Consistency in the Race of Faith

June 30, 2017

“Train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7b).

The Apostle Paul uses an athletic term to picture the way we grow in the Christian life. We must discipline ourselves in training so that we run the race of faith well. One aspect of that discipline is consistency.

I was a 16-year-old high school track athlete in 1972, the year of the Munich Olympic Games. When Frank Shorter won the marathon in dominating fashion, the vague idea that someday I might run a marathon become the certainty that I would. My friends and I wanted to be like Frank. So we began reading all we could about who he was and how he trained.

We discovered lots of interesting tidbits, but what struck me most was his consistency. If I recall correctly, in the seven years leading up to the Munich marathon, he ran every day. He never missed even one day.

Consistency in running is central. One coach puts it this way:

[A runner may say,] “Surely to miss training just this once will not matter? After all, there is a long season of it lying ahead.” But to miss training once is to open a breach in the wall of routine. And a single breach will almost certainly be followed by others, to the point where there is no routine left. And then, bang! — there goes your ambition to be a runner.

The runner’s statement actually is true; to miss one day in and of itself is not going to destroy your training. But missing days develops a bad habit; it changes one’s perception of what one is about. Running becomes not something you do because of who you are – running becomes something you do when it is convenient.

Alternately, if you stick to your plan every day, rain or shine, cold or hot, windy or calm, tired or fresh – you see yourself differently. With every step of consistency, you define more clearly who you are.

I went through something similar with cycling this spring, preparing to bike almost 500 miles in four days from Charlotte to DC. Once I registered for the ride, I had to prepare myself to complete it. I couldn’t just ride however I felt. So there was a fundamental change in my attitude towards riding: I had to be consistent to meet the goal. I had to become a cyclist.

Just so in the Christian life. I can dabble in Bible reading and church attendance and prayer; I can do occasional acts that look loving and now and then speak the Gospel. But if this is who I am, then these are central to my life. I no longer just dabble. I train myself for godliness.

For if I realize that I am a sinner at my very core, that without daily apprehending the cross my mind will wander, making me ineffective and unproductive, then I will be sure to get up in the morning, get into the Word, seek God’s face, seek His grace; I will be sure to sit under good preaching and to seek out helpful mentors; I will speak the Gospel even if it makes me uncomfortable and will act in love even when it hurts.

And when you do this – when you consistently train yourself for godliness, as you overcome daily the common hindrances – just as with the runner or cyclist, you define much more clearly who you are.

Furthermore, every day of consistency makes the next day’s obedience that much easier. One coach writes, “Run until the question of not running just never arises.” A day without running is not even an option. Just so for us: A day without seeking God’s face becomes not even an option. Instead of a vicious circle, a downward spiral, we become part of a virtuous circle, an upward spiral: Seeking God’s face this week gives me joy and peace, which spurs me one to seek His face and live out the Christian life that much more next week. And the circle continues.

My wise wife wrote of this several years ago:

Will my children remember their mother reading the Bible consistently? Will they picture in their minds a straw basket with Bible, Valley of Vision prayer book, journal, and prayer notebook? Will they picture their mother swinging gently on the porch swing, Bible in hand or curled up in the wing chair in the music room, head bowed. Will it be a consistent memory?

It is certainly not just for the memory in my children’s minds that this consistency is important. Oh no. It is vitally important for now, for every day, for wisdom and discernment, for knowledge and understanding, for contentment and spurring on. It is as vital to my life as an Olympic athlete’s consistent training is. No, it is more vital. Because, unlike the Olympic athlete who may only take his gold medal as far as the grave, the benefits of consistency in walking with God are eternal. . . . “Consistency makes a statement to yourself, ‘I am a child of God.’” That’s who I am. Spending time in the word is simply what a child of God does, like running is what a runner does. I can’t live without it.

So train yourself for godliness – consistently. Become who you are: A child of God.



Runners, To Your Marks; Get Set; Go!

May 5, 2016

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13

Think about this verse as a daily exercise: Every day, begin by preparing your minds for action. Then throughout the day, be completely sober-minded. This enables you, thirdly, to set your hope fully on the future grace we will receive when Jesus returns.

