Who’s First?

It’s fascinating to listen to children playing games of any kind.   Inevitably, they argue about who will have the privilege of going first.  In my own experience, I learned that being first does not always prove advantageous, particularly in strategy games.  Sometimes it’s better to hold back and observe what the other players do before making my own move.  

In sports, earning the championship of a league or your state is a particularly sought-after goal.  Initially, I assumed that the person or team who placed first was, without a doubt, the most skilled.  THAT was before I spent years watching my children play various sports and discovered that players cheat, and referees don’t always see everything.   On occasion, strategy in team sports may also trump skill.

Since I personally was NEVER good at anything athletic (with the exception of giving birth, which was one of my more stellar feats for a number of years), I never once experienced the thrill of a sports champion.   However, in spite of the fact that, as a child, I was passed over when my athletic friends picked teammates for any given sport, I was their first choice for an academic teammate.  That fact heartened me considerably, until I figured out that some of those people, in actuality, were NOT real friends, but were instead using me for my spelling or math ability.   Ah, the woes of the lessons of life!

What’s the point?   Being first is not always a glorious experience.  It carries with it advantages and disadvantages, joys and sorrows.   Whoever goes first is the one who takes the initial risk, the one who confronts the opponent.   Whoever goes first often sets the tone for those who follow.   Success or failure may hinge on the wisdom of the first move.   Moreover, the person who starts out may not end up being the person who reaches the goal first.  The ultimate winner, the first to cross the finish line or the one who ends up with the most points, is the one who will win the prize.

A forerunner is a more elegant term for someone who goes first – one who runs ahead of the pack.   Forerunners are often misunderstood, as they often set out for a goal that, for various reasons, remains invisible to others, at least for a season.  Forerunners take a risk in choosing their path, as there is no guarantee anyone else will follow.   They must be convinced in advance of the purpose of their venture and absolutely certain that the prize will prove worth the hazards of the journey.   Forerunners risk loneliness, ridicule, roadblocks, injury, and failure.  They are pioneers on a heretofore-unblazed trail. 

Some people seem to specialize in the forerunner role – they are quick to perceive the need to pursue a particular goal and seem to have innate energy to run for the prize.  Despite the inherent loneliness of the journey, they manage to sustain enough energy to finish the race, and they enjoy encouraging others who later catch the same vision and follow them on the same path.  True forerunners persevere in the race, even long after the initial (and spurious) glamour of “going first” has evaporated.  They remain in the game when others have tired of it.

However, if a forerunner truly longs to remain a forerunner, he/she must be careful not to get too comfortable hanging out with the masses who eventually endorse the same goal and catch up with him.  He must not glory in the fact that he chose the right path or that others are now adopting the same practices or behaviors.   When that happens, he/she is, by definition, no longer a forerunner.   It is far too easy to lose one’s edge when what was once fresh and new and challenging develops into something that is generally accepted. 

As always, Jesus is our example.   We must never forget that HE is the quintessential forerunner, the One Who lived a sinless life on our behalf, the One Who became sin for us on the cross, the One Who was resurrected FIRST by the power of the Holy Spirit (not to mention the fact that He is the Beginning AND the End, Alpha AND Omega, the First AND the Last.   He is the one who has always gone first and the one who always wins – for us!  From His position at the right hand of the Father, He always serves to intercede for us, cheer us on, and empower us!  

We must be vigilant to honestly monitor the condition of our hearts.   Let us not be encumbered by our past – the overweight baggage of sorrows and fears, even of past triumphs and treasures.   If we are called as forerunners, we cannot continue to count ourselves as such if we get bogged down in those triumphs and treasures or if we languish with others in what used to be fresh but now has become common, even stagnant.  If we are called to be forerunners, let us follow His example:  “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast and which has entered the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”  (Hebrews 6:19-20)  Let us run with perseverance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith!  (Hebrews 12:1-3)   He will empower us to “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). 

Father, help me to remain fresh and watchful, untiring in my pursuit of You!   Help me let go of souvenirs and prizes from past races that are now hindering my gait and my pace.   Empower me to continue to run for the prize and press my ear to Your heart!

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