Running The Race Before Us!
Jeremiah 12:5: ""If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee,
then how canst thou contend with horses?"
Imagine a runner on the starting line of a race with no idea as to the nature of the race.
He is set, waiting for the gun to start the race, yet he has no idea whether his race is 800 yard dash
or a 5 mile run.
He has very little hopes of winning that race.
He doesn't know what kind of race he is in, therefore, he has no strategy for running the race.
He will lose because of his ignorance.
Jesus was explicit in His directions for beginning the Christian race.
Jesus taught that we should count the cost lest we be like the man who started the construction
of a tower, and ran out of money before it was completed.
Jesus also said that we must count the cost lest we be like the king who went to battle
with a dangerous shortage of soldiers.
In other words, we must know something about the race before we step up to the starting line!
There are many misconceptions about the Christian race.
One is the idea that Christianity offers an easy escape from the troubles and worries of life.
That sounds good, but it is not so.
All we have to do is read the Bible, and we will see that dedicated, committed people
get knocked around by life in spite of, or because of their faith.
We know that good, dedicated, Christian people experience disaster, hurt, and unthinkable evil.
Christianity is not an aspirin that eases all pain.
The prophet Jeremiah learned this from his own experiences and shares this with us in his writings.
Jeremiah can help us gain insight into the nature of the race before us.
Look at our text: "Jeremiah, (God inquires) if you have raced with men on foot,
and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?"
That surprising and pointed question follows a question that Jeremiah had asked God
about the nature of life.
Jeremiah's question remind us of the questions that Job asked God, and he was asking
with urgency and with the utmost sincerity.
The question was: "Why does the way of the wicked prosper?" (Jeremiah 12:1)
There was a lot of emotion underneath.
Jeremiah did not want to debate philosophy; he wanted to know why life had been
so unfair to him.
In the previous chapter, Jeremiah had indicated that some of his fellow Jews had plotted
to take his life. (See 11:8-10)
He wanted to know that after all of his commitment and his bold proclamation, is an attempt
on his life his reward?
And, for all of his faithful devotion to God, he received imprisonment, ridicule, and harassment.
So, underneath that question as to why the wicked prosper, there was a deep personal hurt.
Jeremiah was really asking,
"Why does a godly man know such pain, while evil men know such prosperity?
Why is this happening to me of all people.
And, why don't you do something, God, to balance the scales and establish justice?"
Those were difficult, serious questions from an obedient but perplexed man of faith.
And these were honest questions.
Now it would seem that God would vindicate Himself to the hurting, seeking prophet.
Surely God would now tell Jeremiah the secret to the mystery of life and the reason for it's pains.
But He didn't!
In fact, the answer the prophet heard in his head was not an answer at all.
Like Job, Jeremiah did and receive an explanation -- he received a challenge.
God asked Jeremiah: "If you have raced with men on foot and have been exhausted,
how can you compete with horses?"
In essence God was saying, "Jeremiah, if this has gotten you down, what will you do
when the going really gets tough?
If you are discouraged and grumbling about this little race with footmen how in the world
will you respond when you have to run with speedy horses?"
Jeremiah was looking for an explanation or for consolation, but he received an exhortation!
He heard God's exhortation: "Get up and keep running!"
Now we can only guess what Jeremiah learned about the race of faith from God's surprising question.
Obviously, he learned that his faith in God did not exempt him from pain and struggle.
But there were other truths that Jeremiah probably learned, and that we can learn
as we consider the race before us.
We have a race to run!
The race is to be run, not understood.
It's ironic, isn't it?
One of the truths we must know about the Christian life is that we cannot know everything about it!
Paradoxically, we must learn that we will never learn it all.
Jeremiah must have learned this fundamental truth that a journey with God is a journey of trust,
even when we don't understand all the perplexing problems of life.
Sometimes, we just have to run, even though we don't understand all of the twists and turns on the track.
A passage from Isaiah stresses this same truth, and reminds us that we will never understand
all the ways of God.
" For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways
And my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55: 8-9)
God's ways are different from ours, and his thoughts are lifted up as high as the heavens
and eons beyond the most intellectual of human minds.
So, we follow Him even though we don't always understand Him.
Until we realize that faith is for living, we will sit in indecision trying to figure out everything about God,
and never get into the race.
It is so crucial for us to know that we cannot know it all.
When Jeremiah wanted to debate, argue, and complain, he was cut off by God's abrupt reply.
God was saying to Jeremiah: "The race is for running, and life is for living.
Sometimes, you have to maintain the pace, even when the footmen and horses seem
to be certain winners."
We also learn from God's question to Jeremiah that a journey with God it is a distance race,
and not a sprint.
This is like the title of Eugene Peterson book: "A Long Obedience In The Same Direction".
This is a very apt description of the Christian race.
As Jesus stated that anyone who follows Him had better be ready to put his hand to the plow
and keep it there.
Christianity is not for fickle followers.
Discipleship is not for the easily discouraged.
Jeremiah's plea for an explanation of his plight brought an answer from God which promised
that there would be even more demanding trials down the road.
Rather than a reassuring pat on the back, Jeremiah was challenged by God to consider
the long haul -- the marathon.
Got called him to look beyond the pesky footmen to see the fleet horses
that would vie with him in the future.