Before we elaborate on each step, think over this analogy:

Consider each day of living the Christian life as a 400 meter run. Prior to being called to the start, you need to make sure you’re dressed in running clothes. Your shoes must be tied. Your spikes must be tightened. Then, crouched in the blocks before the race starts, you must prepare your mind for action: You have to get ready to make an extreme effort. You must put aside all other thoughts, all distractions. You must focus on the starter, ready to explode as soon as the gun sounds.

Then, throughout the race, you must be “sober-minded.” That is, you must maintain your focus on running well, even as your body screams out that the sprint is too painful. You must relax your shoulders and your jaw, while maintaining your knee lift and efficient form.

Finally, you set your hope on the coming, certain end. The race will seem interminable. The finish line may appear to recede instead of drawing closer. Your legs may feel like lead. But the end is certain. The race will end, and its end will be glorious.

Prepare Your Mind for Action

The King James Version translates this phrase literally, “Gird up the loins of your minds.” In Peter’s day, men normally wore robes or tunics that draped down to their ankles. Imagine trying to run in such clothing! So any time a man had to move quickly, or to engage in difficult labor, he would tie up the robe around his waist. In this way he prepared himself for action.

Similar ideas occur several times in the Old Testament. For example, God tells the Israelites to eat the Passover “with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand” (Exodus 12:11). They are to be ready to move the minute God gives the command.

How do we fulfill this on a day to day basis? How do we prepare ourselves, so we are ready for whatever action God has in store for us?

  • We must remind ourselves of the truths of the Gospel, of the promises of God, of His character, of the work of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit’s presence.
  • We must reflect on how we failed in the fight of faith yesterday, and determine how to depend on God to fight that fight today.
  • We must pray for ourselves, and pray for others, confident that brothers and sisters are praying for us.
  • We must go to the Word, seeking the Spirit’s insight and encouragement, picking out what we will meditate, learn from, and put into practice this day.

Be Completely Sober-Minded

Having been prepared, we must run today’s race. We must maintain a constant vigilance against the distractions that come our way continually.

Satan sometimes tempts us directly to doubt God’s goodness, to doubt His power, and to doubt our status before Him.  Other times he instead tries to distract us from the task, encouraging us to think of other aspects of life – our jobs, our families, our health, our safety, our entertainment, our education – as more important, more vital, more urgent than Jesus and His Kingdom. One way or another, he tries to envelope us in a fog on unbelief, in which the truths of God seem unreal, immaterial, and unimportant. In that fog, we effectively are drunk, not sober; we’re not thinking clearly about Who God is; we’re not trusting His revelation of the nature of Reality.

So we must maintain our sobriety. We must be completely sober-minded.

Set Your Hope Fully on the Grace That Will Be Brought to You at the Revelation of Jesus Christ

Note that Peter tells us to set our hope on future grace. God has given us great grace already if we are in Christ. We are to reflect on that in preparing our minds for action, and hold on firmly to that truth by being sober-minded. But we are to set our hope fully on the future grace that will be ours when Jesus returns, when the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Revelation 11:15).

What grace will we receive in that day? Peter has already mentioned some aspects of this grace:

  • 1 Peter 1:4: An inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, protected in heaven for us
  • 1 Peter 1:5: The completion of our salvation, which is ready for us, and will be revealed to us in the last time.

From other Scriptures we know: We will know fully, even as we are fully known. We will see Him face to face. He will rejoice over us with loud singing. He will wipe every tear from our eyes. We will receive incorruptible, sinless, eternal bodies. The entire creation will be made new. There will be no more sin, no more sorrow, no more pain. God Himself will be our light.

The glory of the finish line helps the 400 meter runner to endure. Just so, the glories of Jesus’ return help us. But Peter hints that we have another reason to hope in the midst of trials.

Literally, Peter says, “Set your hope fully on the grace that is being brought to you.” That is, the participle Peter uses is in the present tense, not the future. What’s the difference, since Jesus’ return is obviously future?

Had the tense been future, Peter’s emphasis would have been solely on the grace that will be ours on that great day. By using the present tense, Peter emphasizes, in addition, that right now all you experience is bringing about the culmination of God’s Plan. All your pain, all your sorrow, all your difficulties and trials work to bring about this coming grace, this return of Jesus – and with Him, your inheritance of all things.

