May I ask you these questions: What have you felt like giving up on? Is it your dreams or goals? Do you feel like giving up on God, or do you feel like giving up period? Or What have you left undone, a commitment, project, promise, vow, or pledge. Or What’s holding you back, distracting you? Is it a relationship, fear or worry, job or possessions, how about misplaced morals or values?
These are basic questions when we consider our responsive reading today from Hebrews it says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” The Bible describes life like a race, not a hundred yard dash, but a marathon. And while everyone runs in this race, not everyone will run the whole race or finish well. They’ll get discouraged, distracted, hurt, or they’ll just give up. Eventually they’ll find themselves sitting on the sidelines with their dreams unrealized and giving up on their God given potential.
Some will leave a lot of things in life unfinished. Some start out well, but soon get tired, bored, and distracted. Some never finish and life feels unfulfilled. Many leave behind uncompleted projects, unfulfilled commitments, and unrealized promises as they have lived their lives. Paul is clear about this race of life saying that if we want to receive the prize of heaven at the end, we’ll need to run it according to the rules. Some may say, “Life Happens.” Yet what’s also true is that life is what we make of it. Our character is not determined in how well we start the race, but how we finish it.
Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:7-8,
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” Let’s look at how we can finish this race well, even when we feel like giving up. There are four things everyone needs to do if we desire to run the whole race and finish well and when we do I have the faith to believe we will hear the Lord say: “Well done good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of the Lord.”
1. Remove the Obstacles
We need to remove those things that drag us down and hold us back from being everything God has called us to be. “let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.” Or some translations say “the sin which so easily ensnares us. This is not a gentle removal. The Greek wording means violently taking off and throwing it away. If you were water skiing in your snowsuit and you fell in the water, you’d be violently tearing away your clothing before you sunk to the bottom. Do the same thing with your “stuff”.
Understand that God has created us uniquely; so God has created a unique race for each of us. Often the problem is the expectations others place on us, and that’s because they want us to run their race. These expectations can actually become distractions. We can only live the life God has given, and we won’t finish the race well until we let go of these false expectations of others.
If we live by any other expectations than God’s expectations for us then we’re not going to be living God’s best. This scripture simply implies that if we want to finish well we’re going to have to simplify. We need to get rid of the baggage, remove the diversions, eliminate the distractions, and whatever else that weighs us down and prevents us from running the race God has set before us.
There are so many distractions today and frankly one of the biggest is possessions, stuff we acquire. In our quest for physical stuff, our quest for money, if we hunger for anything but the Lord’s stuff we often start to worry about keeping and holding onto all that stuff, and in the process we lose our way. We become so distracted by “the” stuff that we soon find ourselves out of the game and onto the sidelines of life.
Another obstacle is our past. Our past really weighs us down, and that’s because we’re loaded down with either guilt and shame over what we’ve done, or resentment and bitterness over what others have done to us. The Apostle Paul had a past that could have haunted him, dragging him down and crippling him in the process. Without mercy he persecuted the church, and after he became a believer the church shunned him. Paul could have either focused on the guilt and shame over what he did, or become resentful and bitter over the church’s treatment of him.
But Paul said in Philippians 3:13-14, “this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul is saying that he wasn’t going to let the things of his past drag him down. He had a race to run and he’s not going to focus on what lays behind, but rather on the finish line. God has a special race for each one of us to run, and He has something special for each one of us to do, therefore He wants us to stop dwelling on the past. So first get rid of your obstacles that distract and keep moving forward. Next:
2. Remember the Reward
Having run 4 half marathons I can tell you that you must remember what you will feel when you’ve done it and crossed the finish line. If we’re going to finish this life well, then we’ll have to continue to remind ourselves what’s at the finish and why we’re doing whatever we’re doing.
The why determines so much. If the why is tied to short-term goals then we’ll stop before the end, but if the why is tied to long term goals, eternal goals, then we’ll last until the end.
Instant or self-gratification won’t see us to the end, but when our goal is God’s eternal rewards then not only will we run the whole race, but we’ll finish well. So when we feel like giving up, let’s focus on the finish. Look at how Paul sees it. Some people wonder if any heavenly reward waits. They say, “I’m no saint.” The problem is that their idea of God’s rewards is based on which side of God’s scale of judgment they sit. On one side are all the good things, and the other all the bad. And so they hope that in the end the good side will outweigh the bad.
