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Run Your Race: Press Toward the Finish Line (based on Philippians 3:13,14 as a starting point)

“I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3: 7-14 NLT)

One of the Christians I’ve come to know and respect most is Chaplain Raymond Rizzo…a chaplain for motorcycle racers. He holds chapel services for racers every week on Saturdays before they head out on the race track. For him, the racers and their teams have become his mission field. When someone needs a listening ear, some spiritual advice, or someone to pray with them, he’s always there for these racers and their families. Motorcycle racing often proves dangerous, and when there’s a serious crash and a racer is rushed to the hospital, this chaplain goes along or heads into the hospital to sit and pray with family as they wait. Even when the racing season isn’t in progress, Ray heads out on his bike and bikes miles daily, and while he logs all those miles, he prays for those racers, their families, and others he ministers to regularly.

Occasionally, I get to talk to these motorcycle racers myself since I also do some writing about racing – mainly stories about these unique and interesting people who race motorcycles for a living. And as I talked to these racers, I hear bits and pieces of how Chaplain Rizzo has helped them and prayed with them in times of need, how he’s shown them Jesus, over and over again. It’s such an amazing tribute to a man (and his wife) who’ve given up the comforts of home to go on the race circuit to minister to this group of people.

As I’ve chatted with racers, mechanics, announcers, and others involved in the sport of motorcycle racing, there’s an interesting phrase that’s come up repeatedly that grabbed my attention: “Ride your race.” Racers say it often. “You’ve got to ride your own race out there and not let other riders get to you.” I’ve heard announcers use the phrase as they called the race, saying, “He’s out there in the front riding his own race.” And even mechanics pat their racers on the back, as they head out to hit speeds of 100 mph and higher, admonishing them, “Just ride your own race out there. Don’t worry about anyone else on the track.”

“Ride your race.” I’ve thought about that a lot. And as I’ve thought about it, this passage from Philippians came to mind, particularly, “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Looking forward to it. Pressing on. Focusing on reaching the end of the race. Not looking back. Not allowing the distractions around us to keep us from pushing onward. Our journey as Christians can be compared to a race, and Paul’s urging to press on towards the end towards our heavenly prize reminds me how important it is as Christians to run our own race and press towards that finish line.

Throughout his writing, the Apostle Paul often compares the Christian walk to a race. And as Christians, we haven’t finished our race yet. We’re not done yet. Some people start well, they’re looking strong, but they never finish the race. Some get distracted and pull off the track. Problems and distractions occur, but here in Philippians, Paul is telling us how we can finish well, how to run our race because we’re not done yet.

Paul Has a Revelation

“I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.” (Philippians 3:7-8)

First, Paul talks about his revelation. Earlier in this chapter, Paul talks about his former life before he met Jesus on the way to Damascus.

“I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin – a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.” (Philippians 3:5-6)

But when he met Jesus, he realized that all of those things were nothing. Now, he considers everything worthless when compared to what Christ has done for him. He had a revelation on the way to Damascus, and Paul has realized that his life is Christ transcends all things that are material and earthbound – his relationship with God means everything.

It doesn’t matter in this race what people think of you, what car you’re driving, what clothes you wear, or where you plan to go on vacation. The very moment that you die, all of that will mean nothing. You’ll leave everything behind because you cannot take anything with you. Yet everything that we do for the Lord while we’re in this race – that means everything. What we do for the Lord is the only thing that we can take with us to eternity, and this was the revelation that changed Paul.

Are you earthbound in your thinking? Or are you thinking about heaven? Are you caught up in the rat race of this world, or do you have your mind set on finishing the race strong and seeing the face of Jesus in heaven?

Realizing We’re Not Where We Need to Be

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.” (Philippians 3:12)

In this passage, Paul also notes that he realizes he isn’t where he needs to be yet. He hasn’t made it. He’s still racing. You don’t get a trophy if you only start the race or if you stop partway through. And Paul knew he wasn’t there yet. He needed to keep moving forward, focusing on his race until he finally finished.

