Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses …let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1
I’ve finished three full marathons (26.2 miles) and almost 20 Half Marathons. At the start
of the race you might be singing songs like:
Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’
But at the finish:
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone and all the roses dying
‘Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bye
In the last marathon I ran I saw lots of signs on the pinned to the backs of runners, but two stood out to me. One said, “Expected finish Tuesday about noon.” The second one said, “Courage to Start, Faith to Finish.”
WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO FINISH WELL?
Persistence in Prayer
Jesus tells us a story in Luke 18 about a widow who needs justice. She goes to her local politician and he’s a pretty weak kneed — turns out he’s on the take, he’s thoroughly corrupt. It’s hard to believe there could be such a thing as a corrupt politician, but use your imagination.
This woman has no connections, no money. She’s on welfare herself, can’t bribe him, but she calls him, writes him, e-mails him, faxes him so often he finally says to his staff, “Just take care of what she needs. Get her out of my hair and off my back.”
In Luke 11 Jesus tells another story and asks us to imagine that we have friends who are Methodists come to visit—uninvited. They arrive at midnight and they haven’t eaten since noon. Your kitchen’s empty and the local Town Talk Cafe is closed, so you go to your neighbor. You pound on the door. “The Methodists are here,” you say. “Give me some beer and some potato chips so I can feed them! For it is written that Methodists only partake of Beer and Chips.” (It’s in Luke 11, you can look it up.)
The neighbor says, “It’s one in the morning and the kids are in bed and it’s the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in a week. Are you crazy?”
But if you keep pounding long enough, Jesus says, he’ll give you food just to shut you up. If you are willing to persist with corrupt politicians and cranky neighbors, how can you not persist with God who listens to his children with infinite patience, who longs to give good things?
Sometimes the gift God wants to give you is growth, the kind of growth that only comes when you persist again and again and again.
Many years ago ministry and my selfishness had almost destroyed my marriage. My first post-ministry job was tearing down a cat lady’s house for $10 per hour, then I worked in an oil refinery for a few months, then I got a job as a corporate trainer and traveled the country teaching companies courses like, “How to Supervise People,” “Conflict Management,” and “Communication Skills.”
I felt as lost and unattached as a refugee. I spent night after miserable night in strange hotel rooms from Seattle to New York City. But I developed a discipline in that dark time of journaling three pages every morning no matter what.
I would start my day out, “Dear Lord, …”
I kept going to the Lord.
Then one day in Flagstaff, Arizona I was reading through Psalm 51 in The Message translation and came across this passage…
God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. 11 Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me. 12 Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails! 13 Give me a job teaching rebels your ways so the lost can find their way home. Psalms 51:10-13 (MSG)
God was sending me a message through His Word that in spite of my present circumstances, He was not finished with me. I would have never dreamed in that Comfort Inn in Flagstaff, that one day I would be pastoring a beautiful church in the mountains of Colorado.
I’ve gotten a lot of things wrong in my life, but one thing I’ve kept doing is I’ve kept going to God.
FIND SOME ENCOURAGERS
We need to find a few people who say, “Don’t quit, just keep running, and just don’t give up.” We need to find a little cloud of witnesses.
In my last marathon, I saw lots of sleek and strong bodies. But there were others that were not so sleek. I saw a lady bent over with osteoporosis. There was a man who was pushing his son in a wheelchair. Some run fast, some run slow — it doesn’t matter. Just keep running. Everybody has a race to run and not one of them is easy.
When you run in a race there are people along the way that cheer you on. I remember in the first third of the race, I would run by a group in lawn chairs cheering me on and I would think, “You don’t know me. You’re just cheering to hear your own voice. Leave me alone.”
But in the last third of the race when a total stranger shouted, “You can do it, big fella!” I’d run over to them and say, “Really? You think I can? I hope so. Thanks for cheering me!”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every Sunday when folks gather in their places of worship, they would know that they had a little cloud of witnesses? That when they were down and discouraged they could look into the eyes of those encouragers and find strength to finish their race.
Derek Redmond was prepared for the 400-meter semifinal race at the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992. He felt he was in the best shape of his life. His father Jim, sitting in the stands. Jim and his son were very close and he made it to all of the championship races.
Derek gets off to a good start. Coming around the first bend in the track, tragedy struck as Derek’s hamstring went. His leg would not function.
He hopped on one leg for half a lap before his father came to his aid. Together they finished the race arm-in-arm to a standing ovation.
When we get to heaven, the Lord won’t care if we won our race and beat anyone down here. He’s going to look to see if we finished.
Courage to start; faith to finish.
One day there will be a great cloud of witnesses cheering as we enter the fully realized Kingdom of God and hear our Heavenly Father say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Well done. Enter into the joy of the Kingdom.”
Just keep running.
I wept as I read this. Such a vital thing to persevere even in our broken state…if I lived in Buena Vista I certainly would be attending your church. So very many people are like broken down vehicles abandoned by a selfish worldly crowd just to wither and die. This is why my wife Karen just completed teaching almost 10 yrs in the public school system in Hixson, Tn. Every year only a handful of students would have intact homes…..the rest were just strewn across the pages of time to mostly fend for themselves…and this is in the heart of the Bible Belt. She ministered there and encouraged so many young people…shr just retired and students cried everyday because she was not coming back. She was recognized in one of the kid’s graduation speeches. She was a great encouragement and was wise in so many ways. Thank you Joe for your life story…love it. You are a great man.
Thanks, Bill. As the husband of a teacher, I completely resonate with your statement about Karen. God is good.
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