A lot of people feel like they are struggling lately. You struggle with people– people at work, people you do business with, people at the store, people in your own family. You struggle to understand people. Many people seem to be tuned into their own frequency and the way they think doesn’t make sense to you. There is a struggle to get things done. Life has become more complicated and we seem to be encountering more delays than ever. And maybe you even have internal struggles. You are more angry, more anxious, more impatient, more easily frustrated and less disciplined than you used to be or would like to be. And you wonder “why is life so tough?” “Why does everything feel like a battle?” Maybe you even feel like giving up. Throwing in the towel. If any of those feeling resonate for you, you are in the right place.
We are starting a new series entitled “The Invisible War.” Because there is a battle going on. And it has been going on for a long time. It didn’t start with COVID or an election. It didn’t even start during your lifetime. The struggles of life, the battle you are experiencing was going on long before you were ever born. This battle, this struggle started in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve decided they wanted to go their own way instead of God’s way. As a result, they forfeited the good life God had for them. In its place, they found a life of struggle.
And ever since, people have stubbornly lived according to what they think is right and good– what they think will make them happy rather than what God says is good and right. And so the struggle continues. We are all simply in the middle of a battle field called life. And there are three battle fronts you are fighting on.
Three battle fronts
Battle inside of you
First of all there is a battle inside of you. You battle with your own sinful nature. We all have a predisposition to make the wrong choices. Have you ever done things that you knew were wrong and did them anyway? Certainly. Have you ever knowingly done things that were self-destructive? Maybe. Have you ever made a selfish decision that helped you at someone else’s expense? Probably. There is a constant battle within. The Bible calls it the flesh, your old nature. Or your sinful nature. It’s a struggle.
This is also why you struggle to do good things and make good choices. Have you ever started a new diet, or started getting in shape but didn’t follow through? Or maybe you set out to quit some bad habit, but quit quitting! You tell yourself, “Self, I’m going to do this!” But then you don’t. There is a battle within.
Battle around you
There is also a battle around you. That’s the world. That’s our culture. Our culture is not in step with God. Its values and beliefs are neither biblical nor Godly. And our culture is intensely intolerant of those who don’t conform. There is pressure to “go along so you can get a long.” Anyone who lives according to their faith will struggle.
Battle against you
And there is battle against you. I’m talking about Satan. The devil is real. He hates you and wants to destroy you. He is liar. He whispers doubts and discouragement in your ears. He tempts you tries to lead you astray.
The reason it feels like a battle because there is a battle going one. An invisible war. The Bible says,
Our fight is not against people on earth but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this world’s darkness, against the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly world. That is why you need to put on God’s full armor.Ephesians 6:12–13 (NCV)
Circle “our fight” Like it or not, you are involved in a battle. The reason why life is so hard is because the invisible war includes you, your family, your kids, your marriage, your work place, your school, your sports team, your neighborhood.
Now that is the sobering news, but there is also good news.
- You are not the first ones to fight a spiritual battle. Every generation has had its battles. They aren’t necessarily the same exact battle but they have similarities.
- With God’s help you will win. I read the end of the book. Christ followers ultimately win the war and come out on top.
- We have a proven leader. He defeated death, your worst enemy. Jesus knows how to win.
- We have a proven battle plan that has worked for countless generations before us.
If we learn their lessons and follow their example we will win the battles we face in our time.
In the Book of Hebrews, Chapter 11, there is a list of notable people who fought the same three kinds of battles that you will face in life. They fought the battle inside, the battle around and the battle against. And the reason we have their stories in the Bible is because they fought well and gained God’s approval. The list includes people like Noah, Abraham, Moses and King David. Now we like their stories because they had tangible victories during their lives. But not all successful faith stories end with victory on the earth. Let’s pick up at verse 35,
… But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection.
Did you know that more people have died because of their faith in Jesus over last one hundred years than all the previous centuries combined? Did you know that Christians are the most persecuted people on the planet today? You don’t hear much about that. But their faith is no less vibrant, successful or notable than that of Noah, Abraham and Moses. Our passage continues,
Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated.
These were people of faith too! And what does God say about their lives?”
They were too good for this world,
Oh, that God could say that you and I lived. “too good for this world”
wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.Hebrews 11:35–40 (NLT)
There are few truths I want to highlight in this passage. First of all, your faith doesn’t spare you from pain. You can be doing the right thing and and still experience pain. So don’t rely on your feelings. Your struggle is simply part of your faith journey. Sometimes we suffer for doing good. And sometimes life just sucks. Second, Some of God’s promises will be fulfilled in eternity. Now you might not like that, but think about it, you may live for 80 or 90 years on this earth. Compared to eternity that is just the blink of an eye. So a promise fulfilled on earth is short-lived. But one fulfilled in eternity will last forever. And third, the way you fight your battles and deal with your struggles, matters. It matters for you, your marriage, your family, your career, the unbelievers in your life, fellow believers in the church. But the way you fight your battles matters for a group of people you may not have considered. The way you live out your faith impacts those who have gone before you. Circle “perfection” In the Bible’s original language this word has more to do with completion than the absence of any faults. Now expand the Circle a little bit,“they would not reach perfection without us.” Their their story isn’t complete, the size and extent of their victory isn’t fully realized without adding your victories to theirs.