And even though Paul knows he isn’t where he needs to be yet, he knows that God found him on that road to Damascus for a reason, and he’s going to press on to possess the perfection for which Jesus captured him. Paul knows there’s a plan for his life, and he hasn’t even realized it all yet, and it’s the same in our own lives.

God captured us in His grace for a reason. We haven’t accomplished everything he wants us to do yet. We’re not where we need to be yet. God has a plan for our lives. There are people for us to minister to, encourage, and lead to Jesus. And one of our goals must be to keep pressing on in this race to find out and fulfill the plan that God has for our lives.

And it’s also a reminder here that we all need to become more like Christ. That’s the calling on all Christians. No matter the specific ministry that Christ calls us to, we are still all called to become more like Christ in our lives so we can help others join us in this race towards the prize.

Total Focus

“…but I focus on this one thing…”

Total focus. To finish well in the race, to fulfill our calling and grow and grace, we must have focus. It’s something that any athlete will tell you is needed to win a race or a game.

As I’ve interviewed various racers, nearly all of them have shared with me the type of focus they need to be competitive when they race. They focus on their diet and their workout routines, so they’re at their best on race day. Throughout the racing season, there’s total focus, but even when they’re not on the track, everything they do is still focused on being race-ready. When they’re going through qualifying races and practice sessions, they’re completely focused.

One specific racer I spoke to, he doesn’t talk to anyone very much unless necessary on race day. You won’t see him off laughing and having a good time with friends until after the races. Instead, you’ll see him riding around the track on his bicycle before the motorcycle race to see what the track is like. You might catch him down on his knees in the dirt, checking out the type of dirt on the track. After practice sessions, you’ll see him scribbling down notes in his notebook before the main race, noting what did and didn’t work for him on the track. Speak to him, and he might not even hear you the first time because he’s got that faraway look in his eyes. He’s deep inside his head, focusing on the track conditions, how his motorcycle is performing, and what he needs to do to win. Everything he’s doing is focused on riding his race that day and winning—total focus.

And that’s what we need as we run this race as Christians – total focus. While we have jobs, and families, and leisure activities and other things in our lives, there is one thing we do that everything else in our life should be focused on – our spiritual life. Finishing our Christian race strong is what we should be aiming at and striving for at every turn. Total focus.

Forgetting the Past and What’s Behind You 

“…forgetting the past…”

A runner in a race can’t keep looking at what’s behind him – he’ll lose momentum or fall. A motorcycle racer might chance in glance to see who’s closing in, but if racers focus on what’s going on behind them when they’re hitting speeds of 100mph, it’s going to end badly. Instead of looking in the past and what’s behind him, a racer must keep his gaze ahead on the finish line.

While we don’t want to forget all the blessings of God that are in our past, we have to leave our sins and mistakes behind us. They’re under the blood. They’ve been washed away, and God no longer thinks about them anymore. And we shouldn’t think about them anymore. One of the things that can easily sidetrack us on this race is guilt from those sins in our past. The devil will try to bring up your past to you again and again, but we must leave it behind and keep moving forward. Don’t let your past sins become a distraction to you when they’ve already been cleansed away.

Just as important, you can’t run your race for Jesus if you constantly remember what people have done to you or what bad things have happened to you in the past. We’re not to be victims – the Bible says that we are more than conquerors. We cannot change our past. We can’t change what people did in our past. You can’t go back and change your childhood or eliminate the people who may have hurt you. But we do have a promise that we can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13) no matter what has happened in our past.

If you’re going to run your race, you’ve got to forget the things behind you. You’ve got to let go of the past.

3 Biblical Keys to Running Your Race

God has provided the path or track for our race. It’s the path of salvation through the blood of Jesus. But how can we run our race to win? We’re not left striving toward the finish on our own. The Bible offers us some guidance that can help us as we run our race.

