In 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebrations, two Midwestern salesmen sponsored ‘The Great American Horserace.’ The 3,500 mile race lasted 14 weeks and incorporated portions of the Oregon Trail, Pony Express Routes and even the journey of the doomed Donner Party. The Western Horseman magazine advertised it as ‘the adventure of a lifetime for the common American who regards his horse as something special.’ More than 200 entries (along with their $500 fee) poured in—for Appaloosas, Icelandic and Irish thoroughbreds and, of course, the highly favored Arabian stallions. And among all of those seasoned and impeccably bred race-horses there was one…mule. A man named Virl Norton entered his favorite mule Lord Fauntleroy—whom he brilliantly nicknamed Leroy—and his backup mule Lady Eloise. Everyone else saw it as a joke. But it wasn’t a joke to Virl; he intended to win and claim the $25,000 prize.
And he did. By a lot. Leroy came in 9 hours ahead the second place finisher—a pure bred Arabian. Everyone was amazed—except for Virl. He’d grown up in Wyoming breaking and training wild horses. He knew just as well as anybody that Leroy was no match for any of those other horses in most races. Those Arabians would leave Leroy in the dust in a 1 or 5 or 10 mile race. But the Great American Horserace wasn’t most races—the course crossed the country from the East coast to the West. To win this race, you didn’t need to be fast—you needed to last. Leroy wasn’t as pretty; he just loped along, he really couldn’t run at all. But what he could do was keep putting one foot in front on the other, day after day after day. No matter the weather, no matter the terrain, no matter how many miles he’d covered, Leroy just kept going. He could race in any condition. He didn’t look like he could win, but he did. It wasn’t even close. He didn’t run a beautiful race, he ran a winning one.
Church, we need this story. Because while we know that our life with Christ is a high stakes race, we always fail to consider how long this race lasts. We want a spiritual life filled with quick fixes, bursts of glory and cheering crowds. We believe we’re supposed to run like Arabians—dazzling bystanders with our beauty, speed, photo-finishes and lucrative payouts. But we’re not running that kind of race.
We’re running the kind of race where you just try to get from the starting line to the finish line however you can—and to do that we’ve got to have a mule-like stubborn resolve to take the next step, no matter what the circumstances. Feeling discouraged because you haven’t made it to worship the last 4 weeks? Show up this Sunday anyway. Embarrassed by the thick layer of dust on your bible? Open it anyway. Frustrated and bored because you find yourself praying the same words again and again and again? Pray anyway.
Faithfulness doesn’t require brilliance or speed. Faithfulness is a matter of persistence and determination. We’re called to run like mules, not racehorses. Victory is a matter of making the small faithful choices again and again and again—when we feel like it and when we don’t, when it’s easy and when it’s hard, when we’re buoyed by recent successes and when we’re dogged by failure. We keep going—that’s how we finish the race. We pray. We worship. We study & meditate on the word. We serve. We love. We forgive. And then we do it all again.
Faithfulness looks like mules, not racehorses.
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