Revive Our Hearts Podcast

You Can Finish the Race

Leslie Basham: Big life events can tempt you to lose perspective. Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Sometimes things start to get hard, and we just freak out, and we say, “Oh, I must not be in God’s will.” Sometimes God will lead you into a place that has imprisonment and afflictions, where you get crushed, where you get squeezed, where you get pressed.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, bringing the True Woman Conference to Chattanooga this month.

Big transitions will turn your life upside down. It’s easy to lose focus in the middle of change, and Nancy’s going to help you keep perspective, continuing in the series, Farewell.

Nancy: As I’ve been sharing with you today and in this series, we’re in the process this week, as we’re recording, of transitioning our radio production from Little Rock in the studios of FamilyLife Ministries to Michigan and the new studios of Revive Our Hearts. I realize that by the time we air this, that transition will be long past us, but we’re wanting to share with our radio listeners some of what was taking place during this week of transition and some of the things that have been on my own heart.

I’ve had the privilege of developing many precious friendships and relationships in the years I’ve been here in Little Rock recording. The decision to make this change, honestly, has been a difficult one for many of my friends here in the South. My friends in the North are happier about it than my friends in the South.

Last week one of those southern friends said to me, “What if it doesn’t turn out the way that you hoped it would? What if the good things you were expecting to come out of this, and”—and I finished the sentence for her—“What if it doesn’t work?” She didn’t say what she was thinking beyond that, but I have a hunch that maybe she was thinking, “Would you move back here? Would we undo this transition?”

Well, I want to share with you what I said to her that day. I said to her, “First of all, in God’s sovereignty, I have to believe that He has led us in this decision, and that He would not be leading us into a place—and He will not lead you into a place as well—that would ultimately be injurious to me or to what He has called me to do.”

You have to trust that when you can’t see all the outcome, when it all doesn’t look smooth to you—maybe it’s your husband suggesting a move or a change of job. I’m not saying you don’t give input or that you don’t process it, but sometimes decisions just don’t go the way that is easiest for us. There are times when you just have to trust.

We have asked the Lord to be our Shepherd—He is our Shepherd—and we trust that He is leading us. So I do believe that in God’s economy, this is going to be a good and healthy decision for the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Now, you don’t always have to feel that the decision is a good one, but you have to be able to trust the sovereignty of God.

Then I said to my friend, secondly, “I’m not expecting everything to go well or to be pleasant or easy when I get up North, and we have this new way of doing things when I’m in my new situation. In fact,” I said to her, “I expect that there are going to be some real challenges for me and for the ministry, but that does not really matter.”

Then I read to her these verses from Acts chapter 20 that we’ve been looking at this week, Paul’s farewell message to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. I read verses 22, 23, and 24, and I want to read those to you as we continue in this series on that passage.

Verse 22 of Acts 20, Paul says:

And now, behold, I’m going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me (verses 22-23).

Then verse 24 which, by the way, was probably my Dad’s favorite verse, his life verse, if he had one, would have been Acts 20:24:

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

I want to break apart those three verses in today’s session.

Verse 22, first of all, we see Paul’s present determination and compulsion. He says, “And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem.” That’s his determination; his resolve—“I’m going to Jerusalem.”

What is it that compelled him? “I am constrained by the Spirit.” Another translation says, “I am bound in the Spirit" (NKJV). "I don’t have a choice in this because this is what the Spirit of God is compelling and constraining me to do.”

So Paul has this determination: “I am going to Jerusalem.” And the reason is not just that he was stubborn or that he wanted to go to Jerusalem. He knew that hard things were going to await him there. But he said, “I’m compelled; I’m constrained; I’m bound in the Spirit. I have to obey Him.” There’s this divine compulsion.

Paul is saying, in effect, “I am determined to do the will of God. Whatever that looks like, whatever that means, however it affects me, I am determined to follow the leading of the Spirit.”

It reminds me of that passage in Luke chapter 9. It’s a turning point in the ministry of the Lord Jesus where He set His face toward Jerusalem and headed there. He knew it was going to result in a cross, in death. In Luke 9:51, it says, “When the day drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.”

Paul may have wondered if he would die in Jerusalem. He surely knew it was a possibility, but he wasn’t factoring all of that in. It wasn’t that he was oblivious to it. He just said, “I have to do what God says to do. I have to go where the Lord sends me.”

It’s a reminder that Jesus is Lord and that in every area of our lives, we must be willing to follow His leading, whatever that means.

Now in verse 23, we see Paul’s future outlook and prospects. He says, “I’m determined; I’m under compulsion." What does the future look like? What’s the outlook? What are the prospects? What if it doesn’t work? What’s it going to be like? Well, look at what he says at the end of verse 22: “Not knowing what will happen to me there except,” verse 23, “that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.”

Paul says, “There’s a lot I don’t know about what lies ahead.” He doesn’t know what will happen to him in Jerusalem, but he does know one thing, and that is that the Holy Spirit has made known to him that everywhere he goes, he’s going to be imprisoned and experience afflictions or hardships.

