Scripture: Romans 5:1-11
So over the number couple of weeks I’ve been coaching track and field at Dr. T.L. Sullivan. It’s a short season, and they basically had no coach the last number of years, and they needed one. Badly. Last year was pretty much a mess for organizing the kids to compete. In fact, they didn’t have a single practice before they went to their first meet, and most didn’t even know what events they were competing in until they arrived at the track. So I stepped in to help and give the kids a chance to train and be able to compete with some semblance of confidence.
I tell you, it’s been fun. Even at the practices, working with the kids to improve their techniques and see their excitement grow for their chosen disciplines. It’s been a lot of fun.
Then last week and this week, watching them compete and put up great results they never expected from themselves, all while making new friends while doing it, it’s been even more fun. We even had 3 kids from TLS qualify for provincials next weekend.
All of this also rekindles for me how much I love track and field. I competed all through junior and high school many, many years ago. I still have friends today from when I used to compete, and not even from the schools I attended.
Track and field, while there are first, second and third place prizes, it is ultimately a competition against yourself. How far can you push your body to get your best possible result? And how hard are you willing to work to achieve it?
On top of all that, you get to meet other athletes from all across the province and hang out with them for several days as you cheer each other on while you rest between events. And you get a couple of days off school to do it. Added bonus if the weather is nice like it was this weekend.
Part of the training for your event includes getting everything as close to perfect as you possibly can. You might think that all you do is show up to run, or jump, or throw, and sure you can just walk in and do that, but it’s a lot more. Each event has it’s own technique. You practice over and over again working to hone that technique. Sometimes something as simple as shifting your shoulder when you throw, or how you drive your legs when you jump, or when you make that extra push in a race can make a huge difference in your results. Sure pure athletic ability helps, but proper technique can raise that ability to much greater heights.
The kids will come into practice saying something like, “I was watching a youtube video of this the other day, and I saw they do this… I want to work on that.” And then we do, and they see how they improve, and then they want to do more. It’s a lot of fun to see these kids get excited to the point they want to start their own club.
All of this to say, I’ve been having a lot of fun working with these kids. It’s too bad I had to go away and miss two weeks of practices, but they are working hard and doing really well.
This talk of practice, working on perfection, being the best athlete you can be, it’s something we can consider when we read the words of Paul from this mornings reading as he continues to write to the church in Rome.
Paul is writing to the church to tell them they have the ability to win the greatest prize. In fact, they’ve already won it! They know Jesus Christ as Lord.
He tells them that because they have faith through Jesus Christ, they have already won. They have peace with God and they stand in His grace.
Paul talks about the training they’ve been going through on this journey. He talks about their suffering. And through that suffering they now have perseverance or endurance. And through persevering or enduring they have character. And through developing a Godly character they now have hope. And in their hope there is no shame because they have received God’s love poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, Paul also acknowledges that these things are not in their past. There will still be suffering, but they can glory in their suffering. Why? Because suffering produces endurance. Endurance produces character. And character produces hope.
What kind of hope are we talking about here? We’re talking about a hope that surpasses all others. When we grow in our understanding of God, when we grow in our faithfulness to His call in our lives, this hope… I can’t think of any other way to put it right now than this… this hope is divine. This hope rejoices in your soul because it is a hope from God Himself.
This hope makes us want to turn away from our sins. It makes us turn our focus even more on God. This hope makes real the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf, that he died for us.
Paul writes in Romans 5:6 (ESV), “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”
Christ died for the ungodly. He died for those who do not know God, when we were weak and didn’t realize the power of God in our lives, Jesus died so we would become strong. Stronger to be able to handle life challenges when they come our way. Challenges which produce endurance, character and hope. God, through Jesus, gives us the strength to handle these things.
There’s a saying out there you might here time and time again. People will say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” It sounds really nice, but it’s not true. Sure there may be instances, but as a general rule, I don’t quite believe this quote. I don’t think saying that to my friend who recently lost his child to suicide will help him in his morning. I don’t think the person with the cancer diagnosis wants to hear it either.
