Charlie Brown and Linus are standing looking over a fence with their weary faces resting on their hands. They are filled with sadness. Linus depressingly says to Charlie Brown, "Sometimes I feel that life has just passed me by. Do you ever feel that way, Charlie Brown?"
In his normal melancholy mood Charlie replies, "No, I feel like it has knocked me down and walked all over me."
Have you ever felt that way in your Christian life? At times it feels like the whole world is against us. It seems like the world has very little interest in what we have to say about Christ. It would be awfully easy to just give up.
"Never give up. Never give up. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP!" Do you know who gave that advice? It was Winston Churchill. It was Churchill's dogged determination during World War II that saved his nation from Nazi destruction. In a speech following the retreat from Flanders before the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, Churchill said:
...We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old.
As we know, the New World DID come into the fray, and now, more than a half century later, we still speak English, not German. Churchill deserves a great deal of the credit for that.
Near the end of his life, Sir Winston was asked to speak to the graduating class of England's most prestigious university. The hall was packed. Young students perched on their chairs, eager to catch every word from the statesman. Finally, Churchill approached the podium. What seemed like minutes passed as the crowd waited in silence for their hero to speak. He stared up at the eager faces and said these words: "NEVER...GIVE...UP!" Another minute passed in silence. Finally, Churchill said to the students, "NEVER...GIVE...UP!" And then to everyone's amazement, he walked off the stage. The crowd was stunned. Then, as they recognized the significance of his words, a tremendous ovation erupted. The crowd went wild!
Never give up! Good advice. Advice that we need to hear again and again these days. The world seems topsy-turvy and spinning along out of control. Long-held values are called into question and even ridiculed. The job we had worked at for years and counted on to take us to retirement is suddenly "down-sized" out of existence. The social safety nets are being sacrificed on the altar of a balanced budget. A boss cannot say to his secretary, "You look nice today," without being in danger of a sexual harassment accusation.
It's tough to live out our mission statement and be an influence for Christ. It seems that most don't care about what we have to offer. But we must keep in mind the great need that our nation has for a clear consistent Gospel message. In an interview George Gallup Jr., executive director of the Princeton Religion Research Center, which publishes Emerging Trends, said his organization's past surveys have identified three "gaps" that point to a lack of religious depth. "Americans", he said, "do not generally live up to the ethical standards of their faith (the ethics gap), nor are they generally aware of their faith's basic teachings (the knowledge gap). The third gap, said Gallup, "is between believers and belonging, which contrasts the number of Americans who profess a belief in God with the number who frequently attend religious services."
The message to the church? DO NOT GIVE UP! We have a lot of work to do. If we need any motivation, we have it in abundance in the Bible.
Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV) 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,
"Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" - This is an exhortation that all believers need to hear. We need endurance!
Unfortunately, many believers could hardly be described as running the race at all. Some are merely jogging, some are walking slowly, and some are sitting or even lying down. Yet the biblical analogy for Christianity is a race. "Run the race" - the Greek word used for "race" is agon. We get our word agony from this word. It means: "a contest, conflict, or fight." The Christian life is not a thing of passive luxury, but is demanding, sometimes grueling and agonizing, and requires our utmost endurance.
The analogy of a race is very appropriate for the Hebrew believers because they were in danger of quitting the race before the finish. They had begun well (10:32-34), but now were falling behind (5:11-12), and were in danger of quitting (10:35-36), that's why he says they must run with endurance. There is always a temptation to give up when things get difficult. What they needed was endurance. The Greek word translated "endurance" is hupomone, which means: "to remain under pressure or trials." It means continuing even when everything inside you wants to quit. Endurance is what separates winners from losers. Endurance comes from hope of the future; a hope that someday things will get better, that what we're enduring will be profitable.
Let me share with you a story of endurance from the Orlando Sentinel, of January 1995. Partially paralyzed by a bullet in his neck, 11 year-old Adam Fowler crawled across the bed to a phone to report that his mother had shot him and his sister.
The line was dead. Adam banged the phone on the wall in a last-ditch effort to summon help. Then he tumbled off the bed, landing atop his lifeless mother. She had killed herself with her .357 magnum revolver.
He lay there for five days. In the living room, 13-year old Jessica Fowler had dragged herself to the television set. Shot in the back, she turned the volume all the way up, desperate to attract help. None came.
When help finally arrived, Orlando police were amazed to discover that the boy and his sister had survived without food, water or attention to their paralyzing wounds.
The children spent five days talking to each other in the house, wondering when help would arrive. They were conscious when police found them. "They were awake almost the entire time," said Sgt. Mike Holloway, police spokesman.
Those two kids had a tremendous amount of endurance, they didn't give up but continued to encourage each other until help came. Most Christians don't have the endurance that those two kids had. We get shot, metaphorically speaking, and we give up; we roll over and quit. These kids put forth a lot of effort to make it until help arrived, because they believed that life was valuable.
