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Losers and Winners, Saints and SinnersHow to Finish Strong in the Spiritual Race
By Greg Laurie
FaithwordsCopyright © 2006 Greg Laurie
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRUNNING UP A MOUNTAIN
Caleb is one of the unsung heroes of the Bible. He stands as a shining example of one who never lost his edge spiritually. He was faithful to the very end. He himself said at age eighty-five, "I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and coming in" (Josh. 14:11).
Let's try to identify where he got this true grit, this spiritual chutzpah to live so strong for so long. His story is in Joshua 14. At that point in the history of God's people, the Israelites had finally made it to the long-awaited promised land, and Joshua was dispersing portions of it to the various tribes. Caleb suddenly spoke up, saying,
You know the word which the Lord said to Moses the man of God concerning you and me in Kadesh Barnea. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart. Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the Lord my God. (Joshua14:6-8)
In response, Joshua granted faithful Caleb what he asked: Caleb would inherit the land he had surveyed. Yet the old man proved he had not yet exhausted his courage, for then he said:
Here I am this day, eighty-five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me ... Now therefore, give me this mountain [the land of Hebron] of which the Lord spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the Lord has said. (Joshua 14:10-12)
The other guys must have thought old Caleb was senile. Hebron was not some beautiful green pasture; it was one of the most treacherous mountainous areas of the promised land. Worse, formidable adversaries, identified as the three sons of Anak, lived there. They would have to be routed before the old man could take possession. No one wanted to take them on except eighty-five-year-old Caleb, holding up that muscular old arm, saying, "Give me this mountain."
I love his boldness. Caleb ran up the mountain. He slew his adversaries. He was victorious. He had been strong all those years, and he finished well.
A Strategy for Strength-Courtesy of Caleb
Let me share some principles with you from Caleb's life that can give us this spiritual stamina we all need to run and indeed finish in the race of life.
1. Follow the Lord 100 Percent
Scripture says again and again that Caleb "wholly followed the Lord." It's in Joshua 14:8-9 and verse 14 too: Joshua blessed Caleb and gave the old man what he asked because "he wholly followed the Lord God of Israel."
This is clearly a key to Caleb's spiritual success. But what does it mean to "wholly follow the Lord"? It means that you must fully follow our Lord not halfheartedly, but completely. One hundred percent.
What does that mean? It means that you give everything to God. Many people don't do this-the way they live provides the evidence. It all starts with priorities; when crisis hits, they expect God to drop everything and get them out of the mess they are in. But when it comes to honoring Him by just going to church on Sunday, they are too busy: "I don't know if we should go to church. The weatherman said it might rain today. There is no rain out there right now, but we don't want to risk our lives and tempt the Lord. We'd better not go. How about the mall or the movies?"
The real problem here is lack of total commitment. There will always be a hundred convenient excuses to hide behind, but the fact is you will make time for what matters to you.
We see the priority problem in their resources and giving as well. They ask God to provide for them and take care of their needs. Even though He does, they don't even think about giving when the offering plate passes.
What is wrong with these pictures? Are you wholly following the Lord your God? Are you fully following Him?
Let me tell you something. If you are not, you will be picked off eventually. It is only a matter of time until you become a casualty in the race of life. You can see this in the lives of the Israelites.
Caleb mentioned a very important place in his little speech called Kadesh Barnea. Forty-five years earlier, Caleb, Joshua, and Moses, along with the children of Israel, had come to the brink of the promised land, a point of entry known as Kadesh Barnea. You remember God had gloriously delivered the Israelites from their slave masters in Egypt, in answer to their prayers. He had opened up the Red Sea for them to cross through, then drowned the Egyptian army as it pursued them. When the Israelites arrived at the new land God had promised them that was flowing with milk and honey, God instructed Moses to send twelve representatives to check it out.
After forty days, the spies returned and gave their report. It happened that they had divided into two groups. The majority-ten of them-said, "There are these huge, walled cities and giant adversaries." They exaggerated, saying, "We were like grasshoppers in their sight." Then the spies showed their people the bounty they had found in that dangerous land: a bunch of grapes so large two men had to carry it on a pole between them. The consensus: "There is no way we should go in."
Joshua and Caleb gave the minority report: "It is true things are big there, but the Lord will be with us. Let's go for it." But the Israelites were so upset with Joshua and Caleb for suggesting this that they clamored about heading back to Egypt.
