Summary: If you want to finish your life well, learn from the witnesses of the past; lay aside the weights of the present; and look the the Winner Himself -- Jesus, your Savior, Example, and Inspiration.
There is a legendary tale about the late Bear Bryant, who coached the University of Alabama football team from 1958 to 1982. In one game, with two minutes to play, he called on his slow-but-steady, fourth string quarterback. Bryant instructed him to run the ball up the middle and then punt.
However, the new quarterback stunned the opposition with repeated first-down runs. Deep in his opponent’s territory, temptation overcame instruction. He had never had an opportunity to throw a touchdown pass. So, disregarding his coach, he threw the ball. The opposing safety intercepted and broke into the clear. The sluggish quarterback struggled to find his feet, but he started chasing the fastest man on the field and tackled the safety just before the goal line. The gun sounded. The game ended.
The opposing coaches met at mid-field. Bryant’s competition shook his head in disbelief. He said, “How could a fourth-string quarterback catch my swiftest safety?”
“That’s easy,” Bryant responded. “Your man was running for a touchdown. My man was running for his life.” (T. T. Crabtree, Pastor’s Manual, Zondervan, 1985, p.259)
The Bible says that you are in a race for your life. The question is: How do you win that race? How do you complete the race that God has laid out for you? How do you finish your life well? Well, if you have your Bible, I invite you to turn with me to Hebrews 12, Hebrews 12, where the Bible shows us how to win the race of life.
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us… (ESV)
Literally, let us run with endurance the race that is laid out before us. God lays out a specific race for every believer. Your race is not my race. My race is not your race. Each believer’s race is unique. That is to say, God does not call every believer to do the same things in life. However, He does call every believer to persevere, to finish his or her particular race well.
Think of Judas. Judas started well. He decided to follow Jesus. He heard Jesus teach. He even went out two by two with the other disciples, healing the sick and casting out demons. Judas did everything the other disciples did. But in the end, he betrayed Jesus, and that’s how everybody remembers him. How you end your life is absolutely crucial, because that defines everything that has gone before.
Os Guinness talks about his last visit to John R. W. Stott three weeks before Stott died. Guinness calls Stott “one of the greatest Christian leaders of the last century”, whom he had known over many decades. Of that last visit, Guinness says, “After an unforgettable hour and more of sharing many memories over many years, I asked him how he would like me to pray for him. Lying weakly on his back and barely able to speak, he answered in a hoarse whisper, ‘Pray that I will be faithful to Jesus until my last breath.’” Then Guinness adds, “Would that such a prayer be the passion of our generation too.” (Os Guinness, Impossible People, IVP Books, 2016; www.PreachingToday.com)
So how do you do that? How do you remain faithful to Jesus until your last breath? How do you run with endurance the race that He laid out for you? Well, you start when you…
LEARN FROM THE WITNESSES OF THE PAST.
Study the men and women of faith who have gone before. Let their lives instruct and inspire you to remain faithful to Jesus even when life gets hard.
Verse 1 says, “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” These are not spectators in the stands, watching us run the race. These are the men and women of Hebrews 11. The “therefore” points back to the previous chapter. These are the people of faith, who bear witness to the grace and power of God, which sustained them in life.
Joey Lee was in the race of his life—the 150-mile Marathon Des Sables, across the Moroccan Sahara Desert. On day four, Lee was still running, though other runners had already been airlifted out after surrendering to the heat or to physical exhaustion.
About 80 miles into the race, the air pockets in the soles of Lee's running shoes blew out, apparently from the heat. Lee was left with almost nothing to protect the soles of his feet as he ran over the sand and jagged rocks. Although he carried a backpack of provisions, it contained no extra shoes. His feet were blistered, his body exhausted from the 100-degree-plus temperatures. His eyes burned from the sand and sweat.