There is connection between your life of faith and the faith lives of those we have mentioned. Think of all of human history as a very long relay race. Each generation runs a leg of the race and then hands off the baton to the next generation. The race isn’t over until the last runner crosses the finish line. No one gets their medals until the entire race is over. The overcoming faith of one generation is supposed to inspire the next generation. Our faith is a reflection of theirs. So their faith story isn’t complete without yours.
Right now you are running your leg of the race. You are holding the baton. You are facing struggles. You are fighting battles. Don’t drop the baton. Don’t stop running until your leg is over. Don’t give up. Don’t quit.
Keys to endurance
This is the “what?” and the “why?” of our message. I will try to close in the next few minutes with the “how?” How do I keep fighting the good fight when it never seems to end? How do I keep running my leg the race when it gets’ hard and I get tired? How do we keep going when the going gets tough? Well we turn the page and read the next chapter.
Remember- Heaven is watching
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith,
Like athletes in a stadium, you have a crowd of fans watching you. It is Super Bowl Sunday after all. And the witnesses are the Hall of Famers we have just talked about. Moses, Noah, Abraham, David, Joshua and the ones who suffered. All those who have gone before you and already ran their race and fought their fight and now watching you. They are watching and cheering you on. They are shouting to you “with God’s help I did it, and so can you!” They are watching, receive their encouragement. Read their stories. Put yourself in their story. Learn the lessons of their successes and their failures. Again, I will point to the value of daily devotions. Learn their stories and let them inspire your faith. Live your life their way and you won’t disappoint them! Heaven is watching.
Remove all the hindrances
To get my best time and perform at my best, I do my best to remove anything that would slow me down. It is the same way in your faith. The Bible says,
let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.
Circle “weight” and “sin” These are two things that will slow you down and wear you out. These are things that can keep you from finishing and keep you from finishing well.
Sins trip you up. They keep you from making spiritual progress. Sin is knowing what to do and not doing it. Your conscience and the Holy Spirit work together to reveal sin in your life. Your guilty feelings are warnings. So what do you do when sin trips you up? Well you get up again. When you fall down, you don’t stay down. The Bible says,
God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong.1 John 1:9 (GW)
You confess and repent. And then you move on.
So sins trip us up and Weights slow us down. Now a weight is not necessarily something that is bad or evil. A weight is simply anything that is prevents you or hinders you from serving or following Jesus It could be a relationship. It could be a job. It could be an activity. It could be a sport or hobby that you’re spending too much time on. A weight is anything that is slowing you down or keeping you from doing what God wants you to do. A lot of things in life are not necessarily wrong; they’re just not necessary.
Why is this important?
Because you only have so much time and energy. If you wear yourself out pursuing all sorts of things that aren’t necessary, you won’t have the stamina or schedule to fight your fight and finish your race well. We remove the weights by being selective about what we are willing to invest our time and energy in. Figure out what is really important in life. And learn to say “no” to the unnecessary so you can live fully for God.
Run your race
As Christ followers we accept and celebrate the sovereignty of God over our lives. The Bible says,
From one man he [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.Acts 17:26 (NIV84)
Circle ”he determined” This means that God decided well in advance that you would live in this place at this time. For most of the people listening that means in Loudoun County during the early 21st Century. Now lets’ go back to our main text.
And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
Circle “God has set before you” Obviously your race includes living through a global pandemic. God will get you through it. Because that is what God does. But God also calls us to help others get through it. Maybe a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker. A class mate. That help can be anything from sharing your stuff to giving encouragement and being a good friend. Heaven’s watching. What are they seeing?
Your race includes living in a divided nation. We are divided politically and divided racially. Christ-followers are always called to be peace-makers. When the video is played in heaven, will you be remembered as a peacemaker or trouble maker?
Your race include living in a time of spiritual decline. Even before the pandemic, church attendance was trending downward. And many churches were watering down their teaching to please the culture. Will you fall away? Or will will your bring others in? Heaven is watching.
Your race includes living in a time of deception. It’s really hard to know who is telling the truth. And people unwittingly contribute to deception by forwarding false stories and rumors. If you don’t have absolute certainty that something is true, if you don’t have first hand knowledge, don’t repeat or resend it. Heaven is watching.
Remain focused on Jesus
We live in world of distractions with so many voices calling us in so many directions. If you are not careful, you will find yourself heading the wrong direction. You can’t finish the race when you are heading the wrong way.
… We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.Hebrews 12:1–3 (NLT)
Jesus is not the one who got you started in this race, He is also the one who will make sure you finish. How do you make sure you finish? Circle “keeping our eyes on Jesus” How do keep your eyes on Jesus? One step at a time- one day at a time. I can’t overemphasize the value of daily devotions right now. You need to stay in touch with Jesus. You need to hear from Jesus regularly. You need to fill your mind with His teaching and learn His ways. That is how you stay on course. That is how you will know what to do. That is how you finish strong.
Jesus we want to run our race and finish strong. We want to win the battles we face. I ask that you would help us with our marriages, families, careers, school work. I Ask that you would help us to be the kind of church that can always make a difference in the Community we serve. I ask that we could be a people commended for our faith.