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Run the Race!: Discover Your Purpose and Experience the Power of Being on God's Winning Team
by Christine Caine
Learn More | Meet Christine Caine
The Divine Relay
"I can 't believe we 're here at the Olympics! The Olympics, Nick! Isn 't it awesome?"
He could barely hear me above the roar of the crowd.
"Awesome!" he shouted back.
We took in the view together—the massive stadium filled with light and color and motion and 110,000 spectators, the buzz of conversations in who knew how many languages, the red track below, and the runners taking their positions.
The year was 2000—Saturday, September 30. The place, Sydney, in my homeland. I 'd celebrated my thirthy-fourth birthday a week before, and being here felt like the best birthday gift of my life.
Though I 'm Australian by birth, Greek blood runs through my veins. The image of the five interlocking Olympic rings fluttering on the Olympic flags above us and plastered all over Sydney made my heart swell.
I love all things sport and always have. I competed as a runner in high school, and running is still my favorite workout. As a spectator, I 've always been partial to the 4 x 100-meter relay, and the women 's relay in particular. My husband, Nick, and I were about to watch this very race in person. Eight countries were competing in the final race for gold. I was cheering for the USA team to take the medal.
Before the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the USA women 's 4 x 100-meter relay team had won the gold medal nine times out of sixteen Olympics. They were the reigning Olympic champions.
Nick and I watched the runners moving onto the track, four per team. White lines marked the three exchange zones, each 20 meters in length, in every lane. The first runner, the starter, would cover about 100 meters and enter the first exchange zone to meet the second runner, who would already be running, arm stretched out behind, hand open, ready to receive the baton that had to be handed off within that 20-meter exchange zone. Runner two would carry the baton to the second exchange zone and hand the baton to runner three, who in turn would run about 100 meters, handing off the baton the the anchor, who would carry it across the finish. The entire race would be only one lap, 400 meters, and take less than one minute.
The runners took their positions. A hush fell over the crowd.
The shot rang off and they were off. The first USA handoff was smooth, and my cheers were lost in the roar around me as the US team took the lead. But in the next exchange zone, the second runner struggled to get the baton into the third runner 's hand. My heart fell. That muffed handoff had cost precious milliseconds and perhaps the race.
The seconds flew by—41.95 seconds to be exact. That 's how long it took for Bahama to win the gold. Jamaica was a mere .18 seconds behind, followed by the USA, at 42.20 seconds, trailing the winning team by .25 seconds.1
"Nick, they should have won!" I cried in disbelief. "How did this happen?" He didn 't need to answer. It had happened in the fraction of a second in the second handoff. I watched the screen replay the final seconds at the finish line. Exhilaration on the face of the Bahamian anchor, disbelief on the face of the American. I thought my heart would break for her and her team.
"At least they medaled," Nick said. "They won the bronze."
Those women hadn 't come for the bronze. They 'd come for the gold. They were running to win.
Four years passed.
In a hotel room in the US, on August 27, Nick and I sat in front of a television, captivated by scenes of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. My eyes were glued to the screen every available moment, but never was my anticipation higher than when Team USA took their places for the first round of the qualifying heats of the women 's 4 x 100 relay.
The American women were considered the four fastest runners on the field. Poor Nick was nearly deaf from my screams of joy when they proved themselves to be the fastest and strongest team in the first heat that day: 41.67 seconds!
The next day, nothing could have kept me away from watching the finals, the medal race. When Marion Jones, the second runner, received her baton and accelerated, I knew nothing would stop this incredible team. She approached Lauryn Williams for the second exchange of the baton.
"No!" I screamed, jumping to my feet. "No way!"
Had Lauryn started too early, too fast? Was Marion too far behind? No matter which of them was at fault, when that baton finally passed from Marion 's forward thrusting arm to Lauryn 's back-stretched hand, they had run out of the exchange zone.
But they were the fastest! They were the strongest! They had the lead! They were the best!
It didn 't matter. Not only did they miss the gold, they were disqualified. Stopped in their tracks. Not even a bronze medal. Once agains, they were undone in the exchange zone.
"How could this happen?" I cried.
Nick was a wise enough husband not to offer a response.
Fast-forward to Beijing in 2008, the semifinals—Thursday, August 21. This year, Nick and I, again traveling in ministry, watched from a cottage in the town of Ulverston, Cumbria, England. Exchange one—perfect! Exchange two—ideal! Whew! I was on my feet, screaming. Leading the race, Torri Edwards reached forward for that final exchange to Lauryn Williams...
What happened next is still seared in my memmory—the image of that baton slipping from Lauryn Williams 's grasp and hitting the track. She dropped the baton! Dropped it! And with it the hopes and dreams of every fan of Team USA. Disqualified in the semifinals! For the first time since 1948,2 Team USA wouldn 't even run in the final medal race. I speechless, which, if you ask Nick, was a miracle in itself.
