Going the Distance
One of the most outspoken modern critics of Christianity is the cable TV mogul Ted Turner, founder of CNN. “Christianity is a religion of losers,” Turner told the Dallas Morning News. Referring to Christ’s death on the cross, Turner said, “I don’t want anybody to die for me. I’ve had a few drinks and a few girlfriends, and if that’s gonna put me in hell, then so be it.” [i]
What many don’t know is Turner had a Christian upbringing and at one time considered becoming a missionary. “I was saved 7 or 8 times,” he once confessed. He became disenchanted with Christianity after his sister died, despite his prayers. Turner said after that, the more he strayed from his faith, “the better I felt.” [ii]
Some of us might look at Ted Turner and think his experience is unique, but I’m not so sure.
I imagine when Ted Turner professed faith in Jesus Christ, his parents and church were excited for this young man. I suppose he sat in Sunday school as the Bible was taught, listened to the preacher preach, maybe even made preparations for the missions field. But at some point he dropped out of the race of faith. He started well, but didn’t finish well
You know some folks like this. Some people who have sat with us in church, who’ve been baptized and been involved in what God was doing here at Gray’s Chapel. But at some point they dropped out of the race. We pray for these folks, and try to reach out to them and help them find their way back, but there are some- maybe many- who won’t finish their lives as followers of Christ. It’s one thing to start a journey of faith with Christ, but it is something else to finish well this race of faith.
That’s what I want to talk to you about tonight: how to go the distance in this race of faith. How do you run the Christian race with endurance? How do you keep running when sometimes you may feel like quitting? I believe the answers to these questions can be found in Heb. 12:1-2 where God reveals 4 principles that can help you go the distance in the race of faith. Would you follow along as I read these verses?
Father help us tonight to see the importance of running the race of faith with diligence and determination. From Your Word encourage us, strengthen us, move us to do what we must to keep from becoming a drop-out in this race of faith. Let us hear your Voice coaching us on to keep running today, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
How do we go the distance? First of all,
I. REMEMBER THOSE WHO’VE GONE BEFORE YOU.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…
There’s a hall of fame for almost anything. A Hall of Fame for basketball, football, baseball, soccer. A Hall of Fame for Rock ‘n Roll music, Country Music, Gospel Music. There’s even the Texas Championship Domino Hall of Fame and the ever popular Wisconsin Veterinary Hall of Fame.
Each of these organizations are meant to inspire us by looking back on those who excelled in what they did. Looking back on those who’ve gone before is meant to help us strive to do our best.
The word therefore refers back to the “Hall of Fame of Faith” found in Heb. 12. These are the …great cloud of witnesses.. The heroes who ran there race and made it all the way to the winner’s circle.
There’s old Father Abraham, a man without a country, waiting on his son. The old man who stumbled when he lied about his wife Sarah in Egypt, who got tripped up trying to help God along when he fathered Ishmael. But old Abe never drops out of the race—He keeps running strong, his course set steady for city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Heb. 11:12)
Look, there’s that young dreamer Joseph, being sold into slavery, falsely accused by his master’s wife, living out his teenage years in prison, always holding on to God’s promise that one day his dreams would come true. It would have been so easy to drop out of the race, but Joseph kept running, kept trusting God to the end.
Look back at Simon Peter, Paul, the apostle John—people who kept running in spite of the pain, in spite of the obstacles.
Look back on the faithful people in your life. Your Grandfather/Grandmother, your dad or mom, your brother/sister. Look back on people who have served in this church, people who
didn’t always have it easy, but they kept running, kept trusting God, even when it would have been easier to drop out of the race. Their names may never show up in any earthly hall of fame, but they are heroes in God’s Hall of Fame of Faith. They’ve taught us how to live; many of them have gone on to teach us how to die. They inspire us to go the distance in our own race of faith.
When you grow weary in running, and you feel like you cannot keep running the race of faith, remember those who have run before you. When you are tempted to think give up, remember their faith, their courage, their determination, and let their life inspire you to keep running your race all the way to the end.
