In Second Timothy 4:6-7, Paul says, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
The Message Bible puts it this way: “I have run hard to the finish.” Today’s English Version says, “I have run the full distance.”
Running widens the perspective from single-event and day-to-day faith to step back and realize this is for a lifetime. Your setbacks do not indicate that the race is over. Confusion, darkness, and hard times come to all of us. Maybe you have had a bad season. The race is for the rest of your life. You are not done. If you will keep going forward, putting one foot in front of the other, day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year . . . friend, you will finish your race.
Maybe you have screwed up your life royally. Maybe you messed up your marriage or your kids won’t speak to you. Maybe you’ve made some other wrong choices. The truth is, some of those relationships will never be restored in the way you would like; but even your blunders did not take God by surprise. He can even take them and weave them into the fabric of your life. He can make something beautiful out of them. Just get up and keep going. Your race is not over. You have still got some more laps to run. It’s not a competition; you get rewarded for finishing! So just finish. Don’t quit.
To go the full distance with your faith, you need purpose, you need patience, and you need to realize there will be a prize.
You need a purpose—to live for something bigger than yourself. Paul says in First Corinthians 9:26, from The Living Bible, “So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step.” I have a purpose: Bringing a living Jesus to a dying world. My purpose is winning people to Christ and then making disciples and raising up a young generation of leaders that can do this work with us and carry it on after us. That is worth living for! If you do not have a purpose that is bigger than you and somehow tied into the kingdom, you will not finish well. You were meant for eternal things.
Secondly, you need patience. Hebrews 12:11, from The Living Bible, says, “Let us run with patience the particular race that God has set before us.”
Rome was not built in a day. A great ministry, marriage, company, children, relationships . . . cannot be built in a day. They take patience and loads of it.
We have been pastoring Cottonwood Church for 30 years. There have been some amazing events and interventions of God that have accentuated and punctuated things along the journey, but most of it has just been one foot in front of the other for 30 years. It is hard to realize when you see the massive oak with its spreading boughs that it was once just an acorn that held its ground. A diamond is just a piece of coal that stuck to the job. People with lives that are full like an oak or lives that shine like a diamond are those that have just stuck to the job and held their ground week after week, month after month, year after year. They kept trusting God and moving forward, refusing to become part of the bitter, cynical, negative crowd. They kept sweet in their spirit and just kept walking forward.
Thirdly, if you are going to finish and finish well, you need to realize there is a prize. In Philippians 3:14, from The Living Bible, Paul says, “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.” A prize is waiting for all who finish—not just for those who finish first, but for those who finish. I think there will be great blessing and great reward in heaven, but I think the greatest of all is going to be joining in that chorus with the angels and the elders around the throne, whose number is multiplied thousands, crying out with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. He is worthy to receive honor and glory and power and strength and dominion.” To join in that song and to gaze upon the Lamb of God, friend, that is reward enough. That day is coming as surely as the dawn. I hope you will be a part of it.
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