God's question focused Jeremiah's eyes on the distant horizon and assured him
of more races later on.
After that disturbing question, Jeremiah new that he had better be ready for "a long obedience."
Our church rolls are crowded with people who "dropped out" because they didn't understand
that the Christian race is a long distance race.
Most of them began with a burst of emotional energy.
They sprinted down an aisle, and then, rushed into church attendance, Bible classes,
and committee assignments.
Then, later the other church members didn't recognize their effort.
Then, the preaching didn't suit them.
The music didn't please them.
And the ball team began to quarrel ...
So, they grew discouraged, discarded their church duties over trivia, and eventually,
drifted off into uselessness.
What's the problem?
Why this deflection?
Why this turning against the church?
Why this turning away from Christ?
Some of it can be traced to a basic misunderstanding of the spiritual life.
These dropouts failed to consider their commitment to Christ and His church has
"a long obedience in the same direction."
It is true that some church people are snobbish.
It is also true that some church people talk about people, and even gossip.
It is also true that some preachers cannot preach too well.
It is also true that some music is not pleasing.
And, it is also true that some Christian people bicker, and of course, they shouldn't do this!
But if those little things drive us away from the service of Christ, and our understanding
of Christian commitment, then that our commitment is too shallow.
If the sluggish footmen mess us up, what will we do when the horses of life
(disease, depression, death, divorce, and other crises) suddenly confront us?
Then, there is a another truth concealed in God's question to Jeremiah and that is the idea
that the race will be won one lap at a time.
Now here is an important question.
How do we prepare ourselves to run with horses?
To put it more plainly, how do we equip ourselves to handle the crises and heavy pressures
that are certain to come.
The answer is found in God's question to Jeremiah.
We learn to run with horses by first running with footmen.
We prepare to handle the big crises of life by learning how to handle the little ones.
We know that we cannot pick up a violin today, and play a concert in Carnegie Hall tomorrow.
We cannot expect to conquer the real tragedies of life unless we respond well
to the minor irritations that we have to deal with daily.
It is obvious from the number of irritations that most of us have to face that we have had
ample opportunity for training.
Daily irritations stalk us, and attempt to lure us into anger or depression.
Most of us know these things:
The kids are loud.
The job is demanding.
The arthritis flares up,
The traffic gets on our nerves, and you can add many more disheartening things to this list.
But in responding well to those molehills, we learn to climb the mountains.
The Christian race is a daily race.
It is usually not dramatic or spectacular.
We work; we play; we love our families.
We minister where we can.
We serve our church.
We pray for change and growth.
In short, we do a multitude of ordinary human activities, but how well we do them,
and how much love and effort we put into them determines our character.
We are shaped by the ordinary.
So, it is important for us to run patiently with the footman, and to run the race one lap at a time.
How we run today determines the kind of runner we will be tomorrow.
We cannot be idle and shiftless day after day, and expect to run like champions
when the pressure hits us.
The race is such that it must be run one lap at a time, and if we don't manage the minor trifles,
we will never manage the major tragedies.
There came a time in the life of Jesus when He had to run with horses.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus agonized over the cross.
Because He was fully man, and yet, He was also fully God, He didn't want to die such a horrible death.
He knew that the cross would be excruciatingly painful, but infinitely worse than that would be
when He would take all our sins upon Him.
But He didn't run from the cross, and He didn't lash out at His accusers.
In the face of such tremendous pressure, evil, and death itself, He responded with
a courageous composure that still astounds us whenever we think of it.
He died, not cursing His executioners, but forgiving them.
Why did He in such agony reveal such amazing grace?
He did it because He had learned daily how to deal with pressure.
In the wilderness, Satan had tantalized Him with alluring temptations, but Jesus didn't give in
to that pressure.
He didn't even nipple on Satan's evil offers.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus had a steady diet of conflict, tension and misunderstanding.
But He always responded with love, sometimes escaping to the countryside for rest,
and sometimes, presenting parables to explain His truths.
But Jesus faced the cross with grace because He had responded to life's everyday tensions with grace.
By running well with the footman, Jesus was well equipped to race with horses.
As we think about our own irritability, frustration, depression, and discouragement,
God's question to Jeremiah gives us reason to think:
"If we have run with footman, and been wearied, how can we expect to compete
Often we feel that we are running a race with horses but we are really running a race
with other human beings.
Instead of running a race with horses, we are running a race to keep up with the Joneses.
Instead of running a race with horses, we are running a race trying to make sure that our
children have more advantages then the neighbour's kids!
We will have to run a race with the horses.
Horses that represent the problems of life that are threatening to defeat us.
We will race the horses of anxiety.
We will race the horses of despair.
We will race the horses of boredom.
We will race the horses of temptation.
We will race the horses of martial problems.
We will race the horses of employment problems.
We will race the horses of financial problems.
We will race the horses of sickness.
The horses will try to stampede us, and will threaten to destroy us.
So, The Christian life must be lived with love and courage each day.
Every day we live is another lap around the track, and how well we run each lap
ultimately determines our success in the race of life.
Now we know what to expect on the way before us.
We also know that we will not be exempt.
We have a race to be run.
It is a distance race.
We must run the race one lap at a time.
Sermon adapted by Dr. Harold L. White