In 2008, Ryan Hall, the fastest American ever in both the half and full marathon, ran his first Olympic Marathon in Beijing, fulfilling a lifelong dream. For a driven, elite athlete like Ryan, merely running in the Olympics isn’t enough – he wanted to win a medal. However, just halfway through the race, with intense heat and humidity along with a faster-than-expected lead pack of runners, Ryan knew his dream of standing on the podium was likely out of reach.
As many of us would do amid such a disappointing situation, Ryan prayed to God for wisdom and strength to carry on despite missing out on his dream for that race. How do you run a race you know you’re not going to win? God’s answer was, “Encourage others.” Striving to please the Lord, starting from around 60th place, Ryan stepped out of his broken dream and began offering encouragement to each runner he passed, a gesture not usually practiced among competitive runners. Though he didn’t medal, through his exhortation of others, Ryan worked his way to a 10th place finish. In his book, Run The Mile You’re In, Ryan says of God, “He was using me to bring His kingdom – the kingdom that is inside every believer – into the Olympic Marathon, and by running with such a heart, I was making my spirit stronger, which led to my body performing better.”
On that day, one dream died for Ryan Hall, but another bigger and better dream was born; we see this theme in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In John 12, having just just raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus began to talk quite a bit of his own death. In verse 24, he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Here, Jesus is explaining a principle that occurs in the kingdom of God. On the cross, Jesus did die, which ended the dream of many Jewish people who expected Jesus to take over the physical kingdom of Israel and dethrone the oppressive Roman government. As we know, that dream died and Jesus rose again, gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples, and the entire Christian movement exploded. Life comes from death – even the death of a dream.
It’s human nature to hang onto dreams. After we get our hearts set on a medal, promotion, or particular outcome, it’s hard to accept anything else. When Jesus described his future of suffering, dying, and rising on the third day, Peter the disciple said, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”(Matthew 16:22) Of course, in the next verse, Jesus responded with the strong rebuke, “For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” We can get quite attached to our specific dreams, but what if God has an even bigger vision for a certain day, our job, or even our lives?
Ryan was so successful during his Olympic marathon because of his willingness to set aside his dead dream and pick up God’s live vision for that race. If something doesn’t turn out the way we’ve always envisioned, if a dream seems to die on us, don’t panic. Be hopeful, for God will do more with a dead thing than we can do with a living thing.
Story taken from “Run The Mile You’re In: Finding God In Every Step,” written by Ryan Hall and published by Zondervan. I highly encourage this book for runners and non-runners as it’s a great example of honoring Jesus Christ in any profession.