There’s a day that happens ever so often at highs schools and colleges. Some call it Alumni Day, some call it Old Timers' Day. Whatever you call it, it's the time many of those who played on that very same field come back to cheer on the men and women who are today's players. If you're a player and the game is tough, glance up there in the stands. You'll see some people up there who know how you feel, who've played the game you're playing, who've gone against that same opponent, and who are up there right now, screaming their lungs out for you. They just really want you to win!
Some people say that the multitude of souls in heaven looks down on us here on earth, cheering us on. I’m not sure that’s true, but I do know they have given us a legacy of faith that, if we remember it, can help us keep running the distance in our race of faith.
But you’ve got to do more than just look back at others: you have to look at yourself, and
II. IDENTIFY YOUR ACHILLES’ HEEL AND DEAL WITH IT.
…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us,…
Do you remember the story from Greek mythology about the great warrior Achilles, whose only vulnerable spot on his entire body was his heel? Of course, that’s where the man who killed him aimed for and got him.
You and I have some Achilles’ heels—spiritual weights and sins which slow us down in our race of faith. If you are going to go the distance, you’ve got to shed the weight and sin that slows you down.
First you’ve got to …lay aside every weight…=anything that keeps you from going the distance. There are things in your life that may not in themselves be sinful, but they tend to drag you down in your race of faith. It may not be a sin to watch some movies or TV shows, but they tend to drag you in the wrong direction, away from Christ. That may be a weight you need to shed. Some hobbies you may spend too much time on, time which could be better spent on more important things. That may be a weight you need to shed. Some habits you may not find chapter and verse which says this is wrong but you know they’re not healthy for your spiritual life. This may be a weight you need to shed.
Then of course there are the sinful things that weigh us down. There are some sins you are more prone to than others- some...sins which so easily entangle you… One scholar calls these “signature sins.” They are the areas where you and I are most vulnerable to temptation. For some it’s lust or pornography. For others, gossip or greed. For still others it’s deceit or lying. For far too many it’s alcohol or prescription drugs. These are the “little sins” you might think you can handle, but in reality, they are the sins that trip you up and make you fall.
If you are going to run the distance, these Achilles’ heels must be identified and dealt with. How can you do this?
First you have to identify them not as mistakes, but as sin. You must admit this fact to yourself and to God. The next step is repentance, which means you make a commitment to turn from these sins. Finally, you ask God for help to escape the temptation to sin in this area, and believe He will help you, as He has promised to do in
1 Corinthians 10:13 …God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Historian Shelby Foote tells of a soldier who was wounded at the battle of Shiloh during the American Civil War and was ordered to go to the rear. The fighting was fierce and within minutes he returned to his commanding officer. “Captain, give me a gun!” he shouted. “This fight ain’t got no rear!”[iii]
That’s the way it can feel sometimes when you are fighting the good fight against temptation. But with God’s help you can shed the weight that drags you down and the sins that so easily entangle us. He is the One Who, according to
Jud 24 …is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
Remember those who came before you, identify your Achilles’ heel and deal with it, and third
III. RUN THE RACE THAT IS MARKED OUT FOR YOU.
…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,…
Every one of us has a unique calling of God on your life. Not everyone is called to run the same kind of race. For some the race is on the mission field; or others it’s in the local church; others it is a race in the office or school.
At one high school, cross-country meets were held on the golf course, where race organizers planted different colored flags on the course. One color meant go left, another meant go right and a third meant go straight. Your course was laid out for you to run.
That’s what God has done for each of us. He has called all of us to run in the same race, but He does not call all of us to run the same course.
Remember in John 21:21-22 when Jesus talks in private with Peter? Jesus told the big fisherman how he will eventually be crucified as a martyr. Peter is more concerned about somebody else What about John? What kind of race will John run? He wanted to compare his race to John’s. But Jesus gently reprimands Peter. Don’t you worry about John, Peter. You run the race I’ve marked out for you.
Sometimes folks do not go the distance because they are preoccupied with a desire to run somebody else’s race. The myth of the greener grass kicks in, and we envy the path God calls others to run. But as one wise man once said,
The grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. It’s greenest where you spend the most time watering it.[iv]
You will find your fulfillment in running the race of faith as you identify the unique ways God has gifted you with talents, interests, experiences, and opportunities. You will not go the distance if you keep comparing your course with everyone else’s.
