Saturday, July 15, 2017

Running the Race For God

On your mark!
Get Set!
Go on, start running.
Oh, I didn't tell you where you are going?
Just go, you will figure it out.
Have you ever felt as if your life was like the situation above? You were born and just expected to get up and go, not really knowing where exactly it was you were going or why. But you knew you had to go. You knew there was a reason, and you definitely had the determination to get there; where ever there is.
But we still haven't answered where you are going? Or even better, why are you running in the first place?
Sit down, put your feet up and continue reading as you are about to enter the greatest adventure even known to man. The "Amazing Race" we will call it; like the race on TV, just a lot bigger and longer and harder and... oh you get the picture.
The race I am going to describe is no ordinary race. This race involves many obstacles, challenges and skills that can be compared to no other race. There isn't a set starting line, nor is there a single winner; but we are all in the race till the end.
This study that I am going to be sharing with you is about running the race for God.
This main focus of this study is going to be based out of Philippians 3; and specifically verse 14, that is "pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus."
So to begin, imagine that when we were first brought into this world, we were all released randomly in a large, expansive jungle and we were all given the same task; to get ourselves to the finish line. Some of us had a longer ways to go than others but the goal remained the same.
When we first entered the jungle, none of us really had any idea where to go, or what to do and we became scared. Many obstacles and dangers surrounded us, creating a sense of urgency to find safety. Some of us gave up quickly and settled for whatever circumstances we ended up with, but others persisted and started wandering around looking for things that would guide us, things that would give us the answers we sought.
At the same time, we began to get used to the dangers that surrounded us and started noticing that the jungle is not only a big scary place, but also a very beautiful place to live. Everywhere we looked we became mystified by the beauty of the creations before us. We begin to wonder what this is all for? Is it mine? How'd it get here?
While wandering around, many of us were able to find others who are also wandering around and teamed up with them to work together to find a way out of the jungle, and search for answers. The bond formed with these people often would give us the strength to continue.
In Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12 this point is illustrated when it says
"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
This verse is an indicator of how important it is for us to develop lasting friendships and communities with the right people who will help lead us in the right direction to the finish line ahead.
Unfortunately, there are many who aren't so lucky to have those friendships that will lead them in the right direction. Instead they end up in the company of people who have already given up the race and try to distract them from the finish line. When this happens, it becomes the responsibility of the people who have found the finish line to go back out in search of the lost so they may finish the race as well.
The weird thing about this race though is that even though we may find the finish, we aren't encouraged to just sit back and relax while we wait for everyone else to finish. We become recognized for having found the finish line, but then we get sent back out into the jungle so that we may find others and bring them to the finish line as well.
When God gives us the direction to "go" as found in Matthew 10: 6-7, he is encouraging us to go out in search of other runners so that everyone has a chance to finish the race. He understands that there will be a lot of people who have gotten so lost that without help, they would never find the finish.
(Matthew 10: 6-7 -- "6Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'" )
When Paul started out in his race for the finish, he wasn't even aware he was running it. He actually was an enemy to the people searching for the lost sheep, persecuting them for their faith without any mercy, but God had different plans for Paul and called out to him and led him to the truth. Then he was also sent back out into the dangerous jungle to find lost sheep of his own to bring to Christ. And as you can tell from reading the bible, he was rather successful at it.
So what makes the jungle so dangerous?
Lions, tigers and bears of course.
OK seriously, I came up with four things that make the jungle a dangerous place to be. These things are, Thorns and thickets that make it hard to get through; sinkholes or pits that you could potentially fall in and get stuck; the wild life that can harm you if not approached carefully; and also the natives to the land that aren't seeking the same goals as you.
So how do these compare with the real life struggles we all face?
Thorns and Thickets
I'll start with the thorns and thickets that make it hard to move through the jungle. In real life, these are the things in our lives that kind of prevent us from moving on as quickly as we would like. They could be such things as money, health, family troubles, or general circumstances. We all run into these thorns but none of them should prevent us from continuing the race.
Isaiah 7:24 says "Men will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns."
Now I don't think that this passage directly has to deal with what I'm talking about but I think that we still need to be armed to handle the thorns in our lives. Accepting God in our lives allows us to tackle the thorns with authority. The bible becomes our machete, allowing us to slice through the problems we face so that we may continue on toward the goal. These things may slow us down and even cause us some pain, but God is able to pull us through even the thickest of thorns.
Sink Holes
