Title - How to Run the Long-Distance Race of Faith
Introduction - It's so good to have you here this evening as we enjoy worshipping God with song and the spoken Word. Please just sit back and let's explore what our Heavenly Father has for us tonight.
As those who know me well, know that one of my favorite hobbies is watching TV, especially movies. And one of my all time favorites is the movie Chariots of Fire. I was so happy to watch it in the movie theater when it first came out in 1981. I was living in San Francisco at the time and this movie had a big impact on me. I actually wrote down some notes about the things I heard during the movie!
And these words from the movie are just as inspirational today, 36 years later, as the day the movie was made. The character Eric Liddell says, "I want to compare faith to running in a race..." And this fits perfectly today since a whole bunch of runners were out pounding the streets of our city running in the Sapporo Marathon!
And our Bible passages this evening fit this saying perfectly too. God has brought me back to Hebrews 11 and 12 quite a bit recently and I wanted to share with you tonight about how to run the Long-Distance Race of Faith.
1. All Those Who Ran Before Us - Hebrews 11:39-40
Let's begin with our first passage this evening, Hebrews 11:39-40, 39 "All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. 40 For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us."
Hebrews 11 is called by many Christians "The Hall of Fame of Faith." From the beginning of that chapter to the end, we see the names and stories of 18 different people of the Old Testament who had great faith in God. I wish we had time tonight to go through and look carefully at these great men and women of faith.
But the key point comes at the end of the chapter, verse 39. Though they got a good reputation because of their faith, they never got a chance to run across the finish line and win the race. They didn't receive God's promised prize in this life.
Verse 40 tells why. God had something better in mind for them - and for us! It says that we will all receive perfection together! Some time in the future, when God's timing is just right, we and all those champions of faith are going to be perfected together! We'll all join together at the Awards Ceremony in Heaven - and be honored together by Our Heavenly Father!
So, how do we run this long-distance race of faith? We begin by remembering that many, many other committed themselves to the race long before we did! We're not alone! Then next...
2. A Huge Crowd of Witnesses - Hebrews 12:1
So, now that we've begun the race, how do we keep on track? How do we keep up the pace? First, we do it by remembering that there's a big crowd of people that are running with us and cheering us on! Hebrews 12:1 says, "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 sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us."
To keep on track on this long-distance run of faith, we first need to remember not only all our fellow Christians from the past, but all those who are running the race with us now! Today is perfect timing to talk about this because we just had the Sapporo Marathon this morning!
This is the largest half marathon in northern Japan and they say that over 15,000 people run the race every year. So, how many brothers and sisters do we have running this race of faith with us? Let's take a look at the figures.
The Pew Research Center makes a study every year to see how big the world religions are. For the year 2015, they said that 31.2% of the world population say they are Christians. And this works out to total number of 2.3 billion! Now, we have to remember that some of these are cultural Christians and not true born-again believers. But still, if you consider that maybe 50% of that number are real Christians, then we're talking about 1 billion fellow brothers and sisters around the world!
Now I don't know about you, but that gives me a lot of encouragement! There are one billion fellow Christians going through this marathon of faith with us. And they're going through the same things that you and I go through every day. What a comfort to have that many fellow believers throughout the world! So what else does this Bible passage tell we need to do to run this race?
It also says, "let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up." Marathon runners never carry anything with them that will sap their energy. All they have is a pair of shorts, a tank top, maybe a watch, a pair of sunglasses and some type of cap to keep the sun out of their eyes. If they don't really need it, they leave it behind!
And that's the way the Lord wants us to run this race of faith, never trusting in our own merits and abilities, but receiving everything we need from Him! We should leave all the sin and guilt of this world behind and trust only in His righteousness for us!
The third thing that we need to do is run the race that God has personally set before us. This Scripture passage also says, "let us run with endurance the race God has set before us." We each are very different and our personal path of faith is going to be quite different than anyone else's. The "one-size-fits-all" principle doesn't work here. God has promised that He will lead us personally in our life of faith. He will also give us the endurance we need to make it all the way through the race!
Let's take a look at one final Bible passage and one more idea as we finish our study tonight.
3. Eyes on Jesus, the Champion - Hebrews 12:2
And the best encouragement we could ever receive is to keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, our champion. Look at Hebrews 12:2, "We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne."
This is where the real power to run in the long-distance race of faith comes from. It was Jesus himself who ran the race for us! He ran the race perfectly and completely, from beginning to end, with no mistakes, no sins, no setbacks, and conquered this world! The New Living Translation calls him The Champion because he won the race for us! Christ gave us this faith to begin with and he promises that he is going to make it perfect at the end of the race!
So, this marathon of faith is trusting Christ for everything, including the amazing finish line! When we trust Christ, that also means that we will be champions at the end of the race. Christ has told us that we are going to receive the winners crown when we hit the finish line!
James 1:12 tells us "God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." When we reach heaven, Christ will be right there and place the Crown of Life on our heads as we break the tape at the finish line!
Conclusion - So, where have we come tonight in our study of this long-distance race of faith?
1. All those who ran before us are waiting for us to arrive.
2. All those who are running with us now give us encouragement.
3. Let's keep our eyes on Jesus, our champion, who won the race for us!
And to give you some inspiration on this last point, let's sing our final hymn together, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. Then we'll close our meeting tonight with a word of prayer.
Closing Prayer - And now let's take our last Bible passage and pray it back to Our Lord tonight as our closing prayer. Hebrews 12:2, "We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne."
"Our precious Lord, we want to keep our eyes on You every day. You are our champion. You have already won the race for us. Thank You for giving us our faith in the first place. We trust that You will make our faith perfect at the end of the race. Thank You for going through this tough race for us. We worship You now and forever, sitting in the place of honor beside God's throne. Amen."