Life’s a Marathon

Life is not a 50-yard dash; it is a marathon.

Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. — Hebrews 12:2

Get your mind off your circumstances and your problems and focus on God’s goodness to you in the past, his closeness to you in the present and his power to help you in your future.

Jonah said while he sat in the belly of the fish:When I had lost all hope, I turned my thoughts once more to the Lord.” — Jonah 2:7

The Christian life is a grueling race that entails many hills and valleys. You need discipline and a sustained effort to make it to the end. This is not a race against others, you are not competing against other believers. We have no choice but to run this race, none of us can sit this one out.

So how best can we run this race? How can we run it as well as we are able?

Lay aside anything that encumbers you.

Something that encumbers you is something weighs you down, unnecessary baggage. Ancient Greek runners would run naked, they wanted nothing to slow them down. We must remove anything that slows us down during the race.

Example: You don’t have time during your day to read the Bible or pray. But you can find time to read the newspaper or browse foxnews.com to keep abreast of the latest world news. Could you set aside the news and spend that time reading a few verses of scripture? Could you set aside 10 minutes of sleep, set your alarm just a little bit earlier and spend that extra time in prayer?

Lay aside sins that entangles us.

Sin is differentiated from something that simply encumbers you. It does more than just slow you down. It trips you up and keeps you from running at all. You wouldn’t wear a long robe while running a race, it would entangle your legs and trip you up. You must remove sin from your life, if you want to run the race without tripping.

But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. — James 1: 14-15

A simple straight forward verse. Sin begins in the mind, with our thoughts. You are prideful because you think more highly of your actions than of Gods. You lust after others first in your mind with desire. You are greedy, because you want more “stuff”. If you cut it off at that level, it goes no further. If you stop your sin, while they are still just thoughts, you won’t put them into action. However if you entertain those thoughts, dwell on them and ponder on them, they grow into sinful words and actions. If you are acting upon those sins, you are not running the race along the course that God has set for you.

You must run with endurance the course God has set for us.

First, realize that God sets the course. Not us. The runners in a marathon follow a preset course, they do not make it up as they go. If they would stray from the course, they become disqualified. We must run the course that God puts before us. When we stray from God’s course, we are setting our own path and disqualify us from the full measure of blessings that God has planned for us.

We may not always like that course and we may wonder “why did God plan it this way?” The answer is simply, “Because God planned it that way.” We must run by faith and submit to the path that He has laid before us.

Secondly, we run with endurance. To run with endurance, we need a special mindset. If we start a marathon, thinking it’s a sprint, we are going to be vastly disappointed and dismayed when you discover it is far longer than that. You’ll be so discouraged you’ll want to quit. But you need to keep running. And how best to keep running the race to the finish?

Motivation

What do you see at any sporting event? Fans. The streets are lined with family and fans during just about any race. The stands are filled in any stadium that a sporting event that is played. What are those fans doing there? They are cheering on their favorite players, runners or team. They are encouraging them to do their best, play their hardest and run their fastest..they are encouraging them to endure to the finish line or the final whistle.

Hebrews 12:1 talks about a great crowd of witnesses:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sins that so easily hinders or progress. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. — Hebrews 12:1

Who is this crowd? They are those that have gone on before us. Those who have ran the race and finished well. They are there to encourage us to run the race and run it well. I did a quick word study on the word for witnesses used (you can really learn a lot by studying what the original language that is used means). The word used is marturon, from which we get the word martyr.

So who really is this crowd? They are those Christian martyrs who have gone on before us. Think of that, these are the apostles in this crowd encouraging us on. The Christians killed for their faith in the middle east are in that crowd. Think of those that are there cheering you on personally during your race. Think of how a high school football player would feel if the looked into the crowd on Friday night and saw Peyton Manning cheering them on personally.

Why should the motivate us? Well they completed their portion of the race already. We can learn much from them and how they ran. Also, since they are done with their race, they’ve since passed the baton on to us, and now it is our job to run our portion of the race.

How to finish

But ultimately, regardless of those cheering you on, it is you who must run the race. No one else can. You are the only person who can run the race that God has set for you. So how do we endure, how do we finish? Well jump back to the very first verse I shared.

Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. — Hebrews 12:2

So no one else can run it and you have a path set before you. Christ is the one who will empower you to complete the race. So keep your eyes on him, get in the race and give it everything you’ve got!

What If He Says Stay!

Why are we asking God to remove us from some situation?  Is it out of boredom?  Is there some opposition that you’re trying to avoid?  Is it because we think our current situation is not “important” enough for God to use us?

