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“Running God’s Race”
Let me ask some critical questions
• What have you felt like giving up on? Is it your dreams, goals, marriage? Do you feel like giving up on God, or do you feel like giving up period?
• What have you left undone, a commitment, project, promise, vow, or pledge.
• What’s holding you back, distracting you? Is it fear or worry, job or possessions, how about misplaced morals or values?
These are critical questions when we consider what the writer of Hebrews says,
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV)
The Bible describes life like a race, not a hundred yard dash, mind you, but a marathon. And while everyone runs in this race, not everyone will finish well. They’ll get discouraged, distracted, hurt, or they’ll just give up. Eventually they’ll find themselves sitting on the sidelines with their dreams unrealized and giving up on God and their God given potential.
They leave a lot of things in life unfinished. They start out well, but soon they get tired, bored, and distracted. They never finish and life feels unfulfilled. They’ve strewn the rubble of uncompleted projects, unfulfilled commitments, and unrealized promises throughout the course of their lives.
The Apostle Paul talks about this life as a race saying that if we want to receive the prize of heaven at the end, we’ll need to run it according to the rules (1 Timothy 2:5).
But still people live life saying, “Life Happens.” Yet what’s also true is that life is what we make of it.
Our character is not determined by how well we start the race, but how we finish it. This is why Paul could say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8 NKJV)
Today, we’ll be looking at how we can finish this race, this life of faith, even when we feel like giving up. We’ll be looking at four things everyone needs to do if they want to finish well and at the end hear the Lord say, “Well done good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of the Lord.” (Matthew 25:21 NKJV)
1. Remove the Hindrances
We need to remove those things that drag us down and hold us back from being everything God has called us to be.
“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.” (Hebrews 12:1b NKJV)
By using the word, “weight,” and the word “sin,” side by side, what the writer of Hebrews is saying is that there are things that we’re doing that while they may not be sin, they are definitely not in our or others best interests.
Now this word, “laying aside,” is not a gentle removal. The wording means violently taking off and throwing it away. If you were water skiing in your snowsuit and you fell in the water, you’d be violently tearing away your clothing before you sunk to the bottom. Or, as it regards running a race, an athlete never runs in their sweats, but strips down to the lightest weight clothing that will allow them to run effectively.
What we need to understand is that God has created us uniquely; therefore, God has created a unique race for each of us. The problem is the expectations that others place upon us, and that’s because they want us to run their race. We can only live the life God has given to us and to us alone, and we won’t finish the race well until we let go of these false expectations of others. If we live by any other expectations than God’s expectations then we’re not going to be living God’s best, and we’re not going to be finishing this race, this life of faith, well.
And so, the writer of Hebrews tells us that if we want to finish well we’re going to have to simplify. We need to get rid of the baggage, remove the diversions, eliminate the distractions, and whatever else that weighs us down and prevents us from running the race God has set before us.
One of the main distractions is all the stuff we acquire, that is, our possessions.
Jim Henson, of Muppet fame, made a movie called Labyrinth. In the movie a teenage girl went searching for her baby brother. One of the scenes has her in her bedroom with a little old Muppet lady who kept piling the girl’s possessions on her back. The more she became weighed down with all the stuff, the more she began to forget her mission and purpose.
That’s what happens to us. We start to worry about keeping and holding onto all the stuff, and in the process we lose our way. We become so distracted by the stuff that we soon find ourselves out of the game and onto the sidelines.
Another hindrance is our past. Our past really weighs us down, and that’s because we’re either loaded down with guilt and shame over what we’ve done, or resentment and bitterness over what others have done to us.
Consider the Apostle Paul. He had a past that could have haunted him, dragging him down and crippling him in the process. But just as bad was the church’s treatment of Paul, as it shunned him after he became a believer.
Paul could have either focused on the guilt and shame over what he did, or become resentful and bitter over the church’s treatment. But instead look at what Paul said.
“One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)
Paul is saying that he wasn’t going to let the things of his past drag him down. He had a race to run and he wasn’t going to focus any longer on what lays behind, but upon the finish line.
Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord said, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19 NKJV)
God has a special race for each one of us to run, and He has something special for each one of us to do, therefore He wants us to stop dwelling in the past.
So the first thing we need to do is remove everything that is hindering our progress and distracting us from moving forward.
2. Remember the Reward
We cannot run the race well without having our eyes fixed on the finish line. If we’re going to finish this life well, then we’ll have to continue to remind ourselves what’s at the finish and why we’re doing whatever it is that we have been called by God to do.
The why determines so much? If the why is tied to short-term goals then we’ll stop before the end, but if the why is tied to long-term goals, eternal goals, then we’ll last until the end. Gratification won’t see us to the end, but when our goal is God’s eternal rewards then not only will we run well, but we’ll finish well.
So when we feel like giving up, let’s focus on the finish. Look at how Paul sees it.