This is our hope. Day by day, throughout every day, remind yourself: Right now, God is working through all that happens to bring about that Final Day, with its great outpouring of grace.

The Foundation for Peter’s Commands

Consider finally some of the exhortations and commands Peter gives in the remainder of this letter. All are grounded in 1 Peter 1:13:

  • Be holy in all your conduct
  • Abstain from the passions of the flesh, which includes putting away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander
  • Long for the spiritual milk of the Word
  • Love one another earnestly, having unity of mind
  • Be subject to authority: everyone to governments, wives to husbands, servants to masters, the younger to elders
  • Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding manner
  • Elders, shepherd the flock eagerly, willingly, setting an example
  • Proclaim the excellencies of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light
  • Be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you
  • In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy
  • Live for the will of God
  • Show hospitality without grumbling
  • Use your gifts to serve one another to God’s glory
  • Rejoice as you share Christ’s sufferings
  • Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another
  • Cast your anxieties on God
  • Resist the devil

So, my friends, today and every day: Prepare your minds for action! Gird up that long robe! Get ready to run! Listen for His command! Be like the Israelites at Passover, all ready to head out at God’s command.

Keep being sober minded. Prepare your minds so that you can avoid the fog of unbelief and maintain your focus.

Hold to the solid hope that even now God is working all things together to bring about that Final Day, when every tribe and tongue will praise the Name of Jesus, when He will wipe all tears from our eyes, when we will see Him face to face.

So: Runners, to your marks. Get set. Go!

Audio for August 17 Sermon

August 31, 2008

We had some recording problems with the August 17 sermon, “Work Hard Yet Relax During the Race of Faith,” but thanks to Michael Black and Matthew Pinckney we now have a satisfactory version of the audio online here.

Maintain Your Form and Finish Well in the Race of Faith

August 27, 2008

(This sermon on 2 Timothy 4:6-8 was preached 8/24/2008. For a version that is easier to print, click here. The audio is available here.)

Many expected the Beijing Olympic marathon to be slow, as runner after runner would succumb to the pollution on top of high heat and humidity. So when this morning the leaders took off at close to world record pace, a number of runners – including the top Americans, Dathan Ritzenheim and Ryan Hall – decided around three miles that that was suicidal, and backed off, hoping to run a slower, more even pace, and pick off stragglers. Such tactics had worked well in a number of past Olympic marathons.

But not today. Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya had other plans. He had prepared for these conditions. When the day dawned quite clear for Beijing, he was confident he could run a fast pace all the way to the end.

And he did. With a little over two miles to go he picked up the pace – and immediately dropped his last competitor. Running smoothly, relaxed and strong, he entered the stadium with a large lead. The crowd roared, cheering him on. He celebrated as he ran the last quarter mile on the track. Sammy Wanjiru finished well.

Our question this morning: Will you also finish well?

To get the gold medal, you have to finish the race. The marathon is 26 miles 385 yards. If you stop at 26 miles, 384 yards, you do not win – no matter how far ahead you are at that point. Read more

Striving, Resting, and the Word

August 22, 2008

(For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, follow this link.)

On Sunday we focused in part on Hebrews 4:11:

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

We noted the paradox of this verse: We are to work real hard to rest. And we showed that this does not mean, “Work read hard NOW to rest IN THE FUTURE.” Psalm 23 and Matthew 11:28-30 clearly show we are to be resting now, while we are working. Our rest in Christ is, instead, similar to a runner – a Usain Bolt, a Ryan Hall – relaxing while running the race of his life. He is working hard – yet, other than the specific muscles required for running, he is completely relaxed. In the image of Matthew 11, we are yoked together with Jesus. He gives us rest – simultaneous with our taking up His yoke. His power does the labor, the pulling, as we are paired with Him.

The Hebrews passage clarifies further how we are both to strive to rest, and to rest while striving. The author writes:

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest . . . 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

The word “for” links the command to how we live out the command. And there is only one way to depend actively on God: Through His Word.

How does the Word help us do this? Read more

Work Hard Yet Relax During the Race of Faith

August 18, 2008

(This sermon was preached August 17, 2008. For a version that is easier to print, click here. The audio is available here.)