We look at those that are called to missions, those that give up everything to follow God as the “real” God followers.  Those that risked it all, stepped out of the boat and left it all behind, to take that big risk for God by going going somewhere uncomfortable or pursuing a profession that serves others but doesn’t make much money.  Those type of people we associate with the front-lines of Christianity.  We see those in the news, those are the ones our pastors talk about during their sermons.  They are held up as doing critical God’s work and making a difference in God’s kingdom… and they are!  They are important to God’s work.

Our society rewards the risk takers, so it’s natural to feel that way.

What is riskier?

But, what if, the riskier thing to do for God is to stay exactly where you are and keep doing what you’re doing until God says otherwise?  What if instead of leaping out in faith and hoping for a miracle to happen when we’ve chosen a path that we think God is leading, we really should be standing firm.  What if we need to keep at the hard, messy work in which we’re involved.

What if “taking a risk for God” were less about traditional definition of risky and instead about opening our eyes to how God wants us to be right where we are and looking for the positive change we can make around us.

We could be a agent for change in our workplace, in our community or in our family and social circles.  We could minister to our neighbors, family and friends.  We could help the needy in our own backyards.  It could be that “stepping out of the boat”, quitting our job and moving our family across the country or around the world, could be counter to what God really wants us to do.

Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. — Ecclesiastes 11:6

Risk it all in your own community

I look around my local community.  Within 25 miles of me there are close to 1 million people (and I live in a fairly rural area of Ohio actually).  According to some polls I’ve seen, approximately 75% of Americans identify themselves as Christians.  But no-where near 750,000 people attend church regularly in this area.

According to recent census data, there are ~376000 people living in my county.  Of those, 15% live below the poverty level.  That’s 56000+ people, many of whom are children. According to recent figures from late summer 2015, there are 4.4% unemployed…and that’s using faulty federal government numbers that do not count those that are not even looking for work.  But even at that, there are more than 16000 people looking for work in my county alone.

As you can see, there are many people in need right where I am.  Those that I can help right now and right here.  Perhaps I can help the homeless in the area.  Last Christmas we were able to make an impact for some homeless people right in our own area.  This group of individuals have since been removed from their encampment and scattered.  One sadly was even found dead on the eve of the eviction under suspicious circumstances.  So they are not being loved and helped like the should.

Our local community has an organization of alumni of the local school (Fairless Local Schools) that sponsors, along with some local churches,  a group called Fairless Helping Fairless.  This organizations do a lot around the community to help low-income residents assistance with food, school supplies, clothing and much more.

Rival schools in the area have in the past turned their annual rivalry football into an opportunity to help those in need through donations to the local food kitchens.  I’ve talked about this before in my post (Occupy Charity at Christmas – look about half-way down in that post)  This is something that has been a positive thing in our community.

So what if when we pray to God to find our purpose in our lives, God says “Stay!  You are right where I want you.”  Are you willing to trust and believe that this is God’s will?  That He has put you here for a reason, given you the skills and job that you were meant to have?  Are you missing the opportunities that God has put before you, because you are always looking for something a bit more risky?

A Challenge

Individuals reading this post…I challenge you, whether you are truly searching for your purpose or not, look around you and see those in need in your area.  Look for the homeless that may be living right around the corner under a bridge and you’ve never noticed.  Look for the opportunities to help (donate time, money or resources) to your local food pantry or local support group that help those in need.  Be a positive force for change in your community or just a quiet someone to talk to.

If you are a leader in a church, this is for you.  Missions around the world are important, there is no denying that help is needed everywhere.  But don’t forget those that live on the margins in your area.  Don’t deny help to the homeless or to the hungry in your area in your pursuit of “greater” missions.  God likes to use the insignificant to do his work.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen churches deny help or look the other way, because it didn’t fit their “mission”.  I challenge the churches in the area, whether small or mega, step up and be an agent for change in your community.

I issue a challenge for myself.  I can talk the talk and I have a small, but steady audience here on this blog.  But I need to be active in my local community even more than I am to help those on the margins, to help my friends and neighbors (or strangers) that may be in need.  I need to walk the walk so to speak.

What if He says Go?

So you’re a good Christian. You love God, believe that Jesus died for your sins. You attend church, read your Bible, pray regularly and volunteer at the homeless shelter. But there is still something not right.

You’re happy with your job, you live in a comfortable home, you have plenty of money to live the lifestyle that you want to live. You’re kids go to a school district that you like, weekends are fun filled with family and friends. But something is missing.

