Carnalea Methodist Church 29-May-2016 – Family Service
Perseverance – “Keep on keeping on”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
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 for ever. 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.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
“My Story for God’s Glory” – Tim Page
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about “running the race”, he was talking about the “Isthmian Games”. From 582 BC to about 400 AD, these games happened every two years at Corinth, on the land bridge – or isthmus – in Greece where Corinth is located. Events included chariot racing, wrestling, music & poetry – which women were allowed to compete in, and running. The prize for each winner was a crown, of pine leaves or ivy, and massive prestige.
Entering the games was a big commitment – ten months training and then, maybe, you’d get selected to play.
At Sullivan school in Holywood, around 1980, I was the least sporty Sixth Former in my year. Computers were just appearing in schools and I was abIe to dodge rugby, hockey and athletics by helpfully offering to support teachers learn about the computers arriving in their classrooms. Looking back, this was a mistake since I stayed unfit. I’ve done some sport on-and-off since. However, after serious illness and a stem cell transplant in 2013, and months in a hospital bed, I deeply appreciated regaining the mobility and freedom that rehabilitation brought. I now see that I have a responsibility to do what I can to stay well. So I decided to do a 5k run, and achieved this goal at Victoria parkrun last November. This personal breakthrough was such a positive experience that I then decided to run all of Northern Ireland’s 22 Saturday morning parkruns in support of two charities…
- Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI that does cellular-level research at Queen’s
- Global charity DKMS, which signs up prospective stem cell donors, potentially a life-saving act
So far, we have promoted both charities, raised £8800, signed up 62 people as potential stem cell donors, and encouraged 10 people to run their first parkrun.
I have learnt some lessons about striving for a specific aim. On this running project, I have to:
- Keep my aim in mind, organising my life around where I want to get to
- Train and strengthen my self – body and mind – to be able to succeed
- Be connected to a network of people for mutual encouragement and support
Reaching my goal of running 22 parkruns this year means saying ‘Yes’ to a few things and saying ‘No’ to lots of things. As Gandalf says to Frodo,
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
I made another decision when I was 12 years old, choosing to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. And, I have a very, very long way to go. Right now, in fact, my running life is better organised than my faith life! What I can offer, though, is a question arising from our Corinthians reading that I’m currently asking myself –
“How can I live my life so that I’m not running aimlessly but, rather, walking through life with Jesus Christ, living in the world as He wants?”
Paul talks about competitors being in ‘strict training’. As a regular runner, I have committed to a regime of conditioning training – to get fitter, stronger, leaner and faster while avoiding injury and improving my 5k PB – Personal Best.
Leading up to each week’s Saturday run, this involves two 1:1 training sessions with my personal trainer, two conditioning runs, and a somewhat painful sports massage to unknot my muscles. If you’re curious – you can see some videos of this training on the TimPageFitForLife blog. There’s a particularly entertaining clip where I use ‘Battle ropes’ to drag a heavy metal “Prowler” device around the gym. Tough stuff.
If a pattern of behaviours is necessary to build physical condition, then there will be some areas we can work at in our faith life. In our Carnalea Family Services, we try to offer something to everyone, whatever milestone you’re at as you run the race. So, in a few minutes, we’ll sing a beautiful hymn, know to the older generations represented today, “May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day-to-day.”
First, though, as a computing enthusiast and electronically well-connected guy!, some practical ideas to young people starting the race – for your own pattern of personal training … your practice of spirituality through your life to keep fit for the race you’re on.
Using words from the hymn,
“May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day-to-day”
A phone app like PrayerMate can be helpful in organising people and topics to pray about
“May the Word of God dwell richly In my heart from hour to hour”
The Bible App is great. It includes audio readings of The Message, and reading plans where you tick off each day. Nicky and Pippa Gumbel’s 'Bible-In-One-Year' is a helpful resource.
“May the love of Jesus fill me As the waters fill the sea”
Of course, developing a lifelong spiritual practice is not merely about apps.
In 2008 Elizabeth Porter took me to a Service of Healing led by Rev David Jardine. Each time I have gone to this service over the years, it has been helpful. He spoke about how we respond to the poor, including the person that we see sitting on the street. He said that to ignore people made in God’s image wasn’t good. So, be open to the prompting of God’s Spirit about responding to poor people you come across throughout your life – a £1 coin, or a sandwich & drink from a shop, or a smile and ‘Hello’ are some options.
One other thing – Jesus built into his life times of getting away from the crowd to be still and listen to God. Wherever you are on your race, consider planning in time to get away from the crowd, and away from the Internet, to 'Be still' and know that God is God.
So. As you work out your Spiritual Practice,
“May the love of Jesus fill you.”
Focus on your aim – following Jesus Christ – and organise your life around that aim
Finally, I have learnt the importance of the gift of encouragement in being able to persevere and keep running.
I wasn’t looking forward to Saturday’s run at Limavady.
I didn’t know anyone at Limavady.
Also, the Limavady parkrun website showed the slowest runner’s time as under 34 minutes, whereas I average in the high thirties.
Further, we were having some press coverage for World Blood Cancer Day.
And, while Ruth comes with me to all the parkruns as “Professional Supporter”, this week she had to pick up our son from the airport instead.
I set out alone and, overall, felt a bit exposed.
At every race I’ve had an experienced runner to set the pace – it was great to have BT colleague John Kelly running alongside me. I tend to drop my head as I run, which restricts breathing but John kept encouraging me ... “Head up!”
Limavady is a beautiful course of 3 laps. Finishing my second lap, most of the runners had already finished the race, and were getting ready to head to the nearby Leisure Centre for coffee.
One parkrun volunteer said “Do you mind if they run with you?”
“No problem – please do.”, I said.
Immediately, behind me, materialised a posse of experienced runners, encouraging with their good humour.
Heading up the final incline, my legs really wanted to stop. I would have stopped for a few seconds, as in previous races, but the encouragement, energy, positivity, momentum and sheer human goodness behind me powered me on. Without a break, I finished the course.
My phone battery died before the results were available, so I left Limavady not knowing my run time. When I got home, Ruth met me at the door. “Fastest run yet!” Ruth said – a new Personal Best of 35 minutes, 42 seconds. I got a kiss!
The guidance and support of people around me, combined with my own focus and training, enabled that personal best. I have learnt that encouragement can improve physiological and psychological performance.
As you run through this life, be mindful of the example of those who have run the race already. And remain open to support offered from the people running alongside you. Recently, Ruth and I thought of the influence on our lives of the late Reverend Cecil Newell, formerly here at Carnalea. We fondly remember Cecil’s support and visits when I was ill in 2008 - his character, his teaching and example. When life is otherwise discouraging, such a man’s witness helps us both think “yes, there is something to all of this”.
I can nearly hear Cecil saying
We get one go at this race.
Focus on Jesus Christ – consider Him. He is our Friend and Brother, alongside us for the race.
Work at your Spiritual Practice – your conditioning training for the race you’re on.
And, in following Him through your life, go after your Personal Best, supporting others along their way with words of encouragement, and showing up practically for people when you can.
“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
May the mind of Christ, my Saviour,
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and power controlling
All I do and say.
May the Word of God dwell richly
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph
Only through His power.
May the peace of God my Father
Rule my life in everything,
That I may be calm to comfort
Sick and sorrowing.
May the love of Jesus fill me
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self abasing,
This is victory.
May I run the race before me,
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus
As I onward go.
Author: Kate B. Wilkinson