Finishing the Race

“Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” —the fictional “Mrs. Fletcher” in a 1990s advertisement for a remote home medical alarm system.

“In the dust of defeat, as well as the laurels of victory, there is glory to be found if one has done his best.” —Eric Liddell, British Runner and 440-yd Gold Medalist in the 1924 Olympics, and later a missionary in Manchuria, where he died of malnourishment in a Japanese concentration camp, in 1945.

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever, AMEN.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love (Rom 5:3-5 NLT).

PRAYER FOCUS: Building Endurance, Character and Hope

When Mrs. Fletcher fell in that famous (and unintentionally humorous) TV commercial, she had a button to push that she hoped would bring the help she needed to get up again. Christians have a similar device, only with far more power and much greater signal strength. It’s called PRAYER.

Our human nature shrinks from pain and suffering. We are programmed to avoid these things. In fact, we may fear them. That fear alone has diverted many Christians off of the path God has called them to.

“Never mind when I fall, what about when it’s my whole life that’s falling apart?”

Good question.

We don’t know why cancer strikes one person and not another.

We don’t know why one child struggles while another excels.

We don’t know why the tornado struck here but not there.

We don’t know why your brother was walking past the bomb when it detonated and not seconds before or after.

We do know that the Bible offers us comfort in the hope that somehow our pain will purchase something good. We know that “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Sometimes we may fall. Sometimes it all falls down around us. But we don’t quit.

In this week’s Lectionary Scripture from Paul’s letter to the Romans we bring our Prayer Focus to one of the most perplexing passages in all of Scripture. In Romans 5:3 Paul tells us to “glory in our trials” (NIV), “glory in tribulations” (NKJV), “boast in our sufferings” (NRSV), “rejoice in our afflictions” (HCSB). In other words, Paul is asking us to brag about and party on our pain.

Are you kidding? Next thing you know, this guy will have us praying for more human misery, not less…

If you’ve recoiled in surprise, you’re in good company.

But after the comma, the Apostle reveals the reason why: “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (NIV). We see that God can and will use hard times to build in us good things. The most important words in the passage are “we know.”

We don’t learn these truths in Sunday School; we learn them along the Path of Suffering. The Apostle Paul point to four signposts along the way:

1. Suffering. The Latin root of this word (sub- + ferre) means “to carry under” or to “press down”. Many times we find ourselves in trials, tribulation and suffering because of the unfortunate consequences of our own sin and rebellion. Other times they come to us through the sins of others. And sometimes they just come. No one is exempt. No one gets a free pass. But Paul’s message is simple and clear: Suffering is the believer’s servant, and not his master.

2. Perseverance. The original Greek word in Paul’s text is “upomone,” meaning to bear up under something heavy. It is characteristic of a person who is not swerved from his or her deliberate purpose even in the greatest of trials and sufferings. It’s the quality that keeps a marathon runner going after “hitting the wall.”

3. Character. The Greek word here is “dokime.” It means “a tested and proven character.” A proven character is one that has passed the test, and can be relied upon thereafter to perform under similar pressure.

4. Hope. This is the desired end state for Christian faith. It is not a hope for what we may wish for, but simply a hope for God. What starts with suffering ends with hope. We discover that our sufferings have an eternal reward, because nothing is wasted in a believer’s life. “Hope does not disappoint.” Not in this life or in the life to come. Even our worst trials are down payments on something wonderful to come.

Why pray? Because sometimes God’s greatest blessings are poured out in bitter cups:

• Ask Abraham and he will point to Mount Moriah.
• Ask Joseph and he will point to a prison in Egypt.
• Ask Moses and he will point to forty years in the desert.
• Ask Daniel and he will point to a lion’s den.
• Ask Jesus and He will point to the Cross.

The pathway to hope is an uphill climb. And it’s a race every Christian must run. It isn’t about self-improvement, or some divine version of From Couch Potato to Marathon Running in Four Easy Steps. It’s about traveling the way of faith, hope and love. It’s about getting up when we fall, no matter if we were careless or if we were tripped. It’s about persevering when the path gets hard and steep. It’s about keeping our eyes on the finish line where our rest and reward await.

It’s about knowing that our hope will never disappoint us, in this world or the next.

It’s Monday Morning. Are you facing a difficult path this week? Pray not that God will take the steep parts away, but that He will give you the strength you need to overcome them. And may He bless you every step of the way.

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