The Lord was angry with the Israelites for failing to honor Him. He had brought them that far, had done great things to deliver them, yet they didn't believe He would preserve them in the new land. So God declared, "Of those that have come this far, only Joshua and Caleb are going into the land. The rest of you are not going in."
In other words, those who followed the Lord wholeheartedly won the race; the others were disqualified.
I guess it's all in how you look at things. You could say two were optimists and the others were pessimists. It is more than that. Joshua and Caleb looked at the promised land-remembering it was the "promised" land-through the eyes of faith.
I once heard the story of an American shoe salesman sent to a foreign country. He had been there just a week when he e-mailed the company for money to come home. They asked why. He said, "Nobody here wears shoes."
That man returned. They quickly sent another salesman in his place. After a couple of days, he e-mailed back, saying, "Send me all of the shoes you have. Absolutely no one here has shoes. There are unlimited opportunities!"
Caleb saw God's promise where others saw only trouble and defeat. It isn't that Caleb had great faith in God as much as he had faith in a great God. He knew God had delivered them from one enemy, and He would deliver them from others as well.
2. Don't Compromise-Stand Your Ground
How easy it would have been for Caleb to go along with the crowd, not ruffle anybody's feathers. But he knew what was right, and so he stood his ground. At the risk of being personally ostracized, he took a stand for what he knew was true. He knew he needed to be more concerned with God's approval than man's. And he was rewarded.
As you walk with the Lord, you will face many temptations to cave in to peer pressure, to do what everybody else does. I know what you're thinking: if you take a stand with your family, neighbors, or coworkers, they may ostracize you. They may mock you. They might even harm you physically. But if you are going to fully follow the Lord, then, like Caleb, you must make this principle operative in your life. Stand firm-seek God's pleasure, no one else's.
3. Take God at His Word
Caleb didn't win immediate entrance to the promised land. First he had to wander around with those ungrateful, complaining Israelites for forty years. They said things like "We remember the good old days back in Egypt, where we had garlic, leeks, and onions." Now, when you read about life for the Israelites in Egypt, you don't see anything about their having great food. You read about their being miserable slaves who cried out to God, day and night, to be delivered. The Israelites conveniently forgot all that.
Isn't it interesting how the devil helps us exaggerate our pasts when he wants to pull us back? The devil will whisper in our ears, "Remember the good old days." Yeah. That was good, we think.
The devil is clever. He doesn't say, "Remember when you were so miserable that you actually considered suicide? Remember the times you were so drunk you didn't even know where you were when you woke up? Remember when your marriage almost fell apart?" He will remind you only of the few "good times" you had in order to draw you back. He did exactly this to the Israelites, and they went right along with it.
Except for Caleb. Despite the Israelites' childish clinging to fictitious memories, Caleb hung on to the promises of God. It didn't matter to him that he had to wait forty years. He knew God would be faithful, regardless of the time frame.
We need to do the same. Some who have been walking with us will turn away and go back to the old life. Crises will hit. Hardship falls on everyone. But like Caleb, we have to believe God's promise that we are going to make it across that finishing line.
Fortunately, we don't have to do this in our own strength. Jude referred to "Him who is able to keep you from stumbling / And to present you faultless / Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (1:24). Scripture reminds us that the Lord is "the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:2).
Caleb trusted God's word to him. We can do the same.
4. Long for Fellowship with Your God
Caleb asked for a place in the promised land called Hebron.
There is something interesting about the name Hebron, which, in the original language, means "fellowship, love, and communion." Hebron is where Abraham met with God face-to-face and received the promise of the new land in the first place.
Here is my point: Caleb yearned for fellowship with God. While the other Israelites longed for Egypt, Caleb longed for Hebron. While the others looked back, Caleb looked forward. While others wanted to please themselves, Caleb wanted to please God. Of Caleb, Chuck Swindoll once said: "Caleb? Every new sunrise introduced another reminder that his body and rocking chair weren't made for each other. While his peers were yawning, Caleb was yearning."
This is an essential key to spiritual longevity. You must always move forward. You must always seek to grow spiritually and never look back. That's what will keep you going. You have to follow the Lord even if your friends aren't there with you. As the song says, "Though none go with me, still I will follow." If you are living this Christian life for others' applause, you won't make it. People are going to let you down. Circumstances are going to challenge you. You have to run empowered by your love for God.
