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Run Your Own Race! (Week 2 Lecture)

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Think about something you have tried to do that you just weren’t good at. Maybe it was a sport, art, crafts, cooking, math or a musical instrument. Who can think of something? God has made each of us with both strengths and weaknesses. We try something, but sometimes we’re just bad at it!

Think about something you have tried to do that you just weren’t good at. Maybe it was a sport, art, crafts, cooking, math or a musical instrument. Who can think of something? God has made each of us with both strengths and weaknesses. We try something, but sometimes we’re just bad at it!

I have never been good at any sports, not any! I can barely swim; I throw like a girl; I am slow; and I usually miss when batting! Once I was on a girls’ softball team and I learned that my best chance to get on base was to take every pitch and hope to be walked!

Somehow in ministry, we think it’s different. We think we should all be great evangelists or good working with children or comfortable visiting sick people. But God has given each of us talents and gifts that prepare us for our own unique races. We must run our own race and quit trying to run someone else’s!

I have a long list of things that I tried years ago: nursing home visitation, sitting with someone in the hospital, VBS, door-to-door evangelism. It wasn’t so much that I hated them; I was simply terrible at them! I wondered if I felt like a failure, not realizing that I am not supposed to be good at everything!

Paul knew better; God called him to a particular race and that was his focus! Today we’ll consider what we learn from Paul’s example as we focus on the ministry part of our races. Let’s look at it!

The Christian race involves our whole lives. Remember my t-shirt—eat, sleep, run! That’s it; the race is everything outside of taking in the food of God’s word and resting! We are all ministers. Every part of our lives is part of the race—our jobs, our relationships, our leisure time. Everything is involved in God’s plan for us to be his ambassadors to the world. It’s not all about our service in the church, although that is a big part of it. However, today we will focus on that part of your race, your ministry within the body of Christ.

Let’s look at Paul’s race; we first see that it was based on God’s calling and gifting.

Paul’s race —
Was based on God’s calling & gifting

In 2 Tim. 1:11 Paul said that he was called to be an apostle, a preacher, and a teacher. When God calls us to something, he equips us to do it. That means that Paul had the spiritual gifts necessary to complete this work. Whatever gifts God knew Paul would need to teach and preach and do mission work were given him when he became a believer.

Paul’s Christian race also

lined up with his background.

As we know from our lessons, Paul was thoroughly prepared in the scriptures after studying under the Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Who better to use the Old Testament to prove the truth of Christianity both in person and by letter? Also, Paul’s home was Tarsus, outside of Israel. He lived in the midst of a non-Jewish world as a child, although he was likely protected from its influence by his parents. However, his experience must have served him well as he traveled into the broader world on mission for God. We will also see later in our studies that Paul was a Roman citizen, which greatly helped him out in sticky situations!

So Paul’s race was based on his calling and gifting, and it lined up with his background. Finally, our study revealed that Paul’s personal race

Progressed as God opened doors of opportunity

Our first two points were fairly easy to observe and note. This one is, as well, if we had studied all the passages at once. But we looked at some of them in lesson 2 and the rest this week. So let’s review them to see how Paul’s race progressed.

Turn to Acts 9. What we’ll read follows the account of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. Let’s begin at v.19.

Acts 9:19b-25, speaking of Paul:

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “This man is the Son of God.” All who heard him were amazed and were saying, “Is this not the man who in Jerusalem was ravaging those who call on this name, and who had come here to bring them as prisoners to the chief priests?” But Saul became more and more capable, and was causing consternation among the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.

We see here that early in Paul’s race he was using his gifts to proclaim Jesus’ deity, as he was called to do. However, at this time, his audience was all Jewish. He took the open door of opportunity as a Jew to speak in the synagogue.

Let’s continue reading in v. 26 of Acts 9, at which time Paul had been a believer about three years.

Acts 9:26-30

When he arrived in Jerusalem, he attempted to associate with the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, because they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took Saul, brought him to the apostles, and related to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. So he was staying with them, associating openly with them in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. He was speaking and debating with the Greek-speaking Jews, but they were trying to kill him. When the brothers found out about this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus.

