Run the Race
I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:23-25, NIV)
Today, I was reading a Peg + Cat picture book, “The Racecar Problem” with my son, and it reminded me of this verse and some valuable lessons about running--and finishing--the race Jesus has given me. The main characters Peg and Cat build a racecar to compete in the big race. But before the big race, they nearly quit when a wheel broke off.
Lesson 1: Hardships Happen, But Keep Going Anyway
It’s pretty easy to be discouraged when things don’t seem to be going our way. I have this silly idea in my head that life should always add up: Hard Work + Being Good = Good(er) Life. If I work hard enough and try to be good then my life should be good and get better, so I have this expectation that good results will always happen when I’m working hard and being good, and when that is not the result…? Watch out! My inner Hulk wants to erupt: Hey! I’m working really hard and I’m being good, so good things should happen. That’s the way this is supposed to work! This equation works the other way too. When something bad happens, then I think, Well, I must have done something wrong. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I need to work harder. When I get into either one of these mindsets, I want to quit.
But just like Peg and Cat found a new wheel to replace the one they lost and overcome their hardship, here’s some Truth that Jesus offers us to not give up:
- God blesses those who realize their need for Him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. (Matthew 5:3)
- Your Heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary goal. (Matthew 6:32-33)
- Humanly speaking, it (being saved) is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God. (Mark 10:27)
- Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Then as Peg and Cat arrive at the big race, they see the three other teams they will be racing against: the Teens, the Pirates, and the Pig. Immediately, Peg and Cat started comparing their car made of junk to the other teams’ cars, and they were mentally losing the race before it even started.
Lesson 2: Comparison Is a Trap That Will Keep You From Running God’s Race
When I look around with comparing eyes, I usually get one of two results: Either I’m “better,” so I don’t even need to run the race--I’ve already won, obviously. But more often, I’m the “loser,” so I might as well save myself the embarrassment of trying--I’ve already lost, of course.
Just like Peg’s friend Ramone advised, “Don’t give up!,” Jesus provides us humbling and encouraging Truth for the times we feel arrogantly puffed up with ourselves or defeatedly deflated with our inadequacies:
- Stop judging others, and you will not be judged. For others will treat you as you treat them. Whatever measure you use in judging others, it will be used to measure how you are judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? (Matthew 7:1-3)
- Therefore, anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 18:4)
- Anyone who accepts your message is also accepting me. And anyone who rejects you is rejecting me. And anyone who rejects me is rejecting God who sent me. (Luke 10:16)
- And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking and the door will be opened. For everyone who ask, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks. (Luke 11:9-10) *emphasis mine
- Beware! Don’t be greedy for what you don’t have. Real life is not measured by how much we own. (Luke 12:15)
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize!
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.
During the race, early on Peg and Cat found themselves way behind, but they kept Ramone’s advice in mind; they kept their eyes on the prize and kept going. However, the other racers, like myself so often, lost focus.
Peg and Cat gained some ground when all the other racers slowed down to eat. Like Jesus so strongly reminds us in Matthew 6:31-33: “Do not worry. Do not keep saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘What will we wear?’ The people who do not know God are looking for all these things. Your Father in heaven knows you need all these things.”
Lesson 3: Don’t Worry About the Day-to-Day; God’s Got It Under Control
It’s so easy to become entangled in the daily chores of life. Last week, Kenny challenged us to evaluate our schedules, how we use our time. I realized how much time to I give to the “necessities.” Constantly on the run, cooking, cleaning, working, grocery shopping, folding laundry, grading papers, planning lessons, driving to practices, watching practices, etc., etc., etc… I looked back on a month and realized that I had spent most of my time worshipping the daily demands.
I think the devil likes to numb us to our calling by justifying the easily justifiable worries of survival. He tempts us with needs to get us to easily settle for our desires. In the story, not long after the racers lost focus on the race to satisfy their hunger, they soon lost momentum completely.
The Teens stopped racing because they decided they didn’t want to race beyond their comfort zone. They realized that eventually, if they kept racing, they would drive right on out of the teens. They decided they’d rather stay teens “forEVER,” so they stopped at lap thirteen. Then the pirates started arguing about who should be in charge. Their bickering about who should be in command, broke the steering wheel right off their ship/car and sent them careening off the track and into a lake where they could keep on doing what pirates do best--be pirates. Then, right as the pig was about to cross the finish line and win the race, he saw the triangle flags that were given as consolation prizes, so he gave up winning the race to settle for surrounding himself with triangles because they are his favorite shape.
Lesson 4: We’re Too Quick to Settle for Good Instead of Persevering for the Best
In Galatians, Paul asks, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you,” (5:7-8).
Danny challenged us today to consider: What have you been putting off? Why are you delaying?
Are you too comfortable being a spiritual teenager? It’s pretty nice to live a self-centered “Christianity,” living off the spiritual nourishment that others provide for you, but maybe it’s time to grow up. Maybe you’re too busy fighting God for control of the steering wheel. When you want to be in control, you’ll end up floating around the same lake you’ve always been floating in. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up where you steered yourself, but then you’ll question and even be angry at God for not “going anywhere.” Being in control seems good in theory, but you want to experience the rush of a real amazing race? Stop fighting God for the steering wheel. Let Lord be Lord. The one that scares me the most is the decision of the Pig. The idea that I could be right there, right about to experience victory, but instead I could settle for something else that seems good. I think I do this way more than I’d like to admit. It pains my heart as I try to confront this idea that I was right about to go where God was and I missed it because I saw another more comfortable option. Jesus warns us at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:21: “Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven.”
But just as there is an option to settle, there is an option to keep on keeping on, to keep the faith, to obey. “Now there was only one car still in the race. One little rickety car made out of junk. Peg and Cat finished lap 19 and kept right on going. And in no time, they were sputtering toward the end of lap 20. PEG AND CAT ARE CROSSING THE FINISH LINE! THEY WON THE RACE!
Can you imagine the celebration God wants to have with you when you finish the race? There is no trophy or celebration on this earth that could compare. “Now, there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing,” (2 Timothy 4:8). So, “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, 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,” (Hebrews 12:1-3).