Believers, when you're hurting and in the midst of a severe trial that is causing you to consider dropping out, remember, the battle is worth it. We must never give up.
Book after book could be filled with the stories of the many brave men and women who came across this land to settle and begin new lives in the west. They came and survived against what seemed to be impossible conditions. They were attacked by enemies - wild animals - terrible storms - hunger and thirst - as well as the cold. There were many who came, many who survived! One such survivor is known only to us as Mrs. Paige!
As she traveled West, she faced many an obstacle. Her father as well as many of her relatives were killed by the Indians. Those who were alive after the first attack were hunted down and killed.
Mrs. Paige was attacked on the trail. She was struck repeatedly on the head, stabbed and then thrown over a cliff - where she briefly was caught up in a tree before falling the rest of the way to the ground. The Indians, unsure if she was dead, rolled rocks, some of them very large ones, down the canyon making direct hits on her very weak body. When she failed to move any longer, the Indians believed her to be dead and left. Hours later, she began to return to conscienceness and began to crawl. Despite the enormous loss of blood, she crawled several miles - managing occasionally to stagger a few steps before falling down again.
In Southern Arizona where this took place, Mrs. Paige was crawling in 110 degree heat. She was finally forced to take shelter under some low growing brush. In all, during the next few days, she covered almost 16 miles before being discovered and taken to a near by town for medical attention.
She had lost almost half of her body weight, her eyes were deeply sunken in her skull, her face was almost burnt black, and the skin shrunk tight against her skull. She survived! She lived for many years after this incident.
The will to live is very strong. In a struggle for life, people will endure almost anything. Why is our endurance so shallow when it comes to our spiritual life? Is it because we put so little value on it? By "spiritual life" I don't mean eternal life, I'm not referring to our salvation, but to our Christian walk.
Finishing the race, maintaining spiritual vitality, was of the utmost importance to Paul.
Acts 20:24 (NKJV) "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
To get to the end without dropping out or being disqualified was Paul's driving desire
What does Paul say his Christian experience has been? It certainly wasn't easy. Hard pressed; perplexed; persecuted; struck down - all of those. But he hangs in.
2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NKJV) We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
In other words, no call to GIVE UP!
Adam and Jessica Fowler; Mrs. Paige; the Apostle; (and I hope you and I) all have one thing in common. When the challenges of life were faced, when the ordeals were placed in front of them, they were determined with all their being to get through to the end - to survive! If necessary, to do it alone!
In the book, "A Long Obedience In The Same Direction" the author draws this startling conclusion:
Our attention spans have been conditioned by 30 second commercials. Our sense of reality has been flawed by 30 page abridgements.
It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terribly difficult to sustain the interest. In our kind of culture anything, even news about God can be sold if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experiences in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long term apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.
Perhaps he is saying many want to have enough Christianity to make them feel good about God, but not enough to make them commit to living the life when times get tough!
Our challenge is to have endurance, a "Never give up" mentality about living the Christian life. A commitment that looks at Christianity for the "long haul".
Notice Paul's attitude:
2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
This is a great verse, a great attitude, a great mentality! It must be translated this way in your life as well. Never allow your life to begin to translate this passage like this:
I have fought the fight when it was easy and could be worked into my already busy schedule. I didn't have quite the drive and enthusiasm to finish the course, because I found myself bored, and there were so many other things to occupy my time. However, one of these days, I will get back into it, just wait and see!
We have become a nation with the mentality that if it hurts then just drop it! How many of us have started diets, only to discover we don't have the discipline or the desire to see it through? School becomes a hassle, it is hard, and the further you go, the higher the rate of drop outs. When marriage gets boring, the conflicts become more than "occasional" and instead of sticking with it and working it out - we toss the marriage away as if it were an old pair of shoes!
We have become "fickle" people! We see it in almost every area of our life.
According to the statistics from "An Immodest Agenda" the author writes:
Americans move 14 times in their lifetime. This is compared to only 8 times in Britain and 5 times in Japan. In 1978 the average length of an American holding a job before changing was only 3.68 years.
This is saying on the average, we don't stick with anything very long! When the new begins to wear off, after the first few disappointments, we exit stage left.
Physical attitudes affect our Spiritual lives. When we become quitters in this life, we begin to find this same attitude in our spiritual life with God. We begin to drift - we begin to rationalize - we begin to find reasons why we can't live the Christian life.
As Christians, we must adopt the attitude, "Never give up." We need to realize Christianity is not a 100 yard dash to be completed in 12 seconds. It is, and it always has been, a marathon!
We have a course to run, there is a life to be lived. But it's longer than just a few laps around the field. It goes further than just the first few disappointments.
It's a course that starts with our commitment to trust Christ, and ends when we feel the string snap as we race past the finish line of physical death.
