How to Finish Your Race in the Face of Overwhelming Obstacles
Mounting obstacles on our life’s race have the potential to discourage us from running our race at all. We take an unexpected hit and then another with no end in sight. When life is like this we are often tempted to quit.
It was pitch black outside. My family of four found ourselves somewhere in the rural parts of Louisiana just outside of Mississippi on our way to Texas. That was when it happened.
Our car battery died unexpectedly on the side of the road. With dimming to nonexistent lights, we decided to stand outside of our car as we waited for the tow-truck. It was cold, dark, and scary as we watched disinterested motorists whiz past us.
Once we were finally rescued, we soon discovered my son had been standing in an ant bed and tiny insects were crawling all over his shoes. Desperately, we attempted to strip him down while frantically killing fire ants in the back seat of a tow-truck. It was not fun and all the while I was wondering how many more obstacles we were going to encounter on this trip?
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Taking the Unexpected Hits
The experience felt unimaginable: like something out of a movie. Sometimes life is like this. We take an unexpected hit and then another with no end in sight. When life is like this we are often tempted to quit.
Mounting obstacles on our life’s race have the potential to discourage us from running our race at all. I imagine the apostle Paul felt this way on his third missionary journey.
Paul began his trip by traveling through Phrygia and Galatia on his way to Ephesus in Acts 18:23 (NIV). While in Ephesus Paul encountered obstinate Jews that refused to believe. Paul was compelled by God to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the Jews and he was not deterred when they rejected him. Paul simply moved his lecture to another location.
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The Obstacles Faced by a Gospel-Driven Life
While in Ephesus Paul experienced additional opposition. In Acts chapter 19 Paul confronted the idol worship of the Ephesians. Ephesus was a major center of trade and the largest city in Roman Asia Minor. The city of Ephesus’ economic prosperity centered around the Temple of Artemis, the hunter-goddess. Silversmiths made shrines of Artemis to earn an income and Paul’s preaching damaged their income. As a result, the silversmiths were in an uproar and they created a riot in the city. In Acts 19:29, it says the crowd “rushed as one man into the theater.” There was much confusion, but the commotion was eventually quieted and dispersed.
Next Paul traveled to Greece, but he only stayed for three months because he discovered a plot to assassinate him. From there he traveled to Troas, and because Paul knew his time was short, he purposed to keep talking until midnight. While he was sharing a young man named Eutychus was sinking into a deep sleep and he eventually fell out of the window and died. Paul threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him in Acts 20:10 and brought him back to life.
To Overcome Means to Know Christ and His Resurrection
Paul’s obstacles were unexpected and difficult. One of those experiences alone was enough to make a person question whether or not they would finish the journey, but Paul never opted to quit. In fact, the culmination of his trip would end in Jerusalem and his life would be in imminent danger, but he still planned to go. We see this resolve in his words in Acts 20:24, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”
This sentiment is similar to what Paul said in Philippians 3:8-10, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” He went on to say in verse 10, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
Paul was grateful for God’s saving grace in his life. This grace is God’s favor to the utterly undeserving. It is something we cannot earn and is solely dependent on God’s unmerited favor toward us in Christ.
Propelled forward by Forgiveness
Paul never forgot how God audibly spoke to him on the road to Damascus. He was appreciative of God’s forgiveness in spite of the way he persecuted Jews and gave his approval of Stephen’s murder. This is what compelled Paul to keep going in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. This was Paul’s motivation to finish his race.
He had become a slave to the cause of Christ. He was indebted to his Savior because of the gift of salvation. Although we most likely won’t face the obstacles the apostle Paul experienced, we too must resolve to follow Christ no matter what we face.
As the time to return to Jerusalem drew closer, Paul publicly acknowledged the uncertainty of the future in Acts 20:25. He said, “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.” This is because the Holy Spirit had been warning Paul that prison and hardships were facing him. Many might have responded by not going to Jerusalem or attempting to garner prayers and sympathy for his looming fate.
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Do You Allow Suffering to Stop Your Race?
Paul chose not to use this as an opportunity to feel sorry for himself. Rather he used it as a moment of reflection on how he had run his race. In Acts 20:26 Paul makes a declaration we all want to make regarding the race that God has given us to run. He says, “Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.”
Paul left Troas and ended up at Caesarea and it was here in Acts 21:11 that the prophet Agabus, through the spirit, tells Paul more specific details about his destiny in Jerusalem. The Scripture says, “Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
Immediately the people pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem, but Paul's response was similar to that of Christ in Matthew 16. Here Jesus told his followers that he must go to Jerusalem, where the Jewish elders and the leading priest and the teachers of the law would make him suffer many things. He also told them he must be killed and then be raised from the dead on the third day. Peter’s response was similar to the early believers that attempted to persuade Paul from going to Jerusalem. “‘God save you from those things, Lord!' Jesus said. ‘Those things will never happen to you.’” Jesus’ response would shock Peter just as Paul’s response may have shocked the early believers. “Jesus replied, ‘Go away from me Satan! You are not helping me! You don’t care about the things of God but only about the things people think are important’” (Matthew 16:22-23).
"Not My Will but Yours" Takes You to the Finish Line
Just like Jesus, Paul had made peace with his fate. He was content no matter the obstacle, even if it meant death. Which is why he responded the way he did in Acts 21:13, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Paul resolved that God’s will did not always equate to a happy or favorable ending. For Paul he knew that in order to “finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus had given him to do” he needed to go to Jerusalem. He had to suffer. He did not fear death nor suffering, but he set his focus on completing the race.
If it were certain that you were facing an inevitable difficulty or hardship, would you live with more resilience or more resolve to finish your race and complete the task that God has given you? The reality is we don’t know what tomorrow holds. We like Paul have been given a task and a limited amount of time to do it. Let’s purpose like Paul to finish our race and complete the task we have been given by God no matter what obstacles come our way.
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Kia Stephens is a wife and homeschooling mom of two who is passionate about encouraging the hearts of women. For this reason, she created The Father Swap Blog to help women exchange their father-wounds for the love of God the Father. Kia is also the founder of Entrusted Women, which she created to equip Christian women communicators of color. Kia's writing has been featured on Ann Voskamp's blog, Christianity Today, iBelieve.com, Beloved Women, Crosswalk and Incourage. When she is not writing or serving women, she enjoys spending quality time with her family and friends. You can connect with Kia at www.kiastephens.com.