As you run the race of life, are you coasting or truly in the game? Pastor Lutzer coaches you from God’s Word to face the agony and run with discipline. You can start and finish the New Year well if you stay focused on your one purpose and one forerunner: Jesus.
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Transcript: Welcome to “5 Minutes with Pastor Lutzer. I’m so glad that you joined us today as we begin a brand new year. You know, there is a story about Cotton Fitzsimmons. He was a very famous basketball coach and his team was losing badly. And apparently in the locker room he gave them a lecture in which he said, “Instead of us being in last place, why don’t you pretend when you go out there tonight, pretend that we are in first place?” And he said, “Instead of this being a regular game, go out there tonight and pretend that this is a playoff game.” Well, his team went out onto the court and apparently they were soundly beaten by the Boston Celtics. Later on, as the coach was very disappointed and even angry, a player came along and patted him and said, “Cheer up, coach. Pretend we won.”
I want to ask you a question today, as you run the race of life are you just pretending or are you actually in the conflict? The apostle Paul loved the imagery of athletes. For example, in 1 Corinthians 9 he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete but only one receives the prize?” By the way, when it comes to the Christian life we can all receive the prize, but anyway he says—”every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly. I do not box as one beating the air but I discipline my body and I bring it under subjection.” What we must recognize is that what Paul is saying is this. Whatever makes a good athlete, it is that that makes a good Christian. And he says that every athlete “agonizes.” That’s the word that he uses. Every athlete agonizes.
You know, I sometimes have driven past our high school that’s in our area in August when it’s very hot. I see these athletes who are practicing football. They are sweating, they have all of this paraphernalia that they need to take care of, and I think to myself why in the world would anyone do that? The apostle Paul says they do it and they receive a perishable wreath. It doesn’t last very long. He says that we should run the race in such a way that we win, certainly, and we do it for an imperishable goal. An imperishable wreath.
Now, here’s what I want to leave with you as we enter into a new year. There’s no way that we can run successfully without discipline—without agony. That means setting aside all other opportunities that sometimes come to us, concentrating on that which is most important, making sure that every blow counts. That’s what Paul says here regarding being a boxer. He says—”I don’t box in a way that simply beats the air.” He says, “I do it with a purpose in mind.” I urge you today to simplify your life. Think in terms of an eternal purpose and let that be what integrates everything that you do in the next year.
You know, it’s very important for us to recognize that we also have to keep our eyes on the goal, our eyes the prize. For this I’m going to remind you of Hebrews 6. At the end of the chapter, the author of the book of Hebrews says this, “We have an anchor for the soul both sure and steadfast.” We certainly need that as we approach the new year, don’t we? Because the new year might be worse than the preceding year. We need an anchor for the soul both sure and steadfast. And then he says, “We look to the forerunner who is Jesus Christ who has gone behind the veil.” The imagery there is that Jesus is waiting for us. Always keep your eye on the goal. Get rid of those things that give us only transitory success because you and I might climb the ladder of success only to discover, as the saying goes, that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
I close with an illustration I love to use because I think it’s so powerful. It’s 1952. Florence Chadwick is trying to swim from Catalina Island all the way to California. It’s windy, it’s cold, the waves are high, and it’s a foggy day. She swims and swims and then she asks to be taken out of the water. The people in the boat that were shadowing her said, “Stay in!” But she couldn’t so they took her out. She said that, afterwards, as the fog lifted, she realized that she was close to the shore. She said, you know, “I might have made it if I had kept the shoreline in mind.” Two months later, she gets in the water at Catalina Island. It’s foggy, it’s windy, the waves are high, but she made it. And she said, “I made it because I always kept the image of the shoreline in mind.”
I want to give you an assignment that I mentioned last time and that is this: think this through carefully—imagine that it is December the 31st of this brand new year. As you look back, what will you wish at that time that you had done during this year that had eternal significance? What have you cut out of your life that is just clutter—unnecessary? And have you concentrated on that which is most important that you might run the race successfully with “the shoreline” in mind? That’s the way I plan to live the new year. I hope it’s the way that you, under God and His grace, enables you and enables all of us to run the race with the shoreline in mind.
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