The sink holes in our lives are those things that occur when everything seems to be going just fine in our lives. Then seemingly out of nowhere something bad happens and we fall into a hole that is often difficult to climb back out of. These holes are often things like, a death of a loved one, losing a job, breaking up from a relationship, or finding out you are failing a class. Sometimes these holes could even be traps set up by those who don't want you to succeed. They may try to sabotage an aspect of your life including your faith, relationships or well being.
Psalm 140:5 says "Proud men have hidden a snare for me; they have spread out the cords of their net and have set traps for me along my path."
But God has a way of protecting you from these traps if you simply pray to him for protection and help.
This is shown in Psalm 57:6 and Psalm 40:1-2.
Psalm 57:6: "They spread a net for my feet- I was bowed down in distress. They dug a pit in my path- but they have fallen into it themselves."
Psalm 40:1-2 (NLV): 1 I waited patiently for the Lord to help me and he turned to me and heard my cry.2 He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.
The first verses shows how if we depend on God and pray, that when we are faced with those traps people set for us, God will protect us and often make the enemy a victim of his own trap instead. The second verse demonstrates that when we do fall into one of those holes, we are to be patient and wait for the Lord's hand to lift us out. He will be there to brush us off and send us on our way again.
Wild Life
This is going to be pushing it a bit, but I describe wild life as the idols in your life that may seem really cool and that provide some sort of satisfaction, but if you would to hold onto them, they would more than likely cause more harm than good in your life. To stick with the jungle theme, this is like if I wanted a pet tiger. Sure they might be beautiful animals and might be fun to have as a cub, but when they get bigger, they would get more dangerous and unwise to have as a pet. These idols could also be like finding an oasis in the jungle, complete with a crystal clear lake fed by a gorgeous waterfall. We end up becoming drawn to this illusion of peace and happiness and then forget to continue on to the real source of happiness which is at the finish line. Many people get trapped into settling for what they think will make them happy or just what makes them look good, but we can't do that.
The "wildlife" or idols in our lives could range from the relationships we have with certain people, to the fancy home or car we own, or even our own selfishness and pride. Anything that distracts from the end goal, our place in the kingdom of heaven, is something that we need to be careful with when it becomes a part of our lives. Not all wildlife has to be bad, but when it starts distracting us from the finish line, that's when we have to regain focus and keep on moving.
The following verses illustrate this point:
1 Samuel 12:21 says "Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless."
Zechariah 10:2 -"The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd."Jonah 2:8 "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
This last verse is especially worth noticing. How often do we get caught up in our own lives and the stuff we have that we forget that God has given us so much more and that we are still in a race to bring others to the finish.
Other People
The final thing I listed that makes the jungle a dangerous place is all the other people who have not yet found the finish line. Some are simply just lost and that's why we get sent back, but others have given up the search and have become enemies to the lost as well as too you.
Some of these people may not be violent or directly trying to harm you, but they have simply given up and have got caught up in the very "wild life" I just wrote about. But these people are still dangerous to you because they often have a habit of influencing the lost and the ones seeking the lost into habits that distract from the ultimate goal. Some of these groups of people may seem like they have found the right answer but in reality they have simply found a system that works good for them and stuck to it, failing to realize the truth in God.
This is what Paul was talking about in the first half of Philippians 3. He says" Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh." He was referring mostly to the Jewish Christians at the time who wrongly believed that it was essential for Gentiles to follow all of the Old Testament Jewish laws in order to receive salvation. He criticized them because they looked at Christianity backwards; thinking that what they did made them believers rather than the free gift of grace given by God.
We must be careful of this thought because it is easy to think that we are generally good people and start comparing ourselves to others. We are all sinners in the eyes of the Lord and we are all susceptible to the same traps and obstacles that others face. Even when we have found the finish line and have already been rewarded with God's grace, it doesn't mean we are safe from the trouble that the jungle throws out.
1 Corinthian 9: 19-27 gives a good explanation of how we are supposed to handle those we come across.
"1 Corinthian 9: 19-27 - 19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
24Do 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.25Everyone 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. 26Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27No, 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."
Make sure to note the last verse as well because even though we are out to reach as many people as possible and God is backing us up, we are still going face the same obstacles of the jungle that everyone else is facing. We have to remain strong and continue training our body and minds so that we are able to tackle those obstacles and not get trapped by them ourselves.
To close this study, I would like to offer several steps and supporting verses that may help you in your race to the final finish line, which is a home in the kingdom of heaven.
The first step is to pray for the path to be revealed to you.
Psalm 16:11 says "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."
When you pray, God will lead you to the finish just as he did with Paul. When you reach the finish line, a joy you have never experienced will enter you and you will know that God is with you.
You must stick to the path God has set for you.
Psalm 119:32-I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

