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Last week, 413 of you came out to support the Paul Anderson Youth Home at our Second Annual Chick-fil-A Road Race, and I have to say, I was so impressed! First of all, it started at 8:00 on a Saturday morning (the one day of the week you can sleep in). Secondly, it was 37 degrees out there. So not only were you all disciplined enough to drag yourselves out of bed on the weekend, but you did so knowing that you were going to freeze! That is dedication! Some of you were done as soon as you started it seemed, some of you took your time and walked the course leisurely (my personal preferred method), and many of you in both categories set personal records. Regardless of your varying paces, all 413 of you finished.
I personally don’t enjoy running. At different times in my life I would have called myself a runner, but I never for a second liked it. In Georgia, it’s pretty much always too hot to run, and down here in South Georgia, the gnats make it unbearable! Add in the cramps, sweating, and soreness, and I’d rather stub my big toe on a rock than go for a jog. Okay, maybe I’m just out of shape, but you get what I’m saying. Nevertheless, running is an excellent metaphor for the Christian life that is used numerous times throughout the Bible. In 2nd Timothy 4:7, Paul declares, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul wrote this from the confines of his prison cell as he awaited his imminent execution. He knew his time was up, and looked back on his earthly life with confidence that he had stayed faithful in his calling until the very end. This doesn’t mean it was easy for Paul or that he never faltered; he was human, so we know he messed up. The key is that he was repentant and serious about finishing his race.
You may be thinking, “That is easier said than done,” and you are correct! We are prone to stray because of our sin nature, and Satan will do everything in his power to entice us to stop running the race. When we are tired, it doesn’t take much to convince us to quit running; the same is true for our spiritual lives. We are especially susceptible to dropping out of the race when we are spiritually exhausted from fighting temptation, persevering through trials, waiting for an answered prayer, etc. But fighting the good fight to completion is of utmost importance and worth the blood, sweat, and tears! So how do we do it? Pastor Jerry Bridges recommends these four essentials to finishing well:
1. Daily time of focused personal communion with God
We won’t wake up one day and suddenly decide we want to drop out of the race. Rather, we make a series of decisions over time that either improve our physical shape (i.e. bring us closer to God) or lead us to ultimately stop running (i.e. turn from Him). It can be difficult to see ourselves drifting because it often happens very subtly and gradually. This is why it is so important to spend time with God every day. To stay on track, we need to make a daily practice of meeting with Him, asking Him to speak to us, and speaking to Him as we read His Word and interact with His Word in prayer. This involves more than simply reading a chapter of the Bible; the object is to meet with God, to have God speak to us, and to respond to Him.
2. Daily remembrance of the Gospel
It is only through Christ that we have access to God, so it is important to remind ourselves of this daily. Begin by praying something along the lines of, “Lord, I know that I am an object of Your mercy and Your grace. I come to You still a practicing sinner, but I look to Jesus Christ and His shed blood, His perfect obedience, and His righteous life that has been credited to me. And I see myself standing before You clothed in His righteousness.” We cannot come directly to God; we must always go through the blood of Jesus. However, God not only allows us to do so, He invites us to! If we don’t remind ourselves of the story of the Gospel, we are likely to drift towards a performance-based relationship with God.
3. Daily commitment to God as a living sacrifice
As we reflect on the Gospel and what God has done for us in Christ, this should lead us to present ourselves as daily, living sacrifices. Giving ourselves as living sacrifices to God will look different for each of us. For some, it may mean career changes; for others, it could entail remaining in a career that is not enjoyable. Maybe it will involve forming new friendships with people you would not normally gravitate towards or possibly forfeiting relationships with individuals who are not spiritually uplifting. It may be as drastic as moving across the ocean for full-time ministry or as simple as giving up a favorite ungodly television show. Remembering the Gospel daily and basking in God’s love leads us to present our bodies as living sacrifices. However, this must be renewed daily; we can’t live today on yesterday’s commitment.
4. Firm belief in the sovereignty and love of God
Life is hard, but God is sovereign. Lamentations 3:37-38 says, “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” If we want to stand firm in the face of life’s difficulties and endure to the end of the race, then we must have a firm belief in the sovereignty and the love of God. We must believe that God is in control of every event in His universe, including every event in our own lives, and that He exercises that control from His infinite love for us. Otherwise, we will be tempted to become bitter when bad things happen. Bitterness causes us to turn from God and can result in ultimately giving up the race. One of the ways we can keep from becoming bitter is to remind ourselves that God is in sovereign control.
The key to these four steps is the word “daily.” We are so fickle and wayward. We often have great aspirations of complete devotion to God and His Kingdom work, but our enthusiasm wains quickly, and we find ourselves wallowing in the same complacency and self-centeredness where we started. Make daily communion with God a priority, remind your spirit of its wretchedness and the mercy of the Gospel daily, offer yourself as a living sacrifice to God daily, and recall God’s sovereignty and love daily. These frequent, intentional practices will help you fix your eyes on Jesus and run the race with perseverance until you reach the finish line (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Paul Anderson Youth Home