Sunday, March 15, 2009

Running the Race

So, I’m talking about running the race this week.  And there are so many different references to running or to races in the bible but why is it so repeated?


Well, a lot of the things that link with running a race or in fact doing any type of sport can link with what following God is like.  In fact, it fits with all the different things we can do in our relationship with God, whether it be the daily toll, becoming a deacon or struggling through life situations.


Now, I don’t know how many of you are into your sport.  But I felt that to talk about this subject I really needed to push myself at the gym.  I’m not someone who runs races.  Every race I ran at school I came last in.  This is short distances, like 100metres or medium size distances or even long distances.  I am not a runner and could never be called one.  So how can I and others like me relate this race metaphor to our daily struggles.  Well, that’s what I hope to talk about today.  And I’d like to say it is pure coincidence that I am talking about this at the end of race week.


Now, every race as a beginning, middle and some sort of an end.  But before we start we might need to get ourselves in the zone.  If you notice before runners start running, before any exercise happens, they prepare themselves for it.  Get ready for what they are facing.  So they might get on the right clothes, stretch, decide on the plan for that race.


And the same is true for our relationship with God, we can’t just expect it to happen.  When we start services here we usually start with worship songs or a hymn.  That can be getting yourself in the zone.  Many different bible notes recommend that you start with prayer, to get yourself mental ready, help you focus on what is ahead.


In the same way we might start our day with God by reading some of the bible, praying or committing our actions to whatever he has planned for us.  But we make sure we are ready, prepared and focused on God.


So we get to the start, we are in the zone – we know what we want to achieve and how we mean to do it – like life things may not and probably won’t go to plan but we have an idea of how we want it to go.


So we’re there, nervous, wondering how we will do and then the starting whistle goes off and everyone starts running.


Now you could just stand there and think, well, maybe I’ll get to the end.  There are lots of important things in running a race but one of the main ones is that you need to start it.  If you’re not willing to start running, start going forth in the race then you will definitely never finish. 


You can’t finish a race if you never start it.  Now I have had in my lifetime of gym trips a lot like this.  Ones where I never made it, I was mostly in the zone, had my gym kit with me but I never actually made it to the gym, other things took my focus instead.


If we never start the race with God, start following him with all that means then how will we know how it will go.  We might be rubbish Christians, we might struggle with being kind to all people or letting him be the most important being in our lives.  We might be great at those things, at telling people about God and really focused in prayer.  But if we never start by following him then we will never know.  We have to start that relationship with him to find out.  Running at our own speed, in our comfort zone.



When we start running it’s not about copying the way those around us run.  When I’m at the gym I have an order and a time limit in the way I do the machines, I like that order, it fits with the way I like to push myself.  Some people run for miles on the running machine, I walk, my balance was not made for running on a machine.  I am doing it my way, not someone else’s.  It is the content of a much longer talk but when following God we don’t have to do it like everyone else does it.  We will meet great followers of God who we might long to be like but God has a plan for each everyone of us. 


As I have different skills and needs when exercising so I have when it comes to life and my relationship with God.  In that way I cannot be like my friends or people in my family.  God has a plan for me and a race for me to run.


 So, we’ve started the race, we’ve be going a couple of miles but this is when another significant issue arises.  Something we hear several times in the Hebrews reading.  Discipline.

11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”


Have you ever been someone who goes and does the gardening after a while away for it, or who suddenly goes on a long walk, bike ride or does some form of exercise when you haven’t done it in a while?  It’s then, or usually the next day, that you realise the effect of sudden exertion.


If our bodies can keep at a form of exercise or can compete in a race then we need discipline.  There is a football phrase of “the game isn’t won on the day but throughout the week” – or in Cheltenham Town’s case not at all.  What I mean is that following God isn’t just something that just happens on a Sunday or at a certain event or occasion, it is part of “training” in the week. 


This might mean reading the bible, singing praise to God through everything, constant prayer, meeting with other Christians to discuss issues, reading books by others.


Discipline is an intimidating word but it means making sure we can face the difficult, daily situations by continuing on the walk with God.  Not expecting ourselves to sail through the problems and understand what God is doing when we don’t know his ideas on anything.  Preparation is key, whether we are running a marathon or following God. 


Our relationships with God can be like a marathon, with ups and downs, euphoria and pain and there might be sprints and short bursts but generally we’re in it for the long term and if we are going to stay in it for the long term then we need that preparation, that discipline.


I remember that when I used to face difficult situations or want to know what God had planned I did that thing where you close your eyes flick through the bible and then point to a passage, open your eyes, read it and hope it fitted with your situation.  Now sometimes that worked.  But really that isn’t the way God wants to deal with a situation, by immersing ourselves in his word, but having regular conversation with him we can have more of an idea of how he wants us to deal with different situations.