It may not be an easy run. It may have more hurdles and pot-holes than you would expect. But we are called to endurance.
I suppose the easy thing for Mrs. Paige to have done would have been to give up! To realize her father didn't survive. Those who were close to here didn't make it. Those she looked up to, held near and dear, those she started with were done!
She could have begun to hate the Indians, declared life unfair, and holed up and died! But she didn't. She was a determined woman. Regardless of who would make it - she would! Regardless of whatever obstacles she would find in her way, i.e., Indians, weather, storms, broken bones, 110 degree heat - she would get through, she would survive!
This is the attitude we must have when it comes to Christianity. Not just starting the race, but moving forward - one step at a time toward the finish line.
You will have to stop and take a long hard look at your life in Christ and make a decision on whether you will continue on and grow closer to the Lord or if you will just go on hold, or maybe even find an excuse to drop out.
I have found many excuses to drop out of the race. Some are people, some are circumstances, and some are just really tough disappointments. I have never exercised any of the excuses - because I don't want to quit! I want to finish! I want to be able to say,
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
Let me share a couple of passages with you written by a man who could never be called a quitter:
1 Corinthians 15:58 (NKJV) Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Notice these words: steadfast, immoveable, abounding. Even when the excitement fades, the enthusiasm is drained, and the fun ceases for awhile; even when it means work, hard work, tough work; even when it means some around you are dropping under the load, you will hang on. You will be steadfast! You will be immoveable! You will abound in the work of the Lord! Even when all that keeps you going is the commitment to see this through to the end!
There is a story told of Ignace Jan Paderewski that is applicable to our subject. He was the famous composer, pianist. He was to perform one evening at one of the great concert halls in America. It was billed as a high-society, black tie, long evening gown extravaganza.
Present that evening among all the people from the upper class was a 9 year old boy with his lower to middle income mother. She had brought her son to see the master, to encourage him to continue the piano lessons he was already getting bored with!
Like many 9 year old boys, this youngster was squirming and fidgety. When his mother turned her head for a moment, off he went to explore this strange place. Amazed at the bright lights, the young man followed them to the stage.
Without anyone in the sophisticated audience noticing, the boy, completely taken in by the shiny black grand piano center stage, began to walk toward it as if in a trance. He had never seen anything like it before. And he sat down at the piano. And there, before a large audience who had come to hear the master play the piano, this 9 year old boy with trembling fingers began to play CHOPSTICKS!
Immediately, the audience turned to see what was happening. They began to shout, "Get that boy away from there! Who in the world would bring a child here! Where's his mother and father? Someone, stop that boy!"
Backstage the master, hearing the uproar, hearing chopsticks, guessed the situation. He jumped to his feet, grabbed his coat and ran toward the stage. Without any introduction, he went forward to the piano.
"Now, he's going to get it", the audience must have thought! "He'll take care of this quickly!"
The boy must have realized where he was and what he had done. He must have realized just how much trouble he was in. What was he going to do?
The Master leaned over the boy and began, to the surprise of the audience, to improvise a counter melody to chopsticks. The two of them, the nine year old and the grand master, played the piano together with the audience starring with wide-eyed amazement!
All the while the master was helping the boy he was whispering in the frightened boy's ear these words, "Keep going! Don't quit! Keep on playing! Don't Stop! Don't quit!"
When the road gets weary, the disappointments heavy, and the feeling of emptiness a reality, aren't you glad the Master whispers in our ear - to stick with it? To hang on, to not give up!
Stuart Briscoe writes:
I taught my kids to enjoy running. Then they taught me how not to enjoy it. While I could keep a pace ahead of them, it was great. But when they began to haul me out of bed early in the morning on a frosty morning to run, or when my daughter had me running a 10,000 meter race, I started asking, "What in the world am I doing?" I asked the question even more when we got to the start. There were 24,998 others. Being Milwaukee, some of them were dressed as beer bottles. One guy dressed up as a banana, another as a bunch of grapes. The gun went off, and everybody was laughing and waving. The banana was shaking hands with the crowd. And then it got rather interesting after about a quarter of a mile. The banana and the beer bottle were hanging over a garden fence - didn't look good at all. After about a mile there was no chattering or laughing. And after the second mile, the only sound was labored breathing. After the fourth mile, it was so quiet you could hear the birds singing. At 6.2 miles, people were dribbling in one at a time, and not many of them.
The moral of the story is this: You get all kinds of people goofing off at the start, but that doesn't count! To finish does, and disciples of Jesus Christ keep on going!
Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never, never give up!
The message for the church is surely this: despite all the things that might discourage us from our work, we cannot be turned aside. Our task is too important. And "earthen vessels" that we are, the treasure of the gospel that we contain CAN make an incredible difference in the world.
No question, giving up is often a most attractive option. But we cannot. We have too important a job to do. And remember Paul: "afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;" And then hear Sir Winston one more time: "Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never, never give up."