God has a course set and you will never be truly happy until you run the race set before you. If you haven’t yet identified His course for you yet, be patient, and keep running the course you are on right now. Keep doing what you know is right, until God reveals His plan for your life. He will lead you if you let Him. Whatever you do, don’t keep looking around at the other runners, or you may find yourself falling behind.
On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man in history to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. 2 months later John Landy beat that record by 1.4 seconds. On August 7, 1954, the 2 met for a historic race. As they moved into the last lap, Landy held the lead, but as he neared the finish he was haunted by the question, “Where is Bannister?” As he turned to look, Bannister took the lead. Landy later told a reporter, “If I hadn’t looked back, I would have won!”[v]
You cannot go the distance if your eyes are on everybody else. Your eyes must be focused on only one Person, which brings us to the final principle for going the distance in the race of faith.
IV. KEEP YOUR EYES FOCUSED ON CHRIST. …looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,
On day 6 of the ill-fated mission of Apollo 13, the astronauts needed to make a critical course correction. To conserve power, they shut down the onboard computer that steered the spacecraft. How would they maneuver? Astronaut Jim Lovell determined if they could keep a fixed point in space in view through one tiny window, they could steer the craft manually. That focal point turned out to be their destination: Earth. For thirty-nine agonizing seconds, Lovell focused on keeping the earth in view. By not losing sight of that reference point, the three astronauts made it home to Earth.[vi]
Scripture reminds us that to go the distance in this race of faith, you must always be
…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Human heroes can motivate us by their example, but only Jesus can guarantee you’ll cross the finish line. The list of names that begins in chapter 11 with Abel crescendos when we get to chapter 12 with the mention of one final name in Heb. 12:2: Jesus, the ultimate hero, he Author and Perfecter of your faith. If you keep your eyes on Him, He will make sure you make it to the finish line.
Those who watched the 400 meter semifinals televised from the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona witnessed one of the most dramatic scenes in sports history. At one point during the race, Britain’s Derek Redmon crumpled and fall 100 meters into the race. He had suffered from every runner’s nightmare: he had torn his hamstring.
Medical attendants rushed to his side to assist him, but he waved them off as he crawled and, in utter agony, struggled to his feet and began hopping toward the finish line. You see, Derek was determined to go the distance.
Up in the grandstands, a big guy wearing a T-shirt, tennis shoes, and a Nike cap suddenly barrels on to the track, pushing aside a security guard, and finally reaches Derek. This man is Jim Redmon, Derek’s dad. With his father’s arm around his son’s waist and Derek’s arm around his dad’s thick shoulders and neck, they continue down the track side by side. The crowd watches intently, as Derek and his dad work their way round the track until finally, arm in arm, they cross the finish line.”
We will never make it to the finish line on our own. Our best in not good enough. Our endurance will fail. Our stamina will stagnate. But He whose name is power and might will do what we cannot.
Php 1:6 He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
Going the distance is not just about what you can do, but what Jesus can do for you.
Maybe you’re having a hard time going the distance. The road you’re running is difficult, and you aren’t sure you can keep going. In fact, you’ve wondered in the back of your mind if it might not be easier to drop out of the race altogether.
Before you do, why not try what God suggests in these 2 verses?
Look back on those who have run the race before you. If they could make it, you can make it, too.
Lighten up your load. Get rid of the weights and sins that are dragging you down.
Run your own course. Don’t try to run somebody else’ race; run the race God has given you.
Keep your eyes on Jesus. He is running beside you, coaching you on. He will pick you up when you fall, and keep you going all the way to the end, if you will trust Him.
Hebrews 12:1-2 1Therefore 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, 2looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
[i]10,000 sermon illustrations. 2000 (electronic ed.). Dallas: Biblical Studies Press.
[ii]Spokesman-Review, May 1, 1990 10,000 sermon illustrations. 2000 (electronic ed.). Dallas:
[iii]Daily Walk, July 10, 1993 10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed.
[iv] Greg Asimakoupoulos
[v]10,000 sermon illustrations. 2000 (electronic ed.). Dallas: Biblical Studies Press.
[vi] Stephen Nordbye in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.