You feel the void in your life, but you’re not sure what would fill it. You get more stuff, that doesn’t do it. You go out more with friends, that really doesn’t help either. You get involved in more activities and go to more events…that doesn’t do much other than increase the busyness of your life and add to your stress. But what it doesn’t do is give you what you’re missing.

You begin to feel the pull of God to find your purpose. You have a strong foundation with Christ and want to follow God’s will. You pray, you read, you study, you ask others…and you begin to see that God does have a purpose for you, but you’re still not sure what it is. Meanwhile, your life is passing on slowly, day by day, you still with your stuff, with your cars, with your activities, with your good job. You are living comfortably.

You ask God on a daily basis, “God I want to follow you. I want to do what you desire me to do. Please show me how you want my life to go, show me what you want me to do. Tell me my purpose.

A good prayer, I’ve prayed that on a regular basis. But after 100s of prayers, with seemingly no answer…God reveals to you something that shakes you to your core.

He says “Go!”

Not just, “Go and give more money to the church” or “Go and volunteer every other Saturday at the soup kitchen.” But, “Go! Leave your life, your personal positions, your prestige and go and serve me.” Perhaps it is something “small”, but it requires much from you. Perhaps it means pulling up your family and moving. Perhaps it’s quitting your job and doing something for far less pay. Perhaps it’s selling much of your possessions, downsizing your home, buying a “Get to work” car, so that resources are freed up for his kingdom.

Why would he do that? Because he wants you someplace that your not and won’t get to without doing those things. He needs you humbled, so you can be a good servant. He wants you focused not on acquiring worldly things, but focused on kingdom things. He wants you ready to move when he says go, which you can’t be when you are tied to “stuff.”

“I’ve obeyed all these commandments, “ the young man replied. “What else must I do?” Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went sadly away because he had many possessions. -Matthew 19:20-22

What is Jesus saying here? I don’t believe he’s saying that all believers should sell everything they own. We are responsible to care for our own needs and the needs of our families so as not to be burdens on others.

But those who won’t care for their own relatives, especially those living in the same household, have denied what we believe. Such people are worse than unbelievers. -1 Timothy 5:8

But he is saying that we should be ready to go if he says go. We should be ready to leave our possessions behind if he calls us. He doesn’t want anything standing between us and his calling.

What if God says Go?

In my search for the purpose in my life, what if God does say go? What if the answers to my prayers, is an answer I really don’t want to hear. I’m comfortable where I’m at, in my life. It’s not perfect, I look around at others wishing I had what they had (and it’s not always people with more that I envy), but overall God has provided me the ability to provide well for my family.

But would I willing to give it all up? Would I be willing to walk away with my family half-way across the world if that is what God asked of me? That’s something I need to figure out. I know what my answer should be, but if that time comes, what will my answer actually be? This will be something that fills my thoughts in upcoming weeks and I think I have much more to learn and say on this topic.  How prepared am I to do what God asks?

It all starts with God

It’s not about me. This is really the first, but very important step that I made on my journey to finding my purpose. I had to step back and realize that my journey to find my purpose wasn’t about me and my comfort and well-being. I was made for a purpose and the urge to fulfill it is something that never goes away.

For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible,…everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. -Colossians 1:16

Usually my first step when I’m trying to find my purpose in life, is to look within myself. That doesn’t work too well most times. It keeps the focus on myself and not on what is important. As Rick Warren says in the first chapter of his book Purpose Driven Life, “We were made by God and for God — and until you understand that, life will never make sense.

That’s kind of a daunting thought really. Our lives are not our own. We were not put here for our pleasure, for our own well-being, to have an easy life. We were put here for God’s purpose and His alone. If we try and think it’s the other way around, we are doomed to fail.

If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace. — Romans 8:6

Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.]

This is a powerful verse and shows us that by focusing on self, that is the way to give in to our sinful nature. The focus on God that is provided through the Holy Spirit leads us to what we’ve all been searching for. This is really quite interesting if you step back and think about it. Why do we begin to search for our purpose in our lives? Mostly because we feel unfulfilled or empty in our current lives. So how do we correct that? By filling ourselves with “stuff”, by searching for that which is missing. We question all that we do, but we usually do it with our eyes focused in-wards on ourselves…about what we can do to correct our paths, or how we can change things to make our lives better.

The Message translation of Romans 8:6-8 sums it up quite well really.

Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. And God isn’t pleased at being ignored.

By focusing inwardly on ourselves, we are doing the exact opposite of what will lead to a free life…that which I think we are all looking for.

But all the self-help books, even Christians ones offer internal steps to finding our purpose?

