Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
The Olympic Games begin in 5 days which means that for 2 weeks our focus will be on athletes, medal counts and the inspirational stories of those who have overcome tremendous odds to be able to compete at the highest level. The Olympic Games have always captured people’s hearts and minds and inspired people to live differently and as we heard last week, it was the Apostle Paul who compared our faith not just to a race but to the larger life and journey of an athlete. Paul used the games as a means of talking about faith when he wrote to the people of Corinth because they knew all about the games. Corinth is about 125 miles east of Olympia, where the ancient Olympic Games were held, but the games they were more familiar with were the Isthmian Games, held in the year before and after the Olympics on the Isthmus of Corinth.
Because these games were so much a part of the people’s lives, Paul used them as a metaphor for faith which still speaks to and inspires our lives today.
Last week we heard that God calls all of us to run a race of faith and that no matter who we are we need to get into the game. Being in the game means Believing in God and Trusting in Jesus and we know we are running the race of faith when every day we are striving to Love God and Love Others. Today we are going to talk about the training needed to live out our faith. Every athlete will tell you that the only way to improve and be able to compete at the top level is to train. Training doesn’t just mean working hard at your individual sport; it also means setting goals, visualization and motivation. Training is all encompassing. Athletes train their physical bodies but they also train their minds and spirits for the competition. Top athletes work with psychologists to help them break through barriers, overcome nerves and visualize winning the gold.
Training in our faith also means that we need to visualize and set goals. While athletes often have to visualize themselves competing well and winning the race we need to visualize what our lives of faith should look like. The Bible tells us to do this by looking to Jesus, Hebrews 12:1-2. We need to set aside everything else and fix our eyes on Jesus because it is looking at Jesus that we see how we are supposed to live. Jesus sets the example for us in so many ways and if we can picture ourselves living the way of Jesus it gives us inspiration and motivation to move forward in our faith as well as an example to follow.
Visualization is important and so is setting goals. If we want to move forward in our faith we need to identify the steps that will help us get there. Today I want to offer three goals that Christians have been using since the days of John Wesley to grow in faithfulness. These are known as the general rules of the church that Wesley helped to establish, but they are also goals that we can use to help in our training. I want to invite you to take out the next steps because you might want to make some notes about the goals you want to set and you might want to fill in some blanks so you will know what you can do to train for the race of faith.
The first goal we need to set is to Do No Harm. This means we need to avoid all evil and all those things that harm us, but it also means we need to avoid those words and actions or ours that harm others. This is what the author of Hebrews means when he says that we need to throw off everything that hinds us and the sin that so easily entangles us. Sin is evil and it entangles us, it slows us down and trips us up and keeps us from running strong.
When John Wesley said that we need to do no harm and avoid evil he said that we need to especially avoid those things which are generally practiced or common among people and he gave a list of some examples. I was amazed at how many of the evils Wesley listed are still problems for us today. For example, he names drunkenness and alcoholism and other addictions clearly slow us down in faith. They are evils that can destroy our health, relationships and lives. He also mentions fighting and returning evil for evil. He specifically said we should avoid speaking evil of political and religious leaders, something we might want to consider during these next 3 months.
Wesley also stressed avoiding entertainment and activities that promote things other than the knowledge or love of God, today that would include much of what we see around us. So much of what the world says is harmless entertainment might be things we need to avoid. Think about just two things that are prolific in our society and becoming more and more accepted – gambling and pornography. These are things that people say aren’t that bad and can’t really hurt us as long as we can control how we use them. The problem with both of these things is that they pull us away from the life God wants for us. When we aren’t happy with our lives or relationships, instead of turning to God we will turn to the fantasy world that gambling and pornography create in our minds and in time these activities can take over our reality and destroy our families, our jobs, our reputation in the community and in time our faith. What might start as some harmless fun or diversion can become an addiction that takes over our lives but more importantly it takes over our hearts and slowly forces God out.
This week I want to invite each of us to set a goal and identify one thing that we know is evil that we should avoid. I am not asking you to overcome it this week, just identify it and ask God to help you lay it aside. When we can name the evil at work in our lives it helps us be honest about what it is and how it works so that we can see what the dangers are and this can help us find the strength and the motivation to avoid it and overcome it. To set the first goal you can simply fill in the blank on this prayer that you will find on the next steps.
God, please help me lay aside__________ which hinders my race of faith.
The next goal we need to set is to attend upon the ordinances of God. The word ordinance means an authoritative order or a decree; so the ordinances of God are those things that God has told us we should do in order to grow deeper in our faith. Wesley gave us six practices that we need to follow and they are:
• Public Worship
• Reading and reflecting on God’s word
• Holy Communion
• Public and Private Prayer
• Searching the Scriptures
Now let me be clear and say that we don’t follow these things because we have been ordered to by God, we practice these things because this is what helps us grow in our faith. This is what gives us stronger spiritual muscles. These are the things that help us run more faithfully in our faith and help us love God and love others more and more each day.