“To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. We do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. A heavenly reward, personally rewarded by God” (1 Corinthians 9:25-26 LB)
Some people wonder if any heavenly reward waits. The problem is that their idea of God’s rewards is based upon which side of God’s scale of judgment they sit. On one side are all the good things, and the other all the bad. And so they hope that in the end the good side will outweigh the bad.
Fortunately God doesn’t reward us based on such a scale. Instead He rewards us based upon His grace. All the sins we’ve committed God forgives based on His grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Grace means that every good thing we do by faith, every word we speak by faith, and every thought we think by faith, God rewards.
The idea of eternal rewards, however, is foreign to most because when things get difficult, we sit in front of the TV or Internet, look forward to the weekend, or count the days to our next vacation. But no weekend or vacation is ever going to be good enough or long enough. That’s why we need to remember that we have an eternity in heaven waiting.
3. Resist Discouragement
Discouragement comes easy when we focus on our health, finances, marriage, children, and job. And while discouragement is a reality of life, it’s also a choice we make. The Bible says that as a person thinks deep within their hearts, that’s what they’re eventually going to become (Psalm 23:7).
D.L. Moody said, “I have never known God to use a discouraged person.”
Discouragement is the opposite of faith, because it looks at problems through human understanding rather than looking at our problems through the eyes of faith.
Look at how the Apostle Paul approached discouragement.
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Galatians 6:9 NKJV)
One reason we get tired of doing what is right is because doing what is wrong is so much easier. It’s easier to tell a lie than it is the truth. It’s easier to be selfish than unselfish.
Why should we resist this urge and not get tired of doing what’s right? It’s found in the phrase, “in due season.” In other words, after a while we’ll reap a harvest if we don’t quit.
Think of it like a newly planted seed of corn. We don’t get back one seed; rather we get back a whole bunch. This is God’s economy. And while we may not see immediate results, the results are coming if we’re faithful.
But that begs the question, “Why does God delay?” The reason is because He’s letting our faith grow and mature.
Our problem is that we live in a society of instant gratification. It’s like when we decide to follow God’s principle of good stewardship and start tithing in accordance with God’s word, but what happens is that we don’t immediately see the results, or the results we’re hoping for. But by faith when we wait, God will open up the windows of heaven upon us, as the prophet Malachi tells us (Malachi 3:10).
Let me just say this, anything worth doing is worth the time and investment we put in. Michelangelo didn’t create this great sculpture of David with one hit of the hammer. It took him three years of taking a little bit off at a time.
It’s a long process to make a masterpiece, and that includes all of us. It’s going to take a while for God to create us into that masterpiece He destined for us to be.
To help fight discouragement there are three things we need to remember
• God’s Goodness – Remember all those times God bailed us out, met our need, answered our prayer, and brought joy and peace to our troubled hearts.
• God’s Presence – Remember that no matter what, God is with us, that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us. And while we may not feel God’s presence we know that He’s always there.
• God’s Promise – Remember His promises, especially His greatest that all who come to belief in Jesus Christ will be saved with heaven as our new home.
The key to defeating discouragement is to change our focus off the world and ourselves, and focus on God and His goodness, presence, and promises.
And so, first we have to remove whatever is hindering our walk in the Lord, next remember our rewards, not past failures, and then resist discouragement in whatever form that it takes. Finally, we need renew ourselves daily in the Lord.
4. Renew Ourselves Daily
We have to find those ways to recharge our physical and spiritual batteries everyday. When I thought about this, I thought about fighter jets and how they learn how to refuel in midair so that they can continue their mission. In the same way, we must learn the art of mid-life refueling so we can keep moving forward into the goals, plans, and purposes of God.
a. Physical Renewal
“It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so He gives His beloved sleep.” (Psalm 127:2 NKJV)
Vince Lombardi, famous football coach of the Green Bay Packers, said, “Fatigue makes cowards of all of us.”
When we’re physically tired we get discouraged, and so we need both physical exercise and rest to be renewed.
Yet, the Bible also says, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8 NKJV)
What this says is that while it’s good to keep ourselves physically healthy and strong, the renewal we need most is spiritual, which is seen in the word ‘godliness’ that Paul uses.
b. Spiritual Renewal
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” (1 Corinthians 4:16 NKJV)
The way we become spiritually renewed is by daily taking time with God through the reading of His word and prayer.
Jesus never gave up even though He knew the cross lay before Him. He knew the reason for the cross, and that was so He could take our place and die our death so that we can have eternal life. He knew the rewards and therefore became obedient unto death (Philippians 2:8).
For us, it’s never too late. God’s not finished with any one of us, and there’s a race to be run. Now it doesn’t matter when someone starts the race, or how messed up our past may be. What matters is finishing well.
We may have tripped and fallen. We may have put ourselves on the sidelines of discouragement, but neither of these matter. It’s all about right now and getting started. It’s all about getting back into the race.
It is my sincerest desire that at the end of this life that we can all say, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” And when we stand before our heavenly Father we’ll hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy I have prepared for you.”
Wednesday Evening Bible Study