Yes, many self-help books are very successful at helping you reach your dreams, reaching your goals and can often help you be very successful in life. But doing all those things and fulfilling your life’s purpose are not always the same. As Rick states it, “You could reach all your personal goals, become a raving success by the world’s standard, and still miss the purposes for which God created you.”

I have a great fear of reaching the end of my days, and reflecting back on a successful life and realizing that I’m still unfulfilled because I missed out on what God had planned for me.

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? — Luke 9:25

So how do I do this?

Simple really, ask God. God created you, he knows what your purpose is.

Furthermore, because of Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us from the beginning, and all things happen just as he decided long ago. — Ephesians 1:11

God didn’t ask for our input when he set out the plan for our lives. He didn’t consult with us to see if his plans were satisfactory with us. His plan for us predates our conception. But the good news is that God’s plan is good. It may not seem like it time, but He sees the big picture, we have a very narrow view. But we can know for a certainty that is plan is the correct one. His plan was made out of love and faithfulness.

Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. — Psalm 115:1

Well if it’s that easy, why haven’t we just done that and been fulfilled? Perhaps it’s because I’m a bit afraid of the answer God will give me. I’m not sure I want to know the answer. I’m know it’s a good purpose, but it doesn’t mean it will be easy for me or for any of us. Perhaps it will mean a large change in my life… or maybe it will mean know change, but acceptance and realization that I’m where I need to be. Both can be frightening but liberating options. I think I’ll go into that further in a future post.

Takeaway

For now, my takeaway from my first day of my journey — It’s not about me, it all starts with God.

What does Jesus mean to me?

I struggle at times finding purpose in my life.  I have a great family with an awesome wife and 4 great children, and I feel that I’ve had a great purpose in raising them up and supporting my family. I’m involved in a lot of different areas in my local community, mostly revolving around the youth and sports and that keeps me very busy outside of work.   But there are days when I feel something missing, as if I’m missing some calling that God has given me, but I’ve not responded.  This week has been one of those weeks, where I’ve questioned what I’m doing as it seems I’ve just been going through the motions of life.

Early this morning I woke up with this heavy on my mind and the question came to me, What does Jesus mean to me?   I mean, what does he REALLY mean to me?  Is he more than just a figurehead, someone I can relate to when people ask about my beliefs?  Or is he really someone who I identify with and whom I have daily interaction with?  I think if I can figure out the answer to that question, I can find what I need to fill that void I feel at times.

So what is my plan?

First I’m on a mission to discover what Jesus really means to me and how I fit into his plan.  If I don’t learn what Jesus means to me and what I mean to him, I fear that the following steps may be in vain.

Secondly, I intend to find (or draw closer to) my purpose here.  This I think will be done largely in parallel with step 1.  I may discover that I’m already living his plan for me and I need to just embrace it or I may find that he is calling me to something quite different.  I’m not sure how I’m to do this, but I suspect as I learn some revelations in my first step, I may soon discover that step two becomes much easier.  I’ve read Rick Warren’s – The Purpose Driven Life in the past, but it’s been many years.  I’ve pulled it off the shelf and plan on working my way through that as well.

Finally, I plan on living out my purpose.  I plan on living my life with abandon, in pursuit of what God has put me here for.   I talked about this a lot at the end of last year, and while I had some plans and great motivations, I’ve stumbled in truly living this out as I hadn’t gone through step 1 and 2 yet.

So why am I telling you this?

Why indeed.  Well for a few reasons.

  1. Encouragement – I hope to encourage others that may be going through the same trials and thoughts as I am.  Perhaps seeing what I’m doing and discovering about my own life’s journey, will help others in pursuit of theirs.  So please, let me know if something I’ve discovered has made a difference to you.  This leads right into #2.
  2. Encouragement – Yes this is here twice.  I’m hoping to be encouraged to continue on.  I know that I’ll struggle through this in the long term.  I know that if I begin to be impactful in my life or in others, the enemy will mount an attack, to discourage me.  I hope to strike up some friendships through this process. so please feel free to reach out to me.
  3. Accountability – Along with encouragement, I need some accountability in this.  Not only do I want to be accountable to continue the process and to follow up when I reach step 3, but I want to be sure that what I’m sharing is building and encouraging others.  “For where two or three gather together because they are mine, I am here among them.” – Matthew 19:20
  4. Validation – There is a point where the things I’ve discovered need to be validated against scripture and against other righteous people.  “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16

So join me in this journey to discover what Jesus means to me and in my quest to discover my life’s purpose.  Maybe I’ll discover that I’m right where I’m meant to be, but regardless I plan on learning so much during this journey, I can’t wait to get started.