So at this point Paul took advantage of opportunities to speak to the Greek-speaking Jews, or your Bible may have translated it as Hellenists. This was a group of Jews who had absorbed Greek culture and were consequently suspect to the more conservative Jews who lived in Israel. Paul was using his gifts and God’s call on his life in various situations and opportunities. At the end of his time in Jerusalem, these Hellenists plotted to kill him so the church sent him home to Tarsus.

Some time passed while Paul was there. Although we have no record of what he did in Tarsus, we can be sure that he continued using the opportunities that God gave him to share the good news of Jesus.

Now let’s skip to Acts 11, beginning in v. 19. At this point Luke, the author of Acts, inserts a flashback to earlier persecution as background to the story he is about to tell:

Acts 11:19-21:

Now those who had been scattered because of the persecution that took place over Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one but Jews. But there were some men from Cyprus and Cyrene among them who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks too, proclaiming the good news of the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.

Remember that Stephen’s persecution took place before Paul’s conversion. In fact, the account of his murder was the first biblical mention of Paul. But look how God used that event. Because of the persecution in Jerusalem, those who followed Jesus left the city and scattered to other areas where they shared their faith with other Jews. But some of those who went to Antioch were so excited about their faith that they actually shared their stories with the Greeks also, and many of them began to follow Jesus.

The church in Antioch was a pace-setting church, which did what no other church had yet done! And God blessed their efforts and brought great fruit. Sometimes it’s easy for us to miss the significance of a detail, but this was monumental: a church reaching out to the gentiles! I wonder if they had some fallout from some of their membership for that!

With that background, drop down to Acts 11:25.

Acts 11:25-26:

Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught a significant number of people. Now it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.

Note Paul’s opportunities! He now was ministering to the gentiles. Remember that God told Ananias that Paul was his “chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. This was his first real opportunity to focus on the gentiles.

Again, Paul simply responded as God opened doors. He obediently took each opportunity and ran with it. Each time Paul’s ministry expanded greater and greater. Finally, we read Acts 13:1-3:

Acts 13:1-3:

Now there were these prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen (a close friend of Herod the tetrarch from childhood) and Saul. While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.

Paul didn’t go out breaking down doors to fulfill God’s plan but waited on God to open the opportunities at the right time. It took about thirteen or fourteen years for him to be sent out on this journey. He honed the use of his gifts while he waited. He trained in Arabia; he even went home to Tarsus when the doors closed in Jerusalem. Although I am sure he continued speaking out about Jesus there, I wonder if he felt that God had forgotten his plans for Paul. But one day, totally unexpectedly, Barnabas appeared in Tarsus and invited Paul to join him in Antioch to teach and reach gentiles. Then, as Paul was faithful to his race there, God opened a much wider opportunity of ministry traveling and sharing Jesus with anyone who would listen. And that opened the doors to his writing the letters which became his legacy to all believers of all time. Through them, Paul continues to minister to us today!

We can learn much about finding our own personal races from the life of Paul. What principles can we follow?

Finding your personal race

Since Jesus hasn’t spoken to us personally from heaven about our callings—at least I don’t know of anyone here who fits that category, we must discover them. Since our life race involves our gifting, we need to set out to discover what that is if we aren’t clear.

Discover how God has gifted you.

I am going to give you some practical ideas of how to find your own ministry so that you aren’t trying to be someone else or to please anyone else except God as you run. We don’t see Paul do these specific things because he knew what his gifts and calling were. I am basing much of what I am telling you now on my own hunt and on what I have seen in the lives of others. And I am basing it on the fact that God wants you to run your own race, not someone else’s, so his desire is that you know what your race entails.

How do you find your gifts? First, I suggest that you

Study Scripture.

We’ve had lessons on spiritual gifts before in our past studies. If you weren’t here, I can get you a copy if you want one. The Bible lists some gifts in several places and that is always the best place to start looking for what God wants you to know. Don’t start with a test! They are very human and I have found them to be very flawed. At most, they point to areas to try.

After you’ve studied the Bible,

Talk to people who know you about the possibilities.

These people should be Christians who know something about spiritual gifts. Ask them if they have recognized any of your gifts. What possibilities do they see in your life? This is still a starting point not the answer!

You may also want to

Talk to others who clearly exhibit gifts you may have.

Find out what drives them, what characterizes their ministries, what they want to see happen in the lives of other people. See if you identify with any of their answers.