That word for afflictions is a word we’ve talked on Revive Our Hearts before. It’s a Greek word that I like to say. I don’t know much Greek, but this one I like: thlipsis. That’s the word for affliction—t-h-l-i-p-s-i-s. It’s a word that means "to crush, to press, to squeeze." It refers to grievous affliction or distress. So Paul knows that as he goes to Jerusalem, he’s going to face hard things, afflictions and hardships.

Now, let me ask you this question: Who led Paul to go to Jerusalem? The Holy Spirit. That ought to remind us that ease or comfort or convenience is not the measurement of whether or not you are in the will of God.

Sometimes things start to get hard, and we just freak out, and we say, “Oh, I must not be in God’s will.” Sometimes God will lead you into a place that has imprisonment and afflictions—thlipsis—where you get crushed, where you get squeezed, where you get pressed. Don’t just assume that you’re not in the will of God.

Now, if you choose to step outside of God’s will, you choose to disobey God, you choose to resist His will, then you can expect some hardships and afflictions because God loves His children and chastens us so that we will repent and return to right thinking and living. But sometimes you can be going straight in the will of God, following the Holy Spirit of God, and life can go nuts.

Now how could Paul know what was ahead and still be determined to follow God’s leading? What kept him from running in the other direction? What kept him from just staying there with the church in Ephesus that loved him and where the ministry was fruitful? What kept him pressing on? What kept him resolved and determined even though he knew it was going to be hard?

In verse 24 we find the answer. That’s where we have the overriding perspective and preoccupation of Paul’s life. Verse 24:

I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Let me sum it up this way: Paul says, “There is one thing that matters not at all to me. One thing that does not matter in the least to me.” What is that? “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself.”

Now that flies in the face of our whole self-esteem movement. “You are great; you are wonderful; you are special; you are dear; you are sweet; you are cute; you are pretty; you are beautifully—you, you, you, you—me, me, me, me.” Paul has a philosophy that is exactly the opposite to that. “My life does not matter.”

Now, it matters in the sense that you’re created in the image of God and life matters, and we are valuable to God. He does love us. But he’s saying, “In terms of my willingness to face difficulties and trying circumstances, I cannot make decisions based on how it affects me.”

I like here the New King James where it says, “None of these things move me"—these imprisonments, these afflictions, these things I’m going to face—none of these things move me, "nor do I count my life dear to myself.” Then he says, “There is one thing that does matter supremely to me.” What is that? “If only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Paul says, “I want to finish my course." A few of your translations say, "finish my race." It's the same word—with joy—finishing well—the race that God has laid out for me.

That word finish is interesting. It doesn’t mean to just come to an end, like, you live your life, and then you die. You’re finished. It’s ended. That’s not the meaning of this word. The word finish means "to complete, to perfect, to accomplish what you set out to do." Paul says, “I want to end well. I want to finish well. I want to not just fall over the finish line. I want to burst through the finish line by God’s grace.”

It was true of Paul. We read in 2 Timothy, chapter 4:

I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race,” says he as he’s coming close to the end of his life. “I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Paul said to these Ephesian elders, “All I want to do is finish my race with joy,” and at the end of his life, he says, “I have finished my race. Now I’m about to enter into the presence of Jesus Christ, and there’s laid up for me—there’s waiting for me—this crown of righteousness. I have loved His appearing. I’ve lived for His appearing. I’ve given my life, for not this earthly life, but for the kingdom to come, for the hereafter. I’ve run well. I’ve finished. I’ve kept the faith, and there’s a crown, there’s a reward awaiting me, and best of all there is Jesus waiting for me.”

That’s how you can finish the race well.

Paul says, “I want to finish my course, my race.” That’s a word that means "a career, a course of occupation or a course of life." Paul says, “I’ve got this course of life. This is not just a sporting event; this is not just a side thing that I’m involved in.” Some people like to run; some people, like me, don’t like to run. It’s not that. It’s a course of life that God has laid out for us. Paul says, “All that matters to me is that I finish well—bring to completion—accomplish the course of life God has set out for me—the occupation He has called me to.” By that, I don’t mean vocation, but I mean whatever it is that God has called you to do and to be finishing it well.

That’s why the writer to the Hebrews says in chapter 12 of the book of Hebrews, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (verse 1). It’s actually a different word for race than it is in Acts 20. I had not looked up that word before, the one in Hebrews 12. The word race there, “run with endurance the race that is set before us." The race that’s set before me may be a little different than the race that’s set before you, but God has set a race before us.

That word race, we think of racing as—well, if you’re a runner, you think of it as fun. If you’re not a runner, you think of it as awful, but you think of it as a sporting event. But the word race here implies force and violence. It implies a struggle, an intense contest. That’s why we need endurance because running the course that God has set before us is a struggle. At times it requires just flying into the face of your emotions or your own thoughts and saying, “I will obey the Lord because I know there is a joy set before me, and I live for His glory and His kingdom and not my own.” So you run with endurance the race that is set before you.