We might do this discipline in different ways – there is a way of exercising called cross training, doing different things, exercising different muscles.  Understanding that with all training there are weaknesses.  So we combine it with other things.


This might be as I said through reading the bible, other books, talking to friends, hearing Christians speak, prayer, etc.  And even these ways may be different, we may choose to pray in different ways and settings, we may try listening to worship music at home or we may try reading different versions of the bible.

 Story about Geoff and graphic version of the bible.


We don’t all learn in the same way and we may need to adapt the training to suit ourselves.


So you’ve got yourselves in the zone, you’ve started the race and you have even been really disciplined.  But there is something else that runners talk about – the wall! 


This is the bit on the race where you face a barrier, not a physical barrier but a mental one. And it’s like being suddenly faced with a brick wall. I’ve never experienced it but there is one thing that I think relates.


You may have heard about it or even seen the documentary, but a couple of weeks ago I was obsessed with the Red Nose Climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.  9 celebrities attempted to climb this mountain in order to raise money.  They had done all the discipline and got themselves in the zone but while going up this mountain they each, in turn hit the wall.  Whether through injury, altitude sickness, lack of sleep, exhaustion, drained emotion or any of the other things they had to go through. 

But they each hit it, not sure if they could go on. 


Not sure if they could face another step. 


But they did, they all made it to the top.


But what got them through it? Well, they knew their goal – they knew what they were doing and who they were doing it for. 


In Hebrews it talks about running with perseverance, it talks about fixing our eyes on Christ. 


In Philippians 3 it talks of straining towards what is ahead, pressing on towards the goal and the prize. 


In our relationship with God we hit a wall, everything gets too much for us, stress, life, worries, pain, sadness and we’re just not sure we can get past it.  But we can fix our eyes on Jesus, the only constant in this world, straining towards him.  Thinking about one day being in Heaven with him, where there will be no more tears, sadness but His love and presence.


We, like those climbers have some other things.  They had their guides and we have the bible and wise teachers.  They also had those going through it as well.  Those who felt their pain, shared in their struggles and encouraged them in all the steps, including the last steps to the top of the mountain.  If you look around you then you can see that we all face struggles, times when we can’t go on but we have each other to help us, to share stories with. 


To share moments of joy and terrible sadness. 


I have been so grateful for all the people praying for myself and my family recently, this church is full of great prayers and to know that there is love and caring makes it possible for me and others to get passed this wall.


So finally, we come towards the end.  But I haven’t yet mentioned, the most significant thing still not mentioned.  We have our friends, teachers and discipline but we have something more amazing. 


We have Jesus.


We can struggle, we can stumble, we can think that we can’t go on, that it is all too hard and we can’t be called to experience all of the cruel and painful things life has for us.


But… we have Jesus


He is here, he is running with us, looking after us, keeping an eye out for things that will hurt us, bring us down or even the things that will keep us going.  He is there for all of it.


There is a prize and Jesus wants us to share in it with him.  2 Timothy 4 says:

7 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.


There is a prize but also there is Jesus the whole journey.  Standing firm and taking care of us.


So what difference will hearing this today make in our lives?

  • maybe we will go home from church today and decide to run a real marathon
  • But maybe we are instead going to take up that other kind of race, going to get in the zone and start doing that walk with Jesus.
  • Or maybe we will work on our discipline, the thing that has been missing from our race, not trying to do it like everyone else but reading the bible and pray in a way for us
  • Maybe we will try and get past that wall that I talked about, finding people to have to talk to about issues or joining the Highbury prayer group
  • Maybe we will remind ourselves what our goal is and find all these race references in the bible
  • Or maybe we will ask God to help us to remember that he is with us the whole time we are in the race no matter what


And I want to finish with this, the whole idea for this sermon came from a clip that I saw on 100 Greatest Tearjerkers, one of those awful programmes that you don’t really want to watch but somehow end up watching.  And even talking about this clip tends to involve me holding back the tears.


But I felt when I watched it that it was the true image of how God helps us on the race.  There is some back story to this clip.  In 1992 a runner called Derek Redmond had got to the Olympics.  He had been dogged by injury in his bid for medals at the Olympics before but he thought finally, this was his chance.  He got to the semi finals and he started to run, doing fantastically.  Until he heard a pop and he realised it was something in his leg.


He went down, knowing his dreams were gone and he suffered.  But then he got back up, determined to finish the race.  His dad, his trainer, the man who had stood by him in everything got on to the track.  And at this point Derek thought his dad would make him stop, that they would be fighting because Derek knew he had to finish the race.  But instead his father took hold of him and helped him finish. 


This clip expresses so much about our relationship with God, we fall down, we suffer.  But instead of stopping us, taking us out of the situation, he helps us to get to the prize, to the finish line, he holds on to us and loves us all of the way.

Click here to watch Derek Redmond's Olympic Race in 1992

No comments:

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light