Psalm 119:101-I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word.
When God reveals the path of your life, you have to try your best to follow it. There are going be many other paths that look good but will lead to things that are against God's will for you. God knows the entire jungle, and won't guide you astray if you trust in Him and just stick to the path he set for you. Unfortunately these paths aren't always clear of the dangers that were mentioned before, but if you remember that God will be there to help you overcome those obstacles, your reward will be great and you will avoid many other obstacles that are far greater than the ones you would deal with otherwise.
Occasionally God may lead you down a path that may seem wrong at first, but remember your task is also to find the lost sheep and lead them to the finish, so just continue to pray and listen to Gods response, and He will protect you from any dangers that may be there.
Be wary of those who are out to harm you and stand firm in your faith.
Proverbs 2: 7-15
7 He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, 8 for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.
9 Then you will understand what is right and just and fair-every good path.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
11 Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.
12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse,
13 who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways,
14 who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
15 whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways.
1 Peter 5:8-9Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Temptations and dangers are going to be lurking around every corner in your race for salvation, but remember that you are never alone in your struggles as you are part of a greater body in Christ. God will protect your path and teach you how to fight in the case of opposition. He will show you how to avoid those who only want to lead you astray.
Be willing to lead and give your all to God
Isaiah 42:16 I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

1 Corinthians 15:58- Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.2 Timothy 4:2-5 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
The first two of these verses are pretty straight forward in their meaning; we must lead the lost and let everything we do be for the glory of God. When we go out sharing, we must not get discouraged if no one seems to be accepting God right then and there, because we may only be a part of God's plan for that person. But nonetheless we are still a part and we must realize that without that part, some of the other parts may not come together either, so never give up in the work God has set for you.
The last verse is important in that we can't waste our time once we find the finish assuming that the lost will still be willing to listen when we get around to sharing with them. The more we wait to go out and communicate with those that are lost, the more lost they may get, and eventually they may be approached by the enemy who will lead them to a life not worthy of God's grace.
And finally, I'd like to give you one of the passages that has stood out to me over the years. It is in Matthew 7: 13-14
13″Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
My challenge to you while you are running your race in search of the lost, is to reverse those verses. Let's blaze a trail so that all who are lost may find the gate to salvation and enter the kingdom of heaven. Let's be the friend to those in need, breaking them out of the thorns that hold them back, pulling them out of the holes they've managed to get themselves in, and steer them clear of all the wild life and people who stand in their way. The more who are able to find the gate into heaven, the greater the chance others will find the path they followed and also find the finish.
At the end we should be able to repeat what Paul says in
Acts 20:24; "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."
And in
2 Tim 4: 7-8 "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Now 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."
God did not waste any part of Paul- his background, his training, his citizenship, his mind, or even his weaknesses. Are you willing to let God do the same for you? You will never know all he can do with you until you allow him to have all that you are.

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