Strength For the Race

STRENGTH FOR THE RACE
Mike Cunningham
January 26, 2014
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Ever since the EMT’s rushed me out of my bedroom and transported me to the hospital by ambulance with a very painful back injury, my main concern was centered on doing everything I possible could not to reinjure it. From the moment I awoke in the morning until I went to bed for the night, I thanked God profusely for protecting me throughout the day and asked Him to please continue doing so on the following one-and He has!

In the course of time and by the grace of God, I switched gears. I followed Jesus’ lead and was able to say, “Not my will, but whatever you want is what I want. My hearts desire is to bring glory to you with everything that I think, do and say. In the name of Your Son, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I ask you to please help me to overcome every temptation not to do so today, and please forgive me for those times when I don’t.”

I had been concerned about not doing anything that would cause me to go back to the nursing home. That was my main objective. On several occasions I asked God to take me home instead. Then suddenly a biblical fact popped into my mind and it changed my entire perspective. You see I had completely forgotten that I couldn’t go home until I finished the race. The following Scriptures will enable you to understand my line of reasoning.

Philippians 3:14 (TLB)
14 I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV)
24 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.
25 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.
26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.
27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Hebrews 12:1-13 (MSG)
1 Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.
2 Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.
3 When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
4 In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through—all that bloodshed!
5 So don’t feel sorry for yourselves. Or have you forgotten how good parents treat children, and that God regards you as his children? My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either.
6 It’s the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects.
7 God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training,
8 the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God?
9 We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live?
10 While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best.
11 At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.
12 So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet!
13 Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!”

Now I’ll illustrate those scriptures with the following devotional.

The Race
Attributed to Dr. D.H. “Dee” Groberg

Whenever I start to hang my head in front of failure’s face,
my downward fall is broken by the memory of a race.

A children’s race, young boys, young men; how I remember well,
excitement sure, but also fear, it wasn’t hard to tell.

They all lined up so full of hope, each thought to win that race
or tie for first, or if not that, at least take second place.

Their parents watched from off the side, each cheering for their son,
and each boy hoped to show his folks that he would be the one.
The whistle blew and off they flew, like chariots of fire,
to win, to be the hero there, was each young boy’s desire.

One boy in particular, whose dad was in the crowd,
was running in the lead and thought “My dad will be so proud.”

But as he speeded down the field and crossed a shallow dip,
the little boy who thought he’d win, lost his step and slipped.

Trying hard to catch himself, his arms flew everyplace,
and in the midst of the laughter of the crowd he fell flat on his face.

As he fell, his hope fell too; he couldn’t win it now.
Humiliated, he just wished to disappear somehow.
But as he fell his dad stood up and showed his anxious face,
to which the boy so clearly said, “Get up and win that race!”

He quickly rose, no damage done, behind a bit that’s all,
and ran with all of his mind and might to make up for his fall.

So anxious to restore himself, to catch up and to win,
his mind went faster than his legs. He slipped and fell again.

He wished that he had quit before with only one disgrace.
“I’m hopeless as a runner now, I shouldn’t try to race.”
But through the laughing crowd he searched and found his father’s face
with a steady look that said again, “Get up and win that race!”

So he jumped up to try again, ten yards behind the last.
“If I’m to gain those yards,” he thought, “I’ve got to run real fast!”

Exceeding everything he had, he regained eight, then ten…
but trying hard to catch the lead, he slipped and fell again.

Defeat! He lay there silently. A tear dropped from his eye.
“There’s no sense running anymore! Three strikes I’m out! Why try?

I’ve lost, so what’s the use?” he thought. “I’ll live with my disgrace.”
But then he thought about his dad, who soon he’d have to face.
“Get up,” an echo sounded low, “you haven’t lost at all,
for all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall.

Get up!” the echo urged him on, “Get up and take your place!
You were not meant for failure son! Get up and win that race!”

So, up he rose to run once more, refusing to forfeit,
and he resolved that win or lose, at least he wouldn’t quit.

He was so far behind the others now, the most he’d ever been,
still he gave it all he had and ran like he could win.

Three times he’d fallen stumbling and three times he rose again.
Too far behind to hope to win, he still ran to the end.
They cheered another boy who crossed the line and won first place,
head high and proud and happy — no falling, no disgrace.

But, when the fallen youngster crossed the line, in last place,
the crowd gave him a greater cheer for finishing the race.

And even though he came in last with head bowed low, unproud,
you would have thought he’d won the race, to listen to the crowd.

And to his dad he sadly said, “I didn’t do so well.”
“To me, you won,” his father said. “You rose each time you fell.”
And now when things seem dark and bleak and difficult to face,
the memory of that little boy helps me in my own race.

For all of life is like that race, with ups and downs and all.
And all you have to do to win is rise each time you fall.

And when depression and despair shout loudly in my face,
another voice within me says, “Get up and win that race!”

R. Kent Hughes in his insightful commentary, “An Anchor For The Soul,” tells us that, “On August 7, 1954, during the British Empire Games in Vancouver, Canada, one of the greatest mile-run match-ups ever took place. It was touted as the “miracle mile” because Roger Bannister and John Landy were the only two sub-four-minute milers in the world. Bannister had been the first man ever to run a four-minute mile. Both runners were in peak condition.

