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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
I am always inspired by running stories: the human body pushed to the limits, overcoming presumably insurmountable odds. Paul also saw the value of using the picture of a foot race. “I fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” he tells the early followers toward the end of his ministry. The focus of these motivating stories is not the race, it is the finish line, the ultimate goal. The goal is before the runner, not behind. Runners don’t run backward. Looking back while you are running the race, in fact, it’s defeating.
In 1954 one of the faster runners in history saw the importance of looking at the goal and not where he had been. Runners John Landy and Roger Bannister could run a mile faster than any runner at the time. First, Bannister ran a mile in less than four minutes. Later the same year, Landy finishes a mile just one second faster than his opponent. They face each other in the much anticipated British Empire and Commonwealth Games. Thousands of people tuned in to watch the race on television and thousand more listened to announcers on the radio. Landy led Bannister the entire race and looked to win easily.
Until Landy looked over his left shoulder.
Bannister passed him on the right. Bannister finished his fastest mile ever a fraction of a second faster than Landy. By taking his eyes off the finish line and slowing down to take a look at what was behind him, Landy lost.
Looking back is like that for us. When we look back at the past, we are tempted to hang on to events and feelings that come with them and drag them into the future. This slows us down toward the goal of being transformed into the person God wants us to be.
Perhaps there was a tragedy that knocked you off your feet. It’s over now, but the pain remains. Or, something good happened, the birth of a new baby, new jobs, weddings. We want to hang on to those events.
Here’s the difference between looking back and remembering. Looking back takes our eyes off the ultimate goal, the finish line. Looking back means we are turning away from the goal. Looking back causes us to focus on the event, not how that event shapes us for the future. Just as Landy turned, just a split second, it took his eyes off of the prize before him.
Remembering, on the other hand, keeps our eyes on what is in front of us. The events of the past are not gone. The knowledge and experience remain. I’m not a running coach, but I imagine if Landy had kept facing toward the finish line and remembered his training, his strategy for winning, instead of looking for his opponent, he might have gained that extra split second to win. For us, remembering means focusing on the future and remembering how God provided and protected us. Remembering helps us continue to trust and obey in His sovereignty.
My dear friends, remember the past but don’t look back and dwell there. Remember how God lavished grace, love, and comfort when you needed it most. Remember how He delivered you from circumstances that would have surely destroyed. Remember His provision and guidance in the past. Then run the race set before you, looking toward the goal, the ultimate prize.