But the only way to know for sure, whether you use a test or follow my suggestions is to

Try using them!

This is the real test because if you are gifted, you will love it, it will invigorate you rather than drain you, and there will be fruit.

Secondly, to find out what is involved in your personal race—

Inventory your desires & your background.

God uses your background, just as he did Paul’s. So ask yourself this question:

Where has your race already taken you?

I had a really good Bible background from my father. That helped prepared me to teach the Bible for years before I attended seminary. Perhaps your educational and professional experience has groomed you to use your gift of administration with planning events or your gift of service to prepare graphics. Maybe your musical background allows you to use your gift of encouragement by leading worship. Our executive pastor has an MBA and years of experience running hospitals. The role of an executive pastor involves all the financial and organizational structures of the church. His background prepared him to serve in that capacity.

Once you discover your gift and evaluate your background, you go to the next set of questions:

What are your burdens? To what people group are you drawn? What cause gets you excited? What do you think should have more budget and visibility in the church?

Some would call this your passion, but since I don’t identify with that way of saying it, I prefer to say it’s my burden. What are you concerned or excited about?

Even after identifying that I had a gift of teaching and the background that prepared me for it, I still had to figure out what specific ministry I was called to do. I was very burdened in one church that there was not much of a concern that adults grew in their knowledge of the word of God. I saw people teaching Sunday School with little biblical understanding. My burden focused on teaching adults. I wanted them to lead their families well and live out their faith. I had a burden for them and thought everyone else should, too.

Finally, to find your race you must

Wait on God to open opportunities.

This is what we saw so well in Paul’s life. He knew that he was called to the gentiles but he waited on God to bring it about. He waited for the church to be in agreement and send him to them.

I think the key to doing this is to believe in the great power of God and to

Trust God to have the power to speak to anyone!

Prov. 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord like channels of water; he turns it wherever he wants.

God has the power to turn a king’s heart, which in the bible involves his thinking and decision-making. If God can do that with the horrible and mercenary kings of Old Testament times, he can do the same with anyone. Practically, this means that even if you don’t trust your husband to hear God, it’s not his choice; it’s God’s. If God wants you to do something, he will turn your husband’s heart to receive it, even if he isn’t even a believer. Trust God to do it. You and your husband are called to be one. God is responsible to get your other half to support what he wants you to do.

Certainly, if God can turn the heart of an unbeliever to support your race, he can move the hearts of the church as well. We saw him move the leaders in Antioch to send Paul and Barnabas out. Even though the scriptures don’t say this, clearly God laid Paul on Barnabas’ heart so that he went to look for Paul. Wait on unity with your church and your husband before you begin, and believe that at the right time, it will happen. When it does, you have to take those steps of faith and trust God with what you leave behind. Paul lost family and career, but he placed himself in God’s hands.

In the meantime as you wait for the opportunity,

Use the waiting period to train, prepare, and grow!

Just as Paul did!

Finally,

Watch for confirming fruit.

If this is truly what God wants you to do, there will be fruit. It may take time and it may take work, but it will bring you joy in the race!

I have spent most of my race not as part of a church staff but as a regular church member like all of you. My race has involved being a wife and a mother, being a neighbor and a friend, volunteering at church and teaching school. But at the heart of my race you would find my giftedness and the burdens and opportunities that God has given me. Those things helped inform me as I moved forward in my race. They showed me what to prioritize and what to let go of.

Once I discovered my gifts and paired them with my burdens, it became easy to say no to what was outside of that as far as ministry time. Of course, we must all share Christ with those whom we know; we must all encourage our fellow believers; we must all be merciful and share our material possessions, even if we don’t have these gifts. But our focus is to be on the ministries where we are gifted.

I have never asked for any of the ministry positions that I have done. God has always opened the doors as others watch me and note where I am gifted.

If my husband isn’t totally supportive, I don’t do it.

God has given you a special race that only you can run. Be sure you aren’t trying to run a race that someone other than God wants you to run. Let him guide you. Then, give the race your all. You aren’t supposed to be good at everything, but you will be good in the areas where God has gifted you. At the end of your life you want to be able to say with Paul, “I have finished the race!” Expect to hear God say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”

Related Topics: Prayer, Discipleship, Spiritual Gifts, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Character Study, Leadership, Women's Articles