While reading the book Building Below the Waterline by Gordon McDonald, I noticed an odd chapter title, “DNF”. “What does it mean?” I wondered. Then realization dawned. DNF stands for Did Not Finish. This phrase refers to people, often in a race, who start out full of good intentions, but who fail to finish the course. In that chapter, Gordon turns the discussion from common foot-races to an area I have committed my life to, ministry. And when he does, the implications become painful.
Many people begin their careers in ministry but something happens along the way. DNF. Looking back on the ministerial students in my graduating class from Union College, I notice something startling. The vast majority are no longer involved with pastoral ministry. Some never even began.
Is the outcome different for those who attend Seminary? I spent an entire year with some of the brightest and most talented people I have ever known. But, the reality is that many of these individuals have pursued other options. Do they still love the Lord? I believe so. Are they involved with a local church somewhere? I hope so. But that phrase still haunts me. DNF.
I want to contrast this tragedy of pastoral DNFs with an event in our community that tests the very fabric of who we are. What am I referring to? Bloomsday.
Recently, downtown Spokane was overrun (no pun intended). Approximately 54,000 people registered for the race. But the most amazing part is that almost 48,000 finished. That means a 89% success rate! I saw the results of that dedication up close and personal: limps, aches, blisters, sores, and smiles. There is something about finishing what you start, accomplishing the goal you set for yourself. It brings a sense of satisfaction that trumps difficulty. Nearly 48,000 people can proudly say, “I did not give up!”
Comparing these races leaves us reason to contemplate. Bloomsday takes a portion of one day, gives you sore feet, a T-shirt, and bragging rights. The race of the Christian Life takes every part of each day. Rarely do you get a T-shirt or the admiration of thousands. But like Bloomsday, you may leave wounded.
There is a group of people, the Perennials, who have run every Bloomsday race. These 102 individuals understand the required perseverance. Running the Christian race also tests our resolve and perseverance. Daily we decide if we will “run, and not grow weary” or take another course of action, one that leads to DNF.
Throughout the New Testament analogies are made between running races and the Christian life. In each, the most important aspect of the race is the finish. We must finish! And the finish is where all of this becomes personal. Do we have what it takes? Are we willing to sacrifice to succeed? Will we be a Perennial? Or will we settle for a front row lawn chair view of the race.