No one in the history of mankind has run 100 meters as fast as Usain Bolt did yesterday. And yet – did you see the head-on shot of his race? He looked completely relaxed.

This coming Saturday night, watch the men’s marathon. Ryan Hall will run over 26 miles, averaging well under 5-minutes per mile. That’s fast. Indeed, looking around, I don’t think there’s anyone here this morning who can run one mile that fast. Yet while making that long, sustained effort, his stride will be fluid and his face relaxed.

Are these two anomalies?

No: All good coaches teach their runners to relax.

When trying to run as fast as we can, we have a natural tendency to grimace, to tighten the mouth, the neck, the shoulders. But all that is counterproductive. All that slows you down.

In order to run fast, you must relax.

Why is this? It is actually quite logical, for two reasons. Read more

More on the “Miracle Mile”

August 13, 2008

In Sunday’s sermon, I described the 1954 “Miracle Mile” between Roger Bannister and John Landy. Here is Bannister’s complete description of the race, which I excerpted in the sermon. It, in turn, is taken from p. 192-194 of his book The Four-Minute Mile, originally published in 1955 but now available in a 2004 edition from Globe Pequot. Sports Illustrated published a lengthy excerpt from the book in its June 27, 1955 issue; that article, which includes this race description, is available here.

We lined up for the start. Landy was on the inside. The gun fired and Baillie of New Zealand went straight into the lead. I stayed some yards back at Landy ‘s shoulder until he took over the lead at the 220-yard mark. Gradually he drew away, and I lay second at the end of the first lap in 59.2 seconds. Landy ‘s pace was too fast for me (58.2 seconds) and I had allowed a gap of seven yards to open up. In the second lap this lead increased at one time to 15 yards. I completed the half-mile in one minute 59 seconds, so I was within a four-minute-mile schedule! Read more

Stay Focused and Alert in the Race of Faith

August 13, 2008

(This sermon on Hebrews 12:1-2 was preached 8/10/2008. For a version that is easier to print, click here. The audio is available here.)

You’ve trained for years. Day after day. Season after season. Long runs. Interval training. You’re prepared.

Now the opening ceremonies are over. Your Olympic race day has arrived.

Over the course of anywhere from a few seconds to a bit over 2 hours, you must put into play all you’ve learned; you must put into effect all the strength work, all the cardiovascular work you’ve done. One mistake, one brief loss of focus, one moment of indecision could set aside years of training.

What do you need to remember as you race in order to run to win?

How will you run the race?

A number of you have run in events where place is completely irrelevant. You’re not so much running AGAINST others in the race, as WITH them. Your goal is not to beat others, but to complete the distance, or to achieve a particular time.

Not so in the Olympic track events. In these races, time is almost irrelevant. Your only goal is to win the race. If you can win in a slow time – that’s fine.

In order to win, you have to beat your opponents, either mentally or physically. So, particularly in events 400m or longer, every coach hammers this point into his athletes’ heads: Your goal is to make the race develop in such a way that others can’t catch you, or to make the race develop in such a way that those who can catch you think they can’t.

A classic example of this took place 54 yars ago this week, in the 1954 Commonwealth Games “Miracle Mile.” The Englishman Roger Bannister had run history’s first sub-four minute mile on May 6. The Australian John Landy broke that World Record six weeks later. No one else had broken the barrier. About seven weeks after Landy’s record race, the two runners met for the first and only time. Read more

Working Hard While Relaxed

August 12, 2008

This coming Sunday we continue our series on Running the Race of Faith by considering a paradox: When running a race all out, we must relax all muscles except those that are working hard.

The video below is a great example of this. Jeremy Wariner, the favorite in the men’s 400 meters in Beijing, wins last year’s World Championships. Look especially at his face and neck in the head-on shot of the last 40 meters, which begins about 1 minute into the video. He is quite relaxed – yet he is running within a few 10ths of a second of the world record.

Here are key verses to consider in drawing the parallel with the race of faith: Read more

Staying Alert in the Race

August 9, 2008

In tomorrow’s sermon, I’ll be referring to the race that is shown beginning 3:25 into this video – the 1954 Commonwealth Games mile final, between the first two sub-four minute milers, Roger Bannister and John Landy. Look carefully at Landy’s head as Bannister pulls up beside him.

Next Page »