Run With Perseverance
Today, a couple sports stories, beginning with one about a man named Chris Couch.
In 1989, when Chris was 16 years old, he was first recognized as a very good golfer. From 1992 into 1995, he competed for the University of Florida on that school’s golf team. He was very successful in college. Because of his skill and his young age, he was quickly declared the next golfing prodigy. A surefire success for years to come was the prediction.
Right out of college, Chris earned his PGA tour card. His reputation provided lots of hope for a brilliant career. However, once or twice over the next few years he lost his tour card due to lack of prize winnings.
Each time, Chris made it back to the PGA level. Then, in 2006, at the age of 32 - not 16 or 20 or 28 or 30 - at age 32, 16 years after such wonderful things were said about him, he finally won his first PGA tournament. He won after sinking a 55-yard chip shot on the 18th hole of the final round of the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. That shot gave him a one stroke victory.
Between the early accolades and his first win - by the way, that was the only win in his pro golf career - do you suppose Chris was ever tempted to quit?
No doubt that happened. However, he persevered. He kept working and working and learning and practicing and doing. He kept at it, year after year, until finally he won a tournament. Finally, his persistence paid off.
Chris Couch did in a physical sense what we are to do spiritually, which is to keep working and working, learning, practicing, and doing our Christian faith, letting nothing deter us from continuing to grow and develop, which brings us to the first of a few Bible references for this message. This one part of one verse. The last part of verse 1 of chapter 12 in the New Testament Book of Hebrews.
Say it with me please. “Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
There are several key words and phrases in that part of verse 1.
For instance, there is the word race. What kind of race? As Chris Couch learned, a marathon race. His was not a quick dash.
I might mention that in just about my only attempt at making any kind of sports team in high school, my event was the 100 yard dash. I did not make the team. I was a few tenths of a second too slow for that. But the long races? Whew. I did not have the strength for them. I was a short distance runner.
I hope I do better spiritually. I hope I do have the strength to run a spiritual marathon. That is the kind of race we are called to as Christians.
About that, here is something I read. Again, I never was a long distance runner, so I do not know this personally. This is what I read.
In a marathon, there are a few stages.
In the beginning, there is anticipation, excitement, an eagerness in getting started. Adrenaline and energy are high.
Then there is a routine. A pace is set. Things proceed as expected. Experience, skill, and training prevail.
Along the way, though, there might be some struggles. What runners, I understand, call “hitting the wall.” It is at such times when there might be an urge to quit. Only discipline and determination can carry a runner through those times.
Fortunately, there is the finish line. The moment when the goal is within sight and grasp. That time should have with it a special joy of knowing the end of the race is near. The satisfaction of knowing the reward is just ahead.
The Christian life, according to Hebrews 12:1, is a race. A race we want to finish. Therefore, verse 1 adds, we are to lay aside every weight that might slow us down.
What kind of weight is the writer of Hebrews referring to? What kind of weights? How about these that indeed can slow us down or discourage our working and our learning and our practicing and our doing.
How about habits? Habits that take our attention away from thinking about spiritual things.
How about associations with people who do not encourage us to stay in the race?
How about the various pleasures the world offers? Many of them are not inherently bad, but if they become the center of our attention, they can take our focus off the Lord, thereby slowing us down in the areas of worship and study and prayer and fellowship, all those things slowing us down in our marathon race.
You can come up with other things that might slow you down. Those things, too, are to be laid aside, which means literally to take them off, put them down, leave them behind.
Let us lay aside every weight that might slow us down. We must also lay aside - take off, put down, leave behind - any sin.
Sin. There are a few different definitions of that word. For our purposes, suffice it say sin is anything that is offensive to God. Any violation of His law that teaches us how to treat God and others and ourselves.
With that, what are some sins? Again, you can come up with others, but here are some that come to my mind.
Against God, how about not taking time to learn about Him and worship Him and fellowship with His people?
Against others, how about cheating them in business or gossiping about them or not helping them physically or spiritually?
Against yourself, how about not getting enough rest, not getting enough exercise, maybe eating too much?
There are many examples of sin that could be mentioned, but whatever sins we come up with, each one is to be laid aside. That is because any and all of them slow us down on our spiritual marathon race, sometimes to the point of wanting to quit the race altogether.
We must not quit, even when it might be easy to do so. Like Chris Couch did with golf, we are to keep working and working spiritually, learning, practicing, and doing. As verse 1 continues, we are to run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
by the way, in preparing this message, part of another Bible passage popped into my mind, this one from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah. Listen to the last part of verse 31 of Isaiah 40.
The first part is, “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles.”
Here is the last part, which again refers to a race. “They shall run [that refers to the 100 yard - 100 meter now days - dash type of race] and not be weary. They shall walk [that refers to the day-by-day Christian experience, the keeping on with the working, learning, practicing, doing of our faith] and not faint.”
That is the ideal. The keeping on until the finish line. Defined, back to Hebrews 12:1, as running with perseverance the race - the Christian marathon - that is set before us.
The idea of perseverance - of continuing on and on and on until the finish line - leads us to the second sports story for this message. This one is about a swimmer named Florence Chadwick.
Florence was, in the early 1950’s, an world-known, accomplished long distance swimmer. Examples of that were her swimming across the Bosporus Strait in Turkey, which is 4 miles across, the Strait of Gibraltar between Spain in Europe and Morocco in Africa, which is 14 miles across, and the English Channel between England and France, which she did that twice once each direction. The Channel is 21 miles across. and the Dardanelles, also in Turkey. That strait is 28 miles across.
In 1952, Florence Chadwick decided to attempt a swim from the coast of California to Catalina Island, a distance the same as the English Channel - 21 miles.
