In late 2005, I started a new advertising job working on Sprint’s Sports and Entertainment properties. The role was sold in to me as primarily focused on their NFL deal but on the day I started, I was informed I would instead be working on the company’s massive NASCAR title sponsorship instead. It was, as they say, quite the pivot.
Having grown up watching Formula One, you could have written the sum total my knowledge of stock car racing on the back of a postage stamp with an oversize paint brush. My initial forays did little to dissuade me: they were strange and, frankly, terrifying -- the first race, in particular, was a four hour horror show of brightly colored left turning confusion. None of it made sense. I gave some genuine serious thought to quitting the job.
But like most things in life, if you stick at it, keep going despite circumstances appearing bleak, and give it your best effort, things can turn out in ways you wouldn’t ever have expected.
And so it was for NASCAR and me. As I learned the nuances, and immersed myself in driving fast and turning left, I fell hopelessly in love. And when I left the job, I started writing a weekly column for a NASCAR site, something I still do, some 13 years and millions of words later.
So as you might expect, in our house, we watch a lot of racing. Or at least as much as Steph will allow us – it’s a constant negotiation. Our 17-month old son’s third word – and arguably his favorite – is car for good reason. In the races we watch, the drivers are racing for money, fame and of course the big trophy but away from the track we, as Christians, are in a race of our own – an altogether different, much more significant race.
Here’s the apostle Paul on the Christian race:
Hebrews 12: 1-2 (NKJV)
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Here are four thoughts on running your race I pray will bring you some encouragement.
ONE: DON’T DRINK THE POISON OF COMPARISON -- EVERY JOURNEY IS UNIQUE.
I want you to take a minute and think about how you got saved. I grew up in a Christian house and got really good at Bible knowledge because you’d get candy in Sunday School. Christian music on every record player and tape recorder, “Thank God for Jesus” bumper sticker, Christian camps for summer holiday and church every Sunday was what we did as a family. Then at 18, I walked away from faith, in part I’m ashamed to admit because I didn’t want to get up early on Sunday morning.
Fast forward 15 years by which time I’d moved to Manhattan, working in midtown for FIFA. During my time at this job I met a friend who worked in the building. About a year later, my friend’s older sister essentially tricked her into going to a Christian summer camp. But when I met her after the trip I could see as clear as day that she had been saved. Her face spoke volumes. It was a catalyst for me to renew my faith and a day, July 4th, 2010, I’ll always look back on as a moment my faith truly became my own.
My point here is my journey is utterly unique to me – one God planned for me long ago.
No-one else has taken a route like me or will again. There’s as much point comparing your life or social media timeline to someone else’s as there is swimming with Great White sharks. Take this scripture in Luke when Jesus is talking to his disciples.
Luke 12:6-7 (NKJV)
6 “Are not five sparrows sold for two copper coins? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Think about this: the hairs on our head are numbered. I mean, it’s staggering. If that’s the level of detail God knows about you, how could you ever, ever, think you are not special – one of a kind, fearfully and wonderfully made, utterly unique to our loving God?
TWO: THE FAITH JOURNEY IS A MARATHON NOT A SPRINT. ENDURANCE MATTERS.
I’ve been lucky enough to run two marathons and can safely say they are both the best and worst days of my life. The joy you get when you cross the finishing line helps you forget the pain – especially in the final few miles. I did a significant amount of training for both races. It was not something I took lightly. You see this if you look at the marathon’s origin. The story goes that in 490 BC an Athenian soldier, Pheidippides, ran from Marathon in Greece all the way to the capital Athens, to announce the defeat of the Persians in battle. Pheidippides delivered the happy message of “Niki” or victory and promptly dropped dead with exhaustion.
In Hebrews we’re told to: run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Endurance is essentially a dirty word in this instant gratification world. We like simple, easy and uncomplicated. Putting in the hard yards is a concept that many don’t even want to think about – let alone actually do. So it’s instructive to note what’s used in other Bible versions for the word “endurance”:
The message is clear.
This is a race for which we need to buckle down. This will not be a quick jaunt. It will be a long tough race right to the end and ultimately our union with Jesus in Heaven. As Paul noted, as his earthly demise approached:
2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV)
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
But our journey is absolutely not without pitfalls.
THREE: SIN IS INEVITABLE. OUR RESPONSE DOESN’T HAVE TO BE.
Being self-deprecating is part of the English make-up. It’s something that, at times, doesn’t go down all that well in America where the culture is more upbeat – unless it’s close to an election of course when everybody loses their collective mind.
A phrase I like to say is that I am flawed, fallible and very imperfect person. I am, put simply, a sinner saved by grace. As these two verses tell us:
Romans 3:22-23 (NKJV)
For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
1 John 1:8-9 (NKJV)
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Two slightly different ways in but the conclusion is the same. We get the free gifts of grace and forgiveness. In this often hateful, divisive world of ours, the concept seems so alien doesn’t it? But this doesn’t mean we can just do what we want and pick up the grace check at the end.
Romans 6:11-14 (NLT)
So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus. Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.
So how, then, do we go about doing this? Not letting sin control us, living under the freedom of God’s grace? Well, the answer is simple and also my final point.
FOUR: JESUS IS THE AUTHOR AND FINISHER OF OUR FAITH
Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Isn’t this encouraging? Not only did Jesus write our story – our unique journey – he will also complete it when we get to heaven.
Philippians 1:6 (NIV)
6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
In Hebrews 11, a wonderful Hall of Faith Chapter, Paul reminds us of those who have gone before– believers who have run the journey of faith with unflinching dedication and unrelenting determination. It reads like a who’s who of the best known Bible characters and opens with a truly great verse.
Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
And this is what the journey is all about -- faith. And it’s important to remember that our journey of faith doesn’t have an earthly conclusion:
Hebrews 11:13 (NIV)
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
These people living by faith are the “cloud of witnesses” to whom Paul refers in verse one – those who have fought their good fights.
These witnesses, too, can be in your daily life. They’re not all towering Biblical figures. Sometimes it’s your Mom (who admittedly has the faith of a towering Biblical figure), a member of your extended family, someone in your Rooted Group, a friend, maybe even a colleague. And their examples are good – and necessary -- but there is only one place we can truly look for the source and that is Jesus.
We need to fix our gaze firmly on Jesus and not look away for a moment.
And not just that, we need to focus on how Jesus did it – the example he set for us in his short time on earth. We need to pick our heads up and concentrate entirely on Jesus who is advocating for us at the right hand of the father.
He is, if you will, our pioneer, our trail blazer, our definition of what it means to live a life of meaning and purpose – a life of faith. Read up on how he did it. The love he showed. The care for others. It isn’t, at its heart, complicated stuff. Ultimately, faith is what it is all about. Without Jesus’s completed work on the cross, faith is nothing. The battle is completed; the battle is won.
So today, despite the madness, focus on running your race – the race God laid out just for you. Keep going, one footstep at a time, and keep your eyes focused on Jesus.
God bless you.