Praise God, God doesn’t reward us based on a scale. Instead He rewards us based upon His grace. All the sins we’ve committed God forgives based on His grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Grace means that every good thing we do by faith, every word we speak by faith, and every thought we think by faith, God rewards.
The idea of eternal rewards, however, is foreign to many because when things get difficult, we often escape. We often escape to the TV or Internet, the next weekend off, or we count the days to our next vacation. But no weekend or vacation is ever going to be good enough or long enough. That’s why we need to remember that we have an eternity in waiting in heaven and the waiting can be tough.
3. Resist Discouragement
Discouragement comes easy when we think about our health, finances, marriage, children, and job. Discouragement is a reality of life, it’s also a choice we make. The Bible says that as a person thinks deep within their hearts about themselves, that’s what they’re eventually going to become. D.L. Moody said, “I have never known God to use a discouraged person.” Discouragement is the opposite of faith, because it looks at problems through human understanding instead of looking at our problems through the eyes of faith.
Paul meant this about discouragement: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” One reason we get tired of doing what is right is because doing what is wrong is so much easier. It’s often easier to tell a lie than it is the truth. It’s often easier to be selfish than unselfish. Why should we resist this urge and not get tired of doing what’s right? It’s found in the phrase, “at harvest time.” In other words, after a while we’ll reap a harvest if we don’t quit sowing due to discouragement.
When you plant one seed, you don’t get back one seed; rather we get back a whole bunch. This is God’s economy. And while we may not see immediate results, the results are coming if we’re faithful. So, we ask, “Why does God delay?” The reason is because He’s letting our faith grow and mature.
Our problem is that we live in a society of instant gratification. It’s like when we decide to follow God’s principle of good stewardship and start tithing according to God’s word, but what happens is that we don’t immediately see the results, or the results we’re hoping for. But by faith when we wait, God will open things up.
Anything that’s worth doing is worth the time and investment we put in. Michelangelo didn’t create this great sculpture of David with one hit of the hammer. It took him three years of taking a little bit off at a time. It’s a long process to make a masterpiece, and that includes us. It’s going to take a while for God to create us into that masterpiece He destined for us to be.
To help fight discouragement there are three things we need to remember
God’s Goodness – Remember all those times God bailed us out, met our need, answered our prayer, and brought joy and peace to a troubled heart
God’s Presence – Remember that no matter what, God is with us, that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us. And while we may not feel God’s presence we know that He’s always there.
God’s Promise – Remember His promises, especially His greatest that all who come to belief in Jesus Christ will be saved with heaven as our new home.
The key to defeating discouragement is to change our focus off the world and ourselves, and focus on God and His goodness, presence, and promises. Finally,
4. Renew Ourselves Daily
We have to find those ways to recharge our physical and spiritual batteries everyday. We must learn the art of mid-life refueling.
a. Physical Renewal
Psalm 127:2 “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved. Vince Lombardi, famous football coach of the Green Bay Packers, said, “Fatigue makes cowards of all of us.” When we’re physical tired we get discouraged, and so we need both physical exercise and rest to be renewed.
Now the Bible also says in 1 Timothy 4:8, “for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” What this says is that while it’s good to keep ourselves physically healthy and strong, the renewal we need most is…
b. Spiritual Renewal
2 Corinthians 4:16, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” The way we become spiritually renewed is by daily taking time with God through the reading of His word and prayer.
Jesus ran the whole race. Jesus never gave up even though He knew the cross was before Him. He knew the reason for the cross, so He could take our place and die our death so that we can have eternal life. He also knew the rewards and therefore became obedient unto death.
For us, it’s never too late. God’s not finished with any one of us, and there’s a whole race to be run. Now it doesn’t matter when someone starts the race, or how messed up our past may be. What matters is finishing well. We may have tripped and fallen. We may have put ourselves on the sidelines of discouragement, but neither of these matter. It’s all about right now and getting started. It’s all about getting back into the race.
It’s my sincere desire that at the end of this life we can all say, “I have run the whole race, I have finished the race well, I have kept the faith.” And when we stand before our heavenly Father we’ll hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy I have prepared for you.”