As Christians, we are all running a race in our lives.
In 1990, Pastor Marcus had just moved to Santa Barbara from the inner city in North Carolina. He stood out as a football player with great statistics that were reported weekly in the paper. But there was a junior at a competing high school who kept the competition high all through the football season, sometimes outscoring him. When the spring track season rolled around, Marcus was undefeated for the first five weeks. Then he finally was able to face off against his counterpart and he looked forward to finally settling the score about who was the better athlete. Within the first few steps of the race, Marcus realized there was no way he could possibly win. He was defeated and embarrassed and he never wanted to run a race again - but he had to pick up and keep going. (The student who beat Marcus was Napolean Kaufman, who went on to win the state championship, play for the Oakland Raiders, and is now pastoring a church in Northern California.)
If we strive for earthly crowns that eventually have no value, how much more should we push on for the eternal prize?
We are all running a race in our lives, and we are running for our eternal crowns of glory. Unlike the prizes we get nowadays for little league, cheerleading, or academics, that eternal crown can’t fade away. If we strive for earthly crowns that eventually have no value, how much more should we push on for the eternal prize? In this race, there is a glorious prize awaits everyone who runs, for all who receive Jesus as their Savior and live their lives for Him.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27
Perseverance is not easy, and it is made even more difficult by the enemy who actively seeks to thwart our success. His goal is to take away our victory, nullify us, and cause us to quit. Without that power of perseverance, we can be disqualified and lose the ability to bless others.
In order to persevere, we need God and others. The enemy knows this, so he attempts to isolate you and make you feel unloved and abandoned. But the truth is that God always loves you and He desires to be a part of your life, especially through your discipleship and fellowship relationships with other believers.
How are you pouring into the next generation? If you don’t have an answer to that question today, then find someone you can encourage, disciple, and mentor! Your past failures, victories, pain, and experiences can be helpful to those younger than you.
Are you actively pursuing someone older to disciple you as well? Are you willing to learn from people with more experience or are you just hanging out with your group of friends in order to validate the things you currently do?
Paul was a great man of God who poured his life into others who poured their lives into others, and this is why his ministry grew and spread year after year, decade after decade. Paul was originally named Saul, the Jew of Jews, who knew God’s rules and His word. He was so dedicated to God (or so he thought) that he hated, persecuted, and martyred Christians. Then one day as he was on his way to do more of that work, he encountered Jesus, fell off horse, and was blinded. He received a powerful revelation from God, accepted Christ, changed his name to Paul, and went forward, learning from others about Jesus and sharing the Gospel as he traveled around, starting churches and writing letters to encourage them and to keep them strong in the faith.
Beginning in Acts 16:16, Paul and Silas are on their way to serve the Lord. Along the way they meet a slave girl who is demon possessed; the enemy tries to stop them from serving God. Maybe you have experienced this on your way to church, as you have an argument with your spouse, or on your way to Bible study, you encounter an unexpected difficulty. But just remember that He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Paul and Silas were bothered by this demon for several days before they finally rebuked it, which only let to more trouble for them:
She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Acts 16:17-22
The story that continues with Paul and Silas in prison reveals three benefits of persevering through our trials:
1. It humble us.
Paul and Silas are stripped, flogged, and jailed. They are humbled and injured, but notice how they react: not by complaining and giving up, but by worshipping and singing praises to the Lord. It is during their humble praise that an earthquake shakes the prison and everyone’s shackles fall off.
But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” James 4:6
God wants us to remain humble. When we understand that we can’t make it on our own, we have to rely on God. We want grace and favor in our lives and relationships, not God’s opposition!
2. It helps others.
As we experience difficult trials in our lives, people watch how we respond. People see our suffering, but they also see our victories and they notice who sets us free in our pain. When we glorify God, others will watch and will want what we have: a powerful relationship with Jesus.
The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:27-30
Think about how differently this story would have turned out if Paul and Silas had complained and wallowed in their sorrow!
3. It honors God.
Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. Acts 16: 32-33
God was glorified everywhere that Paul and Silas went. Their lives shone for Him, and He desires that our lives shine for Him as well because He loves us. We can show, by our attitudes, words, and actions, that we have a great and wonderful God who delivers us from shackles, heals us from sin and pain, and frees us from all kinds of bondage.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9
Life is tough sometimes and the enemy wants to isolate you, but you don’t have to let his influence determine your story. Pastor Marcus shared some of the trials his family experienced this last year and how they saw the redemptive hand of God moving through their struggles. Stay strong, run the race, and don’t give up!
If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward. --Martin Luther King, Jr.