What I would like it to say is this. “God will give you strength to handle anything the world throws at you.”
I’m not saying it won’t feel like a living hell at times. There may be times when it does, and when it does, or even when it doesn’t, God will be with you through it. Look to God in the times of struggle, in the times of suffering. Look to God to get you through it. Whether that’s with help from others, or from persevering in prayer, or just getting away from the stress, God can help you through.
There may also be times when you’ve found yourself in the deepest darkness of the valley, when you’ve felt completely alone, and when you get through it, then you might look back and see how God carried you through after the fact. And you will realize that you were never truly alone.
Jesus died so that we all would know the glory of God in our lives. So that by his blood we would be reconciled to God and be saved.
All of life is part of our training. Like the kids on the track team, they want to grow in their ability to perform to the best of their ability. The same goes for our life of faith. We want to keep growing in our relationship with our Father God.
That means we need to work at it. The kids watched track and field videos so see how they might be able to improve. We have something even greater to strive for. We have Jesus. We have his life and his teachings to guide us toward perfection.
We will never get to the same level as Jesus, at least not while we’re living on this earth, but we have something to strive for. We have an example to follow which points us in the right direction.
If life gets tough, we lean on Jesus even more to help us get through it, and we come out the other side just a little stronger knowing he walked with us through it.
One thing I noticed about the kids I was coaching, some of them worked hard at their events, some chose not to. I didn’t push them either way. I gave them suggestions as to how they might work to get better, and it was up to them to work on it on their own. If they needed help, I was very happy to assist them, but I wasn’t going to push them. Those who took the initiative and worked hard, those were the ones who typically did better, and better than they expected.
Those who didn’t, while I’m proud of the effort they put in on the track and how they represented their school, I wonder how much more they might have accomplished if they applied themselves a bit more. We had some very good athletes on our team, and every one, in my opinion, had a chance. But they all needed to work on it. They all needed to improve. They all needed to push themselves to see what they could get out of their bodies.
The same is to be said about our own walks with Jesus, our own faith journeys. We need to work on it. We need to continually realize that Jesus didn’t just die so some people would know God. He died so all people would know God and His love. He died so that we would know just what it is we are striving for as we run this race we call life.
So in our suffering, we would produce endurance. Then character. Then hope.
Hope in knowing some day we would see the face of God and that the race has been won.
So I ask this morning, how is your training going? Are you still striving to reach the perfection Jesus Christ has put before us? Are you looking to grow in your relationship with him more each day?
I’m not saying that our salvation is the result of the things we do. It’s not a checklist for us to tick off things as we go. Our salvation is won just by having faith. A faith that is putting our full trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.
And let’s be perfectly honest with ourselves, and myself included, we could all use a little more Jesus in our lives.
Because we want hope.
We need hope. Look at the world right now. I need more hope, and I’m only going to find that hope through Jesus Christ my Lord. You may feel the same way. There’s not a lot of hope in our world right now, so we’re not going to find it here. Yet we can always find hope in God.
So why not strive for it and seek it out by growing in our faith?
What do we have to lose?
Nothing. But we have so much more we can gain by following Jesus Christ and the life he calls us to live.
Let us pray,
You have given us life. Life eternally with our Father in heaven. Thank you for this amazing gift. Thank you for teaching us how to live as God’s children.
We ask you today, Lord Jesus, to continue to stir in our hearts this desire to draw closer to you. To strive for the goal you have set before us, here on this earth. We know the victory of the cross has granted us the heavenly prize, but we also know there is much more for us here on this earth.
So we ask you to continue working in us by the power of your Holy Spirit, to keep working in us to bring us hope. Bring us peace. And bring us the joy of knowing our Father in heaven.
We pray all these things in your power name. Amen and amen.