Paul compared the Christian life with running a marathon because it requires endurance. It is not a team effort; each athlete must push through pain and fatigue to finish the 26 mile course. However, the marathon of life doesn’t end predictably at the 26 mile-marker. It may be 70 plus years or less. Each runner must finish the course that has been set out for him.
Compare another race, the 4 x 400 meter relay, with the Christian life. The 4 × 400, considered by some to be the most exciting track event, is traditionally the final event of a track meet. Teams consist of four athletes; each running a lap around the oval track. The race is often won or lost in a 20-meter section or box where the baton must be transferred from one runner to the next. The critical hand off occurs three times during the race, and dropping the baton results in instant disqualification.
In life’s relay, each generation has been charged to pass the baton of Faith to the next generation. Like any relay race, passing the baton is critical. Biblical history is filled with examples of one generation failing to pass the baton of Faith to those who followed. The most obvious example is stated in Judges 2:6-10:
“When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:6–10, ESV, emphasis mine)
Note several observations from Judges 2:
- The conquest of the Promised Land had been completed, and the members of each of the twelve tribes had dispersed to their assigned borders. Each had an amazing story to share.
- The generation that bravely fought to claim the land had witnessed God’s hand in victory and continued to serve the Lord as long as Joshua and their parents were alive.
- The third generation after the conquest no longer “knew the Lord or the work he had done for their grandparents and parents.” The second generation had failed to pass the baton of Faith to those who followed.
Those observations are still relevant. Each believer has experienced God’s faithfulness and has their own personal “God-stories”. Each person in our small home group has shared concern for their children and grandchildren, and we pray that each of them will truly “know” and follow the Lord. Regrettably, many young people who have been raised in Christian homes and Bible-believing churches drop out of the race after leaving home.
The obvious question is “Why?”
It’s easy to blame secular public education. However, even children who are home-schooled drift away from their parents’ faith. We wonder why the proverb, “train up a child in the way he should go” failed? Well, after all, it is a proverb not a universal promise or a guarantee. Obviously, the odds are greater that a child trained in God’s Word will follow the Lord than a child that has been neglected like a weed.
Why this attrition? Perhaps, because the human heart is bent toward rebellion. The Proverbs also teach that truth, and Jeremiah’s diagnosis rings true today: “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.” We’re predisposed from birth to pursue our own way. The first rebel. Satan, has perverted our culture, and the assault against moral decency and the nuclear family is pervasive.
Like all older men, I remember “the good old days.” Things were certainly better when I was a child.
However, I believe there is a more subtle, yet pervasive reason for abandoning the Faith. Perhaps we parents have failed to pass on our stories about God’s of faithfulness. We need to continue teaching our children and grandchildren the old stories about God parting the sea for Israel and about providing water in the desert. Our children need to hear the ten most foundational words in the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Let us teach our children to memorize truths like, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” We must continue to teach doctrinal truth because theology helps us know God better.
The Bible is filled with amazing stories of what God has done in the past. But do our children witness what God is doing in their parents’ lives? Have we failed to recognize God’s provision? We don’t pray for sufficient food to feed our family because the cupboards and the freezer are full? Has life been so good that we don’t feel the need to cry out to God in desperation?”
A life without challenges tends to leave us spiritually weak. It is in the midst of trials like those Israel faced—giants and Jericho’s—that faith becomes personal experience.
Let us, who have been the recipients of God’s provision and faithfulness, share our stories lest there arise a generation that doesn’t know God or what He is doing today. We must tell our stories lest God becomes an ancient myth who is no longer relevant.
I believe passing on our stories is so critical that Mary and I have written our family story—we call it “God’s story—so that we can pass it on to those who follow.
In this marathon relay of life, the baton contains both the ancient stories and contemporary evidence that God is still working in our lives today. There is no “20-meter box” in which to pass the baton between one generation and the next. None of us knows when our race will end, but it will probably not be 110 years like Joshua.
It’s always the right time to be passing the baton to those who will run the next leg of the race.