering if you’re the only believer there, as everyone around you is going wild over two minutes of watching horses run. And then, out of nowhere, there’s a reminder…

We are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses.” – Not just 150,000 in the stands, but millions upon millions who have gone before us. Not just the spiritual “celebrities,” but also countless ordinary people who served an extraordinary God, along with a myriad of angels, reminding us,

You’re not alone!”

Can you hear them cheering us on? Perhaps not, but they are! They are rooting for us, encouraging us not to give up, and constantly declaring, reminding us,

“Don’t give up! He is worthy! He is sufficient! He is faithful!” This is what I was “hearing” from God, and when the race was over, I looked down and saw that the Lord had added an exclamation point.

I had the name of the winning horse in my hand.

Prayer: Father, Thank You for Your promise that we are never alone. Thank You for the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us, who can attest to Your faithfulness. Help us take hold of that reality and live our lives accordingly, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

34 thoughts on “Running to Win

  1. Really awesome post !! Growing up I always thought that verse was talking about non-believers watching us so we need to behave ourselves. It wasn’t until probably my thirties that I started realizing many Christians talk about it being previous saints.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great analogy and post, Annie! My favorite part was when you looked down at what you were holding in your hand. “Winner!” God reminded you that you are, indeed, a winner.


  3. 🙏🏽 Amen , Annie. May we run our race remembering the others who went before us and be encouraged. Love the fact that you had the name of the winning horse. A sweet reminder that that we are running on the right track.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Whyizzit we think only Christians with celebrity status–the well-known authors, musicians, speakers, etc. are the ones REALLY serving God well? That it’s their work that REALLY counts? Just recently I heard Ken Davis (a Christian motivational speaker) say in a youtube video: “God is not looking for extraordinary people; God is looking for people who will trust an extraordinary God.” HE’s the One in charge of results. And when we get to heaven, we may be surprised at the ripple effects from what the world would call unimpressive efforts! (Think five loaves and two fishes!) You are so right, Annie: each of us must run the race that God has placed before us–with faith and perseverance–and leave the results to him.


    1. Amen, Nancy! When I think of people who did great things behind the scenes, I always think of my son’s kindergarten teacher, who came to school early each day and prayed over every little chair in her classroom. 💕


  5. Wow! Love this!!
    As I was reading this I was nodding my head in relation…there are often times when I’ll watch my daughter wrestle or my son run for track or any of the other athletes and I’m so overcome with emotion (tearing up, heart racing) like this joy for them but I’ve never really understood it…but as you explain your scenario that really resonates with my own experiences. Thanks so much for sharing, Annie.

    I love the ending to this post, ‘God added an exclamation point as you noticed you held the paper with the winning horse and rider.’ So good.❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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