On March 3, Sir Roger Bannister died at age 88. He will be forever remembered as the 25-year old medical student from England who for the first time broke the four minute mile at 3:59.4 seconds on a cold, blustery day. It seemed to be an unbreakable barrier that was humanly impossible.
The apostle Paul often used athletic metaphors. As he awaited execution in the Mamertine Prison in Rome for preaching the gospel, he wrote: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). His conscience was clear before God and man. He faithfully preached Christ, maintained his integrity and ran all out for Christ.
I was stunned and saddened this week to hear that dark clouds have overshadowed the reputations of two prominent Christian leaders in their 60’s. One has repeatedly denied charges of indiscretion, while the other has confessed and resigned from his position. Satan is always seeking to trip us up as we run the race. Of course, moral integrity is crucial.
How Bannister ran and broke the record teaches us some practical principles. He later became a prominent neurologist, but learned to steel his mind as he ran, harnessing his imagination. He persevered, though the wind was resistant to runners. He almost backed out, but with a teachable spirit listened to Coach Stampfl who said, “If you pass it up today, you may never forgive yourself for the rest of your life.”
Christian runners must compete in community with teamwork. Roger had “pacemakers,” Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, who were to push him lap after lap. He had to forgive one of them who had a false start. Christians sin and make mistakes. He also had to overcome feelings of failure as the times for each half mile were announced. Disappointment should drive us to do better. Bannister held back until the right time, then with an all-out sprint crossed the finish line and collapsed, almost unconscious, claiming to feel like “an exploded flashbulb.” He was truly “all in” to break the record.
Sir Roger knew the importance of long-term priorities. He focused on his medical studies and astonishingly only worked out for 45 minutes at lunch time. Such a limited routine is unusual. A month before setting the record he actually took a three day break to go hiking and clear his mind and spirit. We “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
These principles are important for “a long obedience in the same direction,” as Eugene Peterson described the Christian life. “Let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NASV).