Is that why you're running the race right now?
I already told you that in high school, I ran track and field. I found a little secret back then about running faster.
Whenever a pretty girl was watching, I somehow had a new burst of energy to run a bit longer and faster.
I have a better motivation for you than pretty girls: the Lord Himself is watching you. He is the only One for whom you need to run the race. That is what kept Caleb going. And that longing for fellowship and communion with God resulted in his finishing well. We need to apply Caleb's principles in our lives.
The author of Hebrews reminded us of this motive in running the race of life well in the twelfth chapter of the book:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Another Who Finished Well
Let me share with you a contemporary story about a man who operated on these principles. On September 11, 2001, flight attendant Al Marchand hugged his wife, Rebecca, in Boston's Logan Airport before heading off to a plane bound for Los Angeles. "I guess this is good-bye," he said, kissing her. "I love you."
"See you in four days," she answered.
Marchand, 44, had retired from the police force only eight months prior and landed a new job with United Airlines. Rebecca had questioned a career change that pulled him away from the family, but Al insisted that God wanted him to take the job for a reason. Sixty-four minutes after takeoff, Al Marchand's plane, flight 175, plowed into the World Trade Center's South Tower ... "I know it was no mistake that he was on flight 175," Rebecca said. "You can see a lifetime of planning on God's part."
Just four years earlier, Al Marchand had first heard about having a personal relationship with God-at a pub. When he wasn't working as a policeman, he moonlighted as a brewer. The people who cleaned the pub listened to my messages on tape while they worked. Al tried to avoid hearing the tapes, but some of what I was saying caught his ear anyway. Eventually Al left his office door open just a bit so he could hear more.
Al enjoyed a lively drinking relationship with his girlfriend, Rebecca, and they visited club after club every night. But when Rebecca found Jesus, she gave Al an ultimatum: follow Jesus with me, or let me go.
Al resisted, but the words he heard me say haunted him, and he found himself visiting a church the next weekend. A week later, he gave his life to Jesus. A week after that, he and Rebecca married.
The couple became enthusiastic believers. Al made a point of talking about Jesus to everyone he met. He loved to share this life-giving relationship.
Then Al received a new call from God, and it beckoned from an Internet advertisement: "Become a flight attendant." Al was certain he'd found God's plan for his life, saying to Rebecca, "What if there is a time when a flight is going down? What if I am the only one who can share the gospel?" In fact, when a passenger once asked him if he ever feared flying, Al answered, "I became a flight attendant so if a plane went down I could have 30 to 40 seconds to speak the gospel so people could receive Christ."
Then came September 11. The night before he'd been asked to take the place of another flight attendant who had become ill. For her part, Rebecca believes Al was supposed to be on that fatal flight: "At some point," she says, "I am sure he shared the gospel with the other passengers."
Though now in heaven, Al is still impacting people with his relationship with Jesus. Said one passenger who flew with him on an earlier flight, "He encouraged me to speak about Christ more. You don't know how your life is going to affect another person's. Al made me realize we don't know how much time we have."
When you read a story like that, you say, "How tragic." On one hand, it is. But on the other hand, I think it is glorious! I am confident Al did what he loved to do: share the gospel. Who knows how many came into eternity as a result of his being in the right place at the right time and finishing the course that God had set for him?
This man finished well. We need to do the same.
Kept, Preserved, Protected
Though you are the only person who can run your spiritual race, you don't have to run alone. The Bible says God will keep you and preserve you. Jude addressed his letter "to those who are called, sanctified by God the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ" (1:1). How secure is that? The original language uses the perfect tense. The nearest equivalent of that is "continually kept by Jesus Christ." It is a continuing result of a past action.
You need to know that whatever difficulties you face today as a believer, you are being watched over and protected by Christ.
God will always protect His own, because He loves us.
Even we careless humans don't lose something we love. We keep our eyes on it. If I have a cheap pair of sunglasses, I may not be all that concerned about their whereabouts. But if I have a more expensive pair, I will tend to know where they are. We protect that which is dear to us.
Excerpted from Losers and Winners, Saints and Sinners by Greg Laurie Copyright © 2006 by Greg Laurie. Excerpted by permission.
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