Florence had already had success at long-distance swimming. Leading up to her latest attempt, she trained hard. Then, on July 4, 1952, she began her swim.
As mentioned earlier concerning, especially a marathon race, Florence started out with great energy and excitement. The icy cold water was uncomfortable, but at first it was just a nuisance.
However, before long, fog set in. Fog so thick Florence could just barely see the support boats beside her.
Not long after that, jellyfish became a problem. Their stings were very painful. At times, sharks had to be driven away. Those in the boats beside Florence did that with rifles.
Florence experienced many problems, but she kept swimming, doing so hour after hour, until finally, she begged to stop and be pulled onto one of the boats with her.
Her mother, who was also her trainer, was in one of the support boats beside her. Her mother tried to encourage Florence to keep going. “You are almost there,” she said. “Do not give up now.
That worked for a while, but eventually, a few minutes short of 16 hours after she began her swim, Florence gave up. She was pulled onto one of the support boats. The race was over.
I am not making fun of Florence Chadwick. I do not swim, so I know I would not even think of trying such a feat. But you know what makes the story sad? It is that, as Florence dried off and started to get warm, the fog began to lift. It was then she noticed Catalina Island - her destination - was less than a quarter mile away. The waves would have completed the race for her - if only she had not given up.
What did Florence say? She told reporters it was not the sharks, the jellyfish, the fatigue, or the cold water that defeated her. She had been defeated by the fog. She said, “If I could have seen the land for myself, I would have made it.”
By the way, two months later, Florence made another attempt to swim to Catalina Island. That time, the water was still ice cold. The sea was still inhabited by jellyfish that stung her and sharks that had to be repelled. Fog once again hindered her view. But that time, she pressed on, believing that somewhere beyond the fog, her goal would be reached. That time she was successful.
Someone else kept his focus on the prize and kept working and working and learning and practicing and doing his Christian race. That one is the apostle Paul, who many times expressed his intent to keep running. Let’s think about two such times.
Listen to the first part of I Corinthians 9:27. “I pommel my body and subdue it.” That speaks of training. Just like Chris Couch did in golf and Florence Chadwick did in swimming, Paul trained hard, working at laying aside anything - every weight and every sin - that might interfere with him running his Christian race with perseverance.
he worded it this way in Philippians 3:13-14, “I strain forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize.” What prize? “The upward call of God in Christ.” The call of righteous living here and now. The call to Heaven, which is the reward for those whose relationship with Jesus endures to the end of the Christian race.
How did Paul do that. How can we keep working and learning and practicing and doing in our Christian race?
Back to Hebrews 12, this time the first part of verse 2. “Look to Jesus.” Another translation has it, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” Which is what many people listed in Hebrews 11 did.
There are many, many people listed in Hebrews 11. People known as heroes of the faith. We are not going to talk about all of them, but let’s consider a few of them, thinking about how they persevered.
The first to be mentioned is Noah. Remember he is the one who built the ark so he and his family and a few of each kind of animal on the earth could survive a great flood God planned.
It took years and years for the ark to be built. Years and years when it had not yet rained, which means no one knew what a flood was, and Noah lived far from any big body of water.
Noah was ridiculed by his neighbors who refused to listen to Noah’s pleas for them to change their ways and listen to and obey God.
Noah had a long, unappreciated race, but he never gave up. He kept building and kept building, then gathered his family and the animals until the day the flood started. He kept going until his race was over.
Abraham is listed in Hebrews 11. He was the one called by God to leave his homeland and his extended family and travel to a new land that God would show him when he got there.
That had to have been difficult, but Abraham laid aside any weight that might slow him down. Abraham kept running his marathon, eventually seeing what would later become the Promised Land.
Moses, though a Jew, was raised in the court of the Pharaoh of Egypt. In that place, he had many luxuries and privileges.
However, he chose to follow God’s direction to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. That was the race God had for Moses to run.
Yes, there were troubled times, both before and after the escape from Egypt. Times when Moses was criticized and threatened. Those were weights he felt. But he kept going.
Rahab is another one listed in Hebrews 11. She was a resident of Jericho, which was to be the first city in the Promised Land to be taken by the people of God.
Rahab was in an enemy city, so working to help the people of God was a serious risk to her from the other residents of Jericho. Plus, some suggest she might have led an immoral life style, so there was the risk the people of God would not accept her help.
But Rahab did help. Her help was important in the people of God taking Jericho. The fact she kept running her race was very important.
Those people, according to the writer of Hebrews, and the others listed in chapter 11, surround us. As the writer adds, they are with us to encourage us. Just like Chris Couch had coaches and supporters and just like Florence Chadwick had people in boats traveling with her to encourage her, so do we have people encouraging us.
So Hebrews 12:1. Again say it with me please. “Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
Let’s do that. As Paul wrote in I Corinthians, let’s pommel and subdue our bodies so that, as it is worded in Isaiah 40, we will be able to keep going throughout the race that is our Christian lives. To be able to keep going without fainting along the way.
As we do that, we can look forward, not to a golf win or an ocean beach, but blessings now and Heaven later. What wonderful rewards those are
Today’s closing song is Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart. We will sing verses 1 and 4. I have changed the last part of verse 4 a bit, but as we sing, let’s pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to keep working and learning and practicing and doing our Christian faith.
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth, through all its pulses move;
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the wonders of my answered prayer.
Lord, please keep us doing spiritually what Chris Couch and Florence Chadwick did in sports. Help us to keep working. Help us to keep learning. Help us to keep practicing our faith. Help us to keep doing all You teach us to do.
We want this for Your glory. The benefit is that You will reward us with blessings now and Heaven later.
Thank You. Amen.