Dr. Bannister, who is today Sir Roger and master of an Oxford college, strategized that he would relax during the third lap and save everything for his finishing drive. But as they began the third lap, John Landy poured it on, stretching his already substantial lead. Immediately, Bannister adjusted his strategy, increasing his pace and gaining on Landy. The lead was cut in half, and at the bell for the final lap they were even.

Landy began running even faster, and Bannister followed suit. He felt he was going to lose if Landy did not slow down. Then came the famous moment (replayed thousands of times in print and celluloid) as at the last stride before the home stretch the crowds roared. Landy could not hear Bannister’s footfall and thus compulsively looked back—a fatal lapse of concentration. Bannister launched his attack, and Landy did not see him until he lost the lead. Roger Bannister won the “miracle mile” that day by five yards.

Landy’s lapse serves as a modern visualization of what the writer of Hebrews implicitly warned against in his earlier charge to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NASB). Those who look away from Christ—the end-goal of our race—will never finish well. And this was exactly what was happening to some treading the stormy waters mounting around the early church. They had begun to take their eyes off Christ and to fix them instead on the hardships challenging them.

When these Hebrew Christians first came to Christ, the Savior filled their lives from horizon to horizon. It was a delightful, joyous fixation. But that initial rush of joy began to be assaulted by hardships. Some of their life-long friendships cooled to estrangement. They were no longer welcome in the synagogue. Some lost their jobs as they were squeezed out of the family business. Others were assaulted by domestic stress, as even husband and wife relationships became strained over the matter of Christ. And to boot, their newfound faith did not shield them from the common vicissitudes of life—they suffered reversals, accidents, illness, and death just like everyone else.

As a result, not a few were distracted. Those increasingly longer looks away from Christ left some off-stride. Others stumbled here and there, and tragically a few had quit altogether. They were, in fact, a microcosm of many in the modern church who have lost their focus through hardship—who say, “It all began so well but I didn’t expect this. I had problems before I became a Christian, but nothing like this. Thanks for the offer of the abundant life, but I’ve got an abundance of problems already! You go ahead. I think I’ll take a breather.”

Here’s my second and final devotional.

STRENGTH FOR THE RACE
By Connie Campbell Bratcher

God gives us the strength to run life’s race,
And the stamina needed to keep the pace;
He uses the circumstances we go through
To condition us for what He calls us to do.
He strengthens our hearts, souls and minds,
And lifts sins weight that so easily binds,
That we might run with honor and grace
Through those difficult obstacles we face.
Refreshing, and supplying our need each day;
If we focus on Him and never look back,
We’ve always been running on the right track.
Across the line-is a crown to be received,
For all we’ve accomplished and achieved;
We’ll accept it gladly when the race is complete,
To lay at our wonderful Trainer’s feet.
Praise God! With Christ as our Coach Divine,
We don’t have to wait for the finish line;
Hallelujah! The victory is already won,
Father, we thank Thee for Thy saving grace
That imparts to us strength for the Race.

Obviously, I continue to take every precaution and do everything I possibly can to avoid having to go back to a nursing home. However, if God’s will is otherwise, by His grace, I intend to accept it and carry on. I’m confidant that He will always give me enough Strength For The Race. It’s now one of the desires of my heart to echo the great Apostle Paul and be able to say,

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness. 2 Timothy 4:7-8 (NIV)

It’s been my prayer filled hope that when you leave this world and enter heaven, you will also be able to say the same thing.

Lord willing, next week….

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7 comments

  1. Amanda says:

    This was another great sermon with a great message! Don’t ever give up!

    Love,
    Amanda

  2. Susie says:

    Excellent sermon Dad!

  3. Jacob says:

    I really enjoyed reading your sermon grandpa. It taught me to never lose hope and always have faith in God. Having faith will always win the race!!

    Love,
    Jacob

  4. mike Jr. says:

    Another great sermon that teaches me to never give up. Even on day’s when the going gets tough I know with God’s help He will get me through the day. I am so happy that God did not bring you home when times were tough for you. What a great feeling you must have knowing God is using you to spread His word. I can only hope that God will continue using you for many years to come. Love you.

    Mike Jr.

  5. Peg Pratt says:

    Good morning Mike.

    I am a little late this morning but this is what I did. I decided that what you wrote from Hebrews 12: 1-13 I would read from my bible. I was surprised that I hardly recognized it from what was written in the sermon.

    I could not have read it from my bible and understood it like what you wrote in the sermon. It is interesting how you can do that. Was that your interpretation? If so, GOOD JOB. I think I will go and eat a muffin now.

    Peg.

  6. Carol Racine says:

    Thanks Mike,

    I have to ditto Mike Jr., I too am glad that God didn’t take you home and I pray He will continue to allow you to do the Lord’s work.

    It is so comforting knowing that God is Sovereign, that we can trust Him and that we can say “not my will but Thine be done”.

    God bless you,
    Carol

  7. Cheyenne says:

    Grandpa I really enjoyed your sermon. It taught me to never give up even when times are tough.

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