If you ever worked in an office environment, one of your favorite comic strips would have been Dilbert. The strip is focused on different characters working in office cubicles with a cruel boss who uses negative reinforcement to get better production and attitudes from his staff.
Most of us don’t operate very well under those kinds of conditions. In fact, most work areas operate in almost the opposite. In many offices today, we see posters with nice pictures and words like: perseverance, achievement, success, goals, etc. Companies have production bonuses, benefits and other encouragements to keep us working. The church is no different. In churches, we hear sermons about faith, hope, love, service, all designed to encourage us to put our faith into action.
In spite of all the encouragement, many Christians struggle with the call to action. We are more like the comfortable couch potatoes watching what the game rather than getting up and becoming active participants in what God is doing in our world.
Hebrews 11 is one of the most famous passages in the Bible as it lists many of the great heroes of the faith. There are stories of great leaders, warriors, the faithful and the conquerors. There are also stories of those who have sacrificed all, believing, but never experiencing the promises of God.
Chapter 12 begins with an exhortation to follow the example of the forefathers of our faith, by giving all we have and pursue God. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”
To pursue God, it means getting rid of the things that hinder us in life. It might be secret sins, a bad habit, or an improper relationship – whatever it takes to pursue God, we need to let go of it. As Christians, we get entangled all the time in things that can keep us from becoming all that Christ desires.
I’ve noticed in recent years how the church has moved almost in an opposite direction. There has been a trend of moving away from pursuing holiness, that is living a life that reflects the life and character of Christ, and moving towards lives of personal freedom and choice under the guise or misguided use and misunderstanding of what grace is. I’m not saying we should be legalistic. Rather, I believe we need to live and operate under a proper understanding of grace.
Grace is not a license to do what you want. It is not like Willy Wonka and having the Golden Ticket in. It is not an excuse to remain the same. True, grace accepts us where we are and who we are, but it doesn’t leave us that way, rather grace takes us from our mire and lifts us to where God wants us to be. Grace gives us the power to move and change us.
The Old Testament saints understood it. In spite of their inadequacies and sin, they still strove after God. Look at King David. He was a murderer, adulterer, who broke tons of laws, yet the Bible still calls him a man after God’s own heart. Rahab was a prostitute, yet she feared God and was obedient to Him, putting her own life on the line. We too need to move beyond our sin and excuses and pursue God diligently and wholeheartedly.
The writer of Hebrews then says to run with perseverance the race God has set before us. The word perseverance is also translated “patience” or “endurance.” Basically, it means running as hard as you can and as long as you can.
Bobby Dodd was the coach of the Georgia Tech football team. He spoke about a game where his team was leading 7 to 6 with just about a minute left. He told his quarterback to just hold onto the ball and not to throw a pass. They had the ball on their opponent’s 10-yard line when the quarterback couldn’t resist and throw a pass. It was intercepted and the player took off for the GT goal line. The entire team gave up the chase except for the quarterback. He managed to tackle the player, strip him of the ball and recover it himself. GT won the game 7 to 6. After the game, the losing coach asked coach Dodd how the QB was able to do what he did. Coach Dodd responded, “Your player was running to score a touchdown; my boy was running for his life.”
Running for your life is a lot different than running for a trophy. Faith is a race for our lives. It means training, commitment, and perseverance. It is a no pain no gain approach to life that pushes us off the couch and into a place that is uncomfortable and challenging. Running the race of faith to win means giving it all we have – all the time. When we join the race of faith, we join a long line of men and women who gave it all in their pursuit of God.
Secondly, we need to fix our eyes and hearts on Jesus. He needs to be our vision as the great hymn writer declares because when we do that, we won’t be distracted and drawn off course. Writer, Thomas Kelly said, “The outer distractions of our interests reflects an inner lack of integration of our own selves. We are trying to be several selves at once without all ourselves being organized by a single mastering Life within us.” In other words, where there isn’t a singular guiding Light or focus in our lives, we end up spending much of our time and energy going around in circles or getting lost in our own foolishness.
I can look back at my own life and some of the not so brilliant choices I have made. There have been little things like poor work or study habits that led to ending and restarting educational paths, poor eating habits which have led to health issues and most drastic, poor relationship choices that have led me away from God – even though it seemed like the opposite.
How do we accomplish this feat? How do we get off the couch and run the race on the straight and narrow? Firstly, we need to remember that Jesus is our model. His life modeled undying, sacrificial loyalty to the Father’s plan. Even when it meant death, He kept His eyes focused on what was ahead.
A few years ago, one of the big Christian fads was WWJD, What would Jesus do? The truth is, that is how we are to live our lives. That is how we are to run this race… just as Jesus did. He is the one from whom we draw our faith, and He is the one who gives us all we need to be successful in this race. Aim for Jesus and nothing lower. As the old saying goes, He who aims at nothing, hits what?
One of the key components in sports is how much of a difference having fans on your side. In basketball, they speak of the home fans as the 6th person on the floor with them. In the NFL, it is the 12th man or in the case of the CFL, the 13th man. One thing that has helped me in my pursuit of God is knowing that God Himself is my biggest fan. Hebrews 12:2-3 says, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
I know it is hard to wrap our minds around God as being our #1 fan, but I want us to consider Jesus on the cross, giving His life for us. He died on that cross in part to enable and empower us to run well the race of faith and to live His life out in the world.
Consider God’s love for you. Many of us have this picture of God that presents Him as a harsh and judgmental being who just waits for us to mess up so He can bop us. This is the wrong image for those who have the privilege of calling themselves children of God. He wants us to succeed in our race more than we do. He is constantly supplying us with every gram of joy, desire, motivation, and strength we need in order to run the race. His joy is seeing us run well.
As in any race, there will be times where we will stumble, start limping feel beaten down or just plain tired. When those times happen, God is there to pick you up.
Back in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, there was a British 400-meter runner named Derek Redmond. He had spent years training to be there, pushing himself through grueling training sessions of weights and sprinting. On August 3rd, not quite halfway through a qualifying run, he collapsed with a pulled hamstring. Knowing he could not qualify, Derek pulled himself up and in excruciating pain, and began the journey to the finish line.
Suddenly a man ran out onto the track alongside the injured runner and put his arm around him. Derek looked into the face of the man and burst into tears. He said, “I’ve got to finish the race.” The man replied, “If you’re gonna finish this race, we’ll finish it together.” You see, the man who ran onto the track, whose heart ripped when he saw the runner stumble, the man who helped Derek stay on his feet, and who helped him finish the race – was Derek’s father. As the crowd rose to their feet cheering wildly, Derek and his father ran right up to the finish line – where his father stopped to allow Derek to cross the finish line alone. God is saying to you today, together we will run and finish the race.
Getting off the couch is hard. I know for me personally, it takes a lot of persuasions to hand over the remote and pick up a hockey stick or football. Is it because I’m lazy? Partly, but I think some other reasons for me and probably many of us are we enjoy being comfortable – why get dirty and sweaty when we can sit back and watch others do it? Secondly, I don’t think we truly understand what God’s grace is and what it does in our lives. When we allow the truth about God’s grace to envelop us and saturate us, then we become people with vision and passion. We become people who know where we are going and how we are going to get there.
Firstly, I want us to look at those who have gone before us. Were they perfect? Really, many of them were worse than us! That should encourage us. Secondly, I want us to look at Jesus, our model – His glory, His beauty, His love. Philippians 4:8,9 says, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Think or meditate on what God tells us and then put them into practice.
Getting off the couch is risky. It means trusting God to lead and direct. But when we get up, we then become instruments of righteousness that God can use to reach and bless the world in need of the hope we have in Christ.