1 – Remember We’re Not Alone – A Cloud of Witnesses Surrounds Us

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith…” (Hebrews 12:1a NLT)

First, remember that we’re not alone in our race. When motorcycle racers head out onto the dirt or asphalt tracks to race, they usually do so in places that are filled with hundreds or thousands of spectators. And believe it or not, the spectators often have an impact on the racers as they’re racing. When one racer goes to pass the leader taking over first place, the whole crowd cheers, and that cheering is often loud enough that a racer can hear it over his motorcycle engine and through his helmet, giving him that extra surge of adrenaline. In other cases, the cheering crowd lets the leader know that someone is coming behind him, and he better pick up the pace if he wants to keep his spot in the lead. Either way, that crowd of witnesses has its own impact on the race.

In our Christian ‘race,’ we have to remember that we’re not the only ones who have been on this track towards heaven. Others have run the race before us. Spiritual ancestors like Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Rahab, Ruth, Mary, and others have answered the call of God, headed out on the race, and gone across the finish line to receive their prize before us.

And we don’t just have to look to the past to see this “crowd of witnesses.” There are heroes of the faith all around us today. Maybe this includes your pastor, the people you attend church with, and other brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. We need to cheer each other on and remember we’re on this journey towards heaven together. We’re stronger when we have each other, and seeing others finish strong can give you the courage needed to charge full speed ahead.

2 – Throwing Off Sin That Would Hold Us Back on Our Race

“…let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1b NLT)

We cannot allow anything to hold us back as we’re running our race. Whether it’s the sins of our past, what others have done to us in the past, or temptation today, we’ve got to throw off every weight if we’re going to make it.

If we’re going to run fast, we’ve got to throw off the sin that can trip us up and distract us from our goal. It’s easy to let sin grab us with the promises of temporary thrills. But if we get caught up in sin and don’t finish the race, we’ll never reach the prize that God has for us.

A runner wouldn’t weigh himself down with ankle weights or a backpack full of bricks when he was running a big race. He’d be in the lightest clothing possible so he could be fast – so he wouldn’t trip up along the way. And that’s why we’re called to strip away the things that would slow us and keep us from finishing, particularly the sin that can ensnare us along the way.

3 – Looking Onward and Upward to Jesus

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” (Hebrews 12:2 NLT)

Yes, it’s great to glance at that crowd of witnesses that can inspire us to keep going on our race. We need to strip away the things that are weighing us down. But if we’re going to run our race, we have to keep our gaze focused on Jesus. Going back to the Apostle Paul in Philippians, he talks about “looking forward to what lies ahead.” His gaze was onward, looking at what was ahead of him, and our eyes needed to be both onward and upward. What is pulling us is the prize of the calling of God.

Through the eyes of faith, we must see Jesus and the crown of life that is in store for us when we come across the finish line in heaven. And as we keep our eyes on Jesus, we realize that He’s our champion. He’s there right beside us, helping us perfect our faith and making us more like him as we keep running our race. He’s giving us the strength we need to keep going. All we have to do is keep our eyes on Jesus and run our race.

Conclusion:

Last year, I had multiple interviews with a racer across the racing season – a season that sadly was tarnished by numerous serious injuries, including one racer who was paralyzed and another who sustained a severe traumatic brain injury that still has him mostly unresponsive. Watching others go down in the race, it had a profound mental effect on the other racers.

After one specific race where he saw seven of his fellow racers hit the ground in crashes, this is what he told me: “It’s a battle to decide whether to push or preserve yourself. If you focus on what just happened in the past, you can allow something bad to happen yourself. If you’re going to race, you have to be in the here and now, focused. If you don’t stay in the present moment, that’s when crashes happen. It’s in these moments that you have to decide how much you’re willing to risk. How far are you willing to push it? You have to decide to go all in if you’re going to win your race.”

Unfortunately, there are going to be times when we see others in the race crash. Some may get distracted and pull over. But that’s when we have to decide if we’re all in. That’s when we decide that we’re going to risk everything on this race to the finish line. We can’t be overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. We can’t let it get in our heads. Instead, we must fix our eyes on Jesus, determine that we are going all in, and run our race towards the “heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus is calling us.”

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