Finish Strong! (our race as Christians)
This week Pastor Charlie begin his sermon by saying: “No matter what the start of your life, you can finish strong.” Even when we have made mistakes, lived for our flesh, turned against God, or pretty much felt like we “ruined our chances” with God, He still loves us and wants us to finish strong as Christians, to turn things around and let Him be our guide, not to be ruled by the world or held prisoner by our past.
From the moment we confess our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness, we are forgiven.
But there’s more to being a Christian than making mistakes and asking for forgiveness. There’s a deeper spiritual level of living out there – one that requires us to dig into His word and learn more about how to live like Jesus. One that releases the shame and guilt we feel about our mistakes. One that prepares us to show others the way and love whole-heartedly. It’s the life that God desires for all of us – a life of love, with our hearts on fire for Jesus.
God’s more interested in what we’re becoming, than what we’re doing.
We can do a lot of “religious” things, but still lack the close personal relationship with God that He so desperately wants to have with us. And why is that? Why do we have distance with Christ and keep Him at arms length? Why do we fall in the face of challenges of the flesh or the world? Because we haven’t been training and disciplining ourselves to truly know God’s word, which holds all of His promises and teachings on how to handle every situation this world and its people can throw at us.
Strengthening our Spiritual Muscle
When an athlete is preparing to run a race or compete in a big game, she practices and trains her body. Athletes know that rigorous exercise and daily sacrifices will condition and prepare their bodies for what’s coming. This is the mindset we need to have to finish strong in our lives here on earth. We need daily conditioning (our alone time with God, with our Bibles in hand, learning and growing) and we need weekly exercise with other Godly people (going to church, talking in person with friends, developing relationships). There is a great verse in the Bible that speaks directly to this in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (AMP).
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but [only] one receives the prize? So run [your race] that you may lay hold [of the prize] and make it yours.
25 Now every athlete who goes into training conducts himself temperately and restricts himself in all things. They do it to win a wreath that will soon wither, but we [do it to receive a crown of eternal blessedness] that cannot wither. 26 Therefore I do not run uncertainly (without definite aim). I do not box like one beating the air and striking without an adversary. 27 But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit].
4 Guidelines to Finishing Strong
- Stay in the Word of God. The Word is not restrictive, it’s liberating! Psalm 1:2-3 (NIV) tells us: “2but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.” Doesn’t that sound like the life you want to live? Prosperous and fruitful.
- Stay close to a friend. Friendships encourage us, cheer us to victory and pick us up when we fall down. “Friendship is a necessity, not a luxury,” says Pastor Charlie. Find a friend who you can trust to tell you the truth when you need to hear it, and give you daily encouragement (we all need it!). When we isolate ourselves, we are like the sheep who strays from the shephard. We are lunch for the wolf (Satan). Proverbs 18:1 (NIV) states: “1 He who willfully separates and estranges himself [from God and man] seeks his own desire and pretext to break out against all wise judgment.” Don’t live in the shadows of isolation and sin — come out to meet friends and Christians who will love and support you.
- Stay away from immorality. Be careful of the immoral things of the world. Watch what you see and do and what you accept into your life. The more we witness immoral behavior, the more “okay” this behavior becomes in our minds. So protect your eyes and guard your hearts. There’s nothing wrong with avoiding immorality altogether!
- Stay alert to Satan’s tactics. Satan doesn’t have any new tricks up his sleeve – the old ones of inflicting doubt, self-pity, excuses, laziness, bitterness, blame and greed have been working just fine. And that’s where he’ll find you – that’s what he wants you to do. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says: “8Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” Have you ever found yourself saying: “The Lord will understand that I was hurt, so my hatred is okay.” or “The Lord will understand that he betrayed me, so my revenge was justified.” What is your statement of excuse? “The Lord will understand that I was ___________ (lied to, cheated on, humiliated), so my ___________ (hatred, cheating, self-pity) is okay.” If you find yourself easily filling out this statement, be very cautious of the door you’re opening for the enemy to enter. Slam that door of defeat and self-pity right on his face by digging into the Lord’s word and educating yourself on the ways God loves you. You can experience His love through your church and your friendships too, so turn to them in times of need; don’t turn into a bitter, isolated person, mad at God and the world. You’re loved too much to live like that!
You can finish strong with God – your race can and will be victorious when you let Him guide it. Remember the four guidelines and practice them daily. Write them on a notecard and tape it to your bathroom mirror. Finish strong!