The Games Go On And On And On...
By the time of the London 2012 games, I was afraid to watch the women 's 4 x 100 relay.
Not that I was going to let that stop me, of course. I assumed it was my love of the games, my love of the sport that kept drawing me back, but God had another reason for instilling within me a passion for the relay race. He had something important he wanted me to see.
This time, I was in America with Nick and our girls. We joined the 219.4 million Americans tuning in to the NBC coverage. On Friday, August 10, 2012, eight countries—thirty-two runners—once again took their places. Team USA was in lane 7, and my heart was right there with them.
I knew thatthe USA runners were at the top of their game. Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight, and Carmelita Jeter had nailed the qualifying round at the stunning speed of 41.64 seconds.3 This time I knew that did not mean victory was secure. Bitter experience had taught me a few things:
- Having the fastest runner doesn 't necessarily win the race.
- Having the fastest team doesn 't necessarily win the race.
- Having the most experienced or the most dedicated runners doesn 't necessarily win the race.
- Having the reigning champions or the contenders determined to reclaim their champtionship doesn 't necessarily win the race.
Unless the baton is safely passed in each and every exchange zone and carried first across the finish line, the entire team loses.
Everything hinges on what happens in the exchange zone.
And that 's when it hit me—this lesson from God twelve years in the making.
I wasn 't just watching an Olympic race. I was seeing a crystal-clear representation of how the church must work and what happens when it doesn 't. As those athletes moved into position in London in 2012, I was seeing the church lined up in lanes all over the globe, batons in hand, running the race that matters most in this world—the divine relay!
This divine relay is filled with exchange zones. If the baton of faith passes from person to person, from generation to generation, we speed unstoppable toward the finish line. But if the exchange is fumbled, the whole team, the whole church, suffers.
By this time in my life, I 'd been traveling across the globe for years doing ministry. Nick and I had been serving the local church and leaders through Equip & Empower Ministries and then through The A21 Campaign—an organization we founded in 2008 dedicated to abolishing modern-day slavery. Our focuse was on stopping human trafficking. Through Equip & Empower, as well as The A21 Campaign, I was learning just how important it is to get the "exchange zone" right to ensure that no runners stop running and walk off the field.
I 'd been running the race God called me to run. I 'd been handed qute a few batons along the way and had released many, some smoothly, some not so well. I had many batons I needed to deliver to the next runners. How could I do it with excellence? The divine relay is touch. There are so many ways to mangle the exchange zones, to overshoot, to be knocked of the track, to drop the baton, to stop running.
As the camera scanned the crowd that filled the Olympic stadium that day, Hebrews 12:1-2 flew into my mind:
- 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.
The first verse describes a great cloud of witnesses. I considered the millions of people watching the 2012 games all over the globe. Did this compare with "a great cloud of witnesses"?
Not compared to eternity! Not compared to the countless believers who have come before us and who will come after us. This was but a glimpse, a shadow, of how great God 's cloud of witnesses really is.
I turned my focus back to the London 2012 games unfolding before me. Team USA was in lane 7.
The start was brilliant. It was clear by the end of the first exchange that both Jamaica and USA had the speed to take the race. Coming out of the second exchange, the USA team was firmly in the lead.
And then the magic began.
The USA lead grew. And it grew more. The third exchange was perfect, and the crowd was going wild. The USA team was flying ahead. Barring some catastrophe, the question was no longer who would win. The question now was this: Would the USA beat the world record?
Nick and I and the girls were on our feet cheering them on.
And we watched it happen. Team USA sailed across the finish line in a world-record-smashing 40.82 seconds! The stadium exploded in uproarious celebration. I was jumping so high my daughters thought I would hit the ceiling. We 'd seen a unified team pass the baton with perfect precision and carry it first across the finish line faster than any team in history!
Perfect collaboration, each runner doing her personal best, running in sync, reaching, receiving, releasing, and pressing on with every ounce of strength she had to give. And when the anchor runner crossed the finish line, she carried not only the baton—she carried her entire team, her entire nation, to the gold.
I love the quote from Tianna Madison, the USA starter that day. "I knew that the Olympic record was coming down," she said. "I just knew that if we had clean baton passes that we would challenge the world record. Smash it like we did? I had no idea. But I knew it was in us."
Wow. Did you catch her phrase "if we had clean baton passes"? Everything hinges on what happens in the exchange zone.
"I knew it was in us," Tianna declared.
I know it 's "in us" to do the same! We can run our part in the divine relay.
Why? Because God is inus. God is for us. He tells us so in the book of Romans:
- Those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Our great God has not left us on our own to muddle through our spiritual exchange zones untrained. His Word and his story, written into you and me and into the lives of all believers the world over, will train us to master our exchange zones and win the race.
The race marked out for us.
The race marked out for you.
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