The good news today is that each one of us at least has one of these down right now and that is the first one, public worship. We are here and so we are in training and have something to build on, but we need to commit to public worship. I have heard so many people say that you don’t have to worship with others to be part of a church or a faithful follower of Jesus and while that might be true, not worshiping with others means that we will not grow in our faith. When we don’t worship with others we begin to look like the grass we see around us these days. We go dry and dormant. Weekly worship keeps us spiritually healthy and strong.
There is something powerful about meeting together that we cannot ignore. Jesus said when two or more are gathered in his name then He is there among them so every time we come together, Jesus is here and if Jesus is here we have the best opportunity to hear him and receive his grace and mercy and power. Corporate worship is important and we can not neglect it and expect our faith to grow, it really is the foundation of our training.
Reading and reflecting on God’s word is also a powerful tools God uses to really stretch our faith. In recent studies, the one thing that helped people grow in their faith at every stage, from those just starting out to those who have been walking with Jesus for years, is the reading and reflecting on God’s word. It was a Bible study where I first grew in my faith and I am still most encouraged and excited in Bible study. After 20 years in ministry I am still learning new things and finding new truth in the word of God and so we need to commit to reading God’s word and even Searching the Scriptures which means really digging in to the Bible with others.
Wesley also talked about Holy Communion which is the one sacrament of the church which we can share in over and over again. Like worship, every time we share in communion we are saying that God is present in the meal in a very specific and powerful way. The fullness of God is present in the bread and cup and it is a means by which God fills us with his grace and gives us the power to run with faith. It is the food that prepares and sustains us for the competition.
Wesley also mentions both private and public prayer and what is most important in our times of prayer isn’t talking to God but listening for God. Prayer is an important means of communication that God has opened up to us and it allows us to connect with God in every moment of every day. Too many times we think prayer is just one way communication, but it is not. Silence and learning to listen in prayer is something we need to train ourselves to do. The last ordinance is fasting; not something we talk much about, but can be a powerful experience in our lives. When we are willing to give up something important for a period of time we are saying to God that we have stopped trusting in ourselves and in our strength, power and understanding and are looking to God to be our source of help and strength. Fasting can draw us closer to God which draws us closer to the life God has for us.
What I hope you see in this list is that God gives a variety of ways to train because we are all different. Some people will find times of prayer will help them the most while for others it will Bible Study. While worship and communion are important for all and are done as part of a larger community, fasting is something that is to be just between us and God and so again, our difference are taken into consideration. We all learn and grow differently and so God offers us a variety of ways to grow – but we can’t neglect any of these. Athletes will tell you they need to cross train in order to get their entire body into shape and the same is true for our faith. While we might find one of these ordinances really helps us the most, we need to be taking part in all of them so that our faith will develop the way God wants it to.
As we follow these ordinances, we will find our faith growing stronger which gives us the ability to consider our third goal which is to Do Good. Wesley said our goal should be to do all the good you can as often as you can to as many people as you can. On our own, we can’t do all the good we can we can to all the people we can as often as we can, but as we grow through the ordinances God has given us, we find strength from God to do more than we ever thought or imagined. Unlike some other religions, our faith is very practical. Being a Christian is not just what we believe or who we trust, our faith is also very much about how we live because of what we believe and who we trust. Paul said that we were created and called by God to do good works Ephesians 2:10. James said that faith without works is dead or not faith at all James 2:14-17, and Jesus himself said that we are to do good works to reveal the glory of God, Matthew 5:16.
So training for the race of faith means visualizing what our lives need to look like and we do this by looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith. It means setting goals and working hard. This week focus on three goals.
Do No Harm
Attend to the Ordinances of God
If we train hard this week our faith will be stronger and our lives will look different when we gather again next Sunday.
The Games – Training
John Wesley gives us three goals to help us train for the race of faith.
1. Do No Harm
Name one habit or activity you know is not healthy and you need to avoid. Give it to God each day with the prayer:
God, please help me lay aside____________
which hinders my race of faith.
2. Attend upon the ordinances of God
John Wesley names 6 ordinances that can help us develop our faith.
Reading and Reflecting on God’s Word
Public and Private Prayer
Searching The Scriptures
Pick one ordinance to focus on and follow this week. Each week add another ordinance to your training routine.
3. Do Good
Read Matthew 5:16, Ephesians 2:14-16, James 2:14-17.
Identify three good works you can do during the Olympic Games that will give glory to God.