Running the Race
Years ago, I worked with a large ‘chaotic’ family in Birmingham… Over time, several of the children said that they wanted to become committed Christians…
- One of them is now a worship leader in a thriving church… others made very different life choices
- But the child I remember best is a boy who made a clear declaration of faith… Kenneth wanted to be a follower of Jesus Christ
- But over time, he started to slip away from church and became less keen
- Eventually, when confronted about his attitude, he gave this reply: “I can’t keep it up being a Christian. It’s too hard!”
- And we, the leaders had a lot to learn about “making disciples”, not just converts
More recently, I was involved in the baptism of three people, all of whom made professions of faith… yet none of them went on strongly in their Christian walk and one was never seen again!
- What is going on here!
Being a committed Christian involves more than making an initial decision…
- It involved a determination to ‘keep on keeping on’
- It’s about allowing GOD to change and direct us… not striving but trusting
- It’s about perseverance and patience… about discipleship and walking in step with the Spirit
- It’s about refusing to compromise yet showing love for those who make life difficult for us
Being a Christ-follower is a lifelong and eternal process…
With these thoughts in mind, let’s look at how Joseph in the Old Testament coped with many of these issues in his own life… including his final days on earth…
Joseph was the second youngest brother of Jacob’s 10 sons… the youngest was Benjamin
Joseph was sold by his brothers as a slave and taken to Egypt where he was falsely imprisoned
He was eventually released when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and showed immense wisdom about the impending famine
He was promoted to Prime Minister and made responsible for domestic affairs throughout Egypt
During the famine, many people came to Egypt for food, including Joseph’s brothers (apart from Benjamin)
They did not recognise Joseph but once he was sure that they were truly repentant, he eventually revealed himself to them
Pharaoh gave permission for the whole family to move from Canaan (in the north) down to Egypt
Jacob (Joseph’s father) trusted God and came to Egypt
- He died a contented man after ending well and proving the faithfulness of God in his life (see the Old Testament Bibleden page entitled: Jacob lives and dies well)
The story continues with Joseph in a position of immense power and with his close family settled in Egypt
We pick up the story as severe famine continues to devastate the Middle East and people became increasingly desperate for food…
They are willing to become slaves in order to save their lives… but Joseph has a better plan… He devises a strategy whereby the people could remain on their land as tenant farmers…
- They were to give Pharaoh one-fifth of their produce and keep four-fifths for themselves
- Instead of allowing anger and resentment to ferment, Joseph’s wise actions brought about gratitude and allegiance… no mean feat!
- Joseph provides for the people while still fulfilling his obligation to his earthly ‘master’…
Joseph stays true to God and retains his integrity… while satisfying the pagan king’s demands and avoiding riots and bloodshed
We are sometimes placed in a tough position where we need to exercise a lot of wisdom …
- Perhaps our job or circumstances requires us to serve our employer and deal with many and varied groups of people…yet graciously and wisely to stand up for Jesus
- Perhaps we need to work overtime to pay the bills… yet still find time for our family, friends and church
- The slogan “What would Jesus do?” is a very useful guide… but even more useful is: “What does God want me to do?”
- Empowered by His Spirit and walking in step with Him
We all have to learn that without the presence and involvement of the Holy Spirit, our efforts are never going to amount to much
- Then the sad moment comes when Jacob dies after blessing Joseph’s sons (Ephraim & Manasseh) and “adopting” them as his sons
One thing we have in common is that most of us grow old… and all of us die!
Much has been written about the process of ageing…
“At middle age the soul should be opening up like a rose, not closing up like a cabbage” (Anonymous)
“Old age is not so bad when you consider the alternative” (i.e. death) – Maurice Chevalier
“As you get older three things happen. The first is your memory goes … and I can’t remember the other two…” – Sir Norman Wisdom
And humorously but true: “You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come into contact with a new idea!”
And about death…
The Apostle Paul writes: “Death, where is your sting; grave, where is your victory?”
Others have written:
“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we still live”
“Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening; but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death
American comedian, Woody Allen humorously sums up the way that many of us feel: “I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”
- Whenever we die, how good to leave a legacy of love and generosity to others and devotion to the Lord
- And the process begins today.
Incidentally: Why do we save all the nice things to say about someone until after that person has died? Why not start to encourage someone now?
Jacob’s last request is that he is taken back to his homeland and buried there…
Joseph’s brothers are fearful that now Jacob is dead, Joseph will take his revenge for their earlier wickedness…
- But Joseph not only reassures them but goes the ‘extra mile’ by offering to take care of their children, too
How easy to behave in an ungodly way once the constraints have been lifted…
In Lord of the Flies by William Golding, a bunch of pre-adolescent boys are marooned on an island… At first, all is well… but gradually the dark side of human nature takes over and leads to anarchy, murder and the complete breakdown of civilised behaviour
- Joseph would have been entitled to extract revenge… but bitterness and lack of forgiveness only leads misery for everyone concerned
Joseph was blessed with a long life and saw three more generations of his family born
- We don’t all live to a great age but it’s our donation to life as well as the duration of life that matters
- In other words, the way that we use the time, brief or long, to bless and encourage others and serve God
Being young does not debar us from achieving a lot:
~ William Pitt was Prime Minister at age 24.
~ Charles Dickens was 24 when he began the ‘Pickwick Papers’ and 25 when he wrote Oliver Twist.
~ Isaac Newton was 24 when he formulated the law of gravity.
~ Mozart died aged 35, having composed 20 operas, about 14-15 Masses, 30-40 concertos (piano and violin), between 50-60 symphonies and 20 sonatas
Neither does being older stop us from being productive…
~ Verdi was 80 when he produced the opera ‘Falstaff’.
~ Goethe was 80 when he completed the opera ‘Faust’.
~ Tennyson was 80 when he wrote the poem ‘Crossing the Bar’.
~ Michaelangelo was doing his best work at the age of 87.
~ Noah was 500 when he preached his first sermon and over 600 when he stepped out of the Ark!
~ Caleb was 85 when he cried: “Therefore, give me this mountain!”
And even if we are housebound, disabled, unwell or struggling, we can still be a kind, prayerful and faith-driven individual.
- We are precious and important to God whatever our age and physical condition.
Although he knows that he is dying, Joseph focuses on God’s faithfulness
- He prophecies that “God will come to their aid”
- He sets his house in order
- For he knew the One who never leaves or forsakes… whose love is stronger than death… the eternal One who is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-loving
One benefit of living long is that we can look back and see that despite our failings and times of doubt, God remains faithful
- At my mother’s funeral, she had requested one of her favourite songs… “I’ll walk with God” sung by Mario Lanza
- And, strangely enough, my father has requested the same song
- The words were written for a secular purpose but contain an important truth…
I’ll walk with God from this day on
His helping hand I’ll lean upon
This is my prayer, my humble plea
May the Lord be ever with me
There is no death, though eyes grow dim
There is no fear when I’m near to him
I’ll lean on him forever
And he’ll forsake me never
He will not fail me as long as my faith is strong
Whatever road I may walk along
I’ll walk with God
I’ll take his hand
I’ll talk with God, he’ll understand
I’ll pray to him—each day to him
And he’ll hear the words that I say
His hand will guide my throne and rod
And I’ll never walk alone, while I walk with God
Joseph not only “never walked alone” but demonstrated his complete trust in God through all the ups and downs of life
He ‘ran the race’ to the very end…Let’s determine to do the same