So Paul says, “The thing that matters to me is finishing my course, finishing my race with joy, and 'the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.'” This is not a ministry that some human being had put on Paul.

I can still remember when Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine from FamilyLife Ministries contacted me about starting a radio program for women. They said, “We believe we need a woman teaching the Word to women. Is this something that you would pray about?” I remember laughing inside and thinking, “That is a great idea, but I think you’ve got the wrong person for that.”

I had many reasons why I didn’t think that was something I could or should do, and over the next 18 months, I sought the Lord earnestly. I asked questions. I listened. I talked about what it might look like. But one thing was clear to me: I had to make sure it wasn’t Dennis Rainey or Bob Lepine calling me to do this ministry. I had to make sure it was something I was receiving from the Lord Jesus. I knew if I just did it in response to some human suggestion or invitation that my energy would not hold up. I would not be able to survive in this long-distance race. But I knew if God called me to it, if it’s the ministry I received from Him, then He would give me the grace and the endurance to be faithful in the ministry.

Somebody asked me recently, “In that first year of ministry, hard as it was, did you ever think that you’d made the wrong decision?”

I said, “It’s interesting. I really didn’t because I knew that this was a ministry I’d received from the Lord Jesus.” Now, there were days when I thought I might not live through that first year, but I had no doubt in my heart that it was a ministry I had received from the Lord Jesus.

That’s why, before you step into ministry, before you step into different aspects of calling in life, make sure it’s the Lord who’s sending you there. Make sure He’s the one putting it on you. When He does, then it’s got to be your lifelong obsession and fixation to do what God has called you to do.

Paul says, “I want to finish the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

You and I have received a ministry, a calling, from the Lord Jesus as much as the apostle Paul did. This isn’t just for apostles and pastors and leaders and elders. This is for us. And in some senses, our calling, our mission, our ministry is the same as Paul’s. What is that? “To testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

Now whether your vocation is working in an office, teaching in a school, serving your family, being a mom, being a student, being retired—whatever your season of life or vocation may be, your calling and mine is still to testify by our lives and by our witness to the gospel of the grace of God. That’s why God’s left you here.

If there weren’t a mission for your life, then why doesn’t God just get . . . We should just get people saved and baptized and shoot them—put them out of their misery. How many Christians are just hanging on for the Rapture, just existing, just surviving? God put you here for a purpose. He’s got a mission for you, and the mission of all our lives is to make a big deal about God, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

The bottom line for Paul is this: “My life, my happiness, my comfort, my convenience, my safety, my fulfillment, my whatever mean nothing—zero, nada—to me; it means nothing to me. Fulfilling His calling in my life, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God, that means everything to me.”

When you get that settled, it will help you make a whole lot of other decisions. It will help you endure a lot when you’ve settled your purpose for living. Settle the issue of why you’re here and realize that we’re dispensable. All that matters is that God is glorified and the gospel goes out.

So when my friend asked last week, “What if it doesn’t turn out? What if it doesn’t work? When you make this move, what if the things you were expecting to be helpful to the ministry, what if it doesn’t turn out that way?” I shared with her, and I would share with you, that God often leads us into places that are not easy. He leads us into ways that we would not have scripted for ourselves.

That includes marriage. Two people walk to the altar—they think it’s going to be happily ever after, and it doesn’t take long for them to realize that there are imprisonment and afflictions involved in marriage—right? It doesn’t work out as they hoped.

Parenting—you’re so excited about having that first baby, but it doesn’t work out exactly the way you had hoped. It’s not perfect. It’s hard. After you have been sleep deprived for the first three months, you think, “Did I really want this baby?” Well, you did, and that baby is a gift, and motherhood is a gift—it’s a high and holy calling—but it comes with imprisonment and afflictions. Your life is not going to be the same.

Nothing in life works out the way we had hoped, but here’s the point: God’s kingdom and God’s purposes are often furthered by His children (that’s us)being willing to accept the imprisonment and afflictions—hardships—if necessary and to glorify Him in and through those circumstances.

So when it’s hard and you respond to it with the grace of God, with joy, with strength and dignity as a woman of God, you are giving the world a right opinion of God. You’re drawing them to the gospel.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that moving to Michigan is equal to imprisonment and afflictions for me—it’s not anything close—but I know that there will be some tough moments and situations there, as there have been here in Little Rock at times. The fact is, and I say this not just for me, but for you: It doesn’t really matter what happens to me or whether the circumstances are easy or hard. All that matters is that I am faithful to do what God has called me to do, to lay down my life to testify to the gospel of the grace of God, to finish my course, my race, with joy.

As I lay down my life for the sake of Christ, as you lay down your life for the sake of Christ and His kingdom in whatever He’s called you to do, you can know that He will give you joy regardless of what the circumstances may be.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back.

She recorded that message as the production of Revive Our Hearts was moving from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Michigan. For eight years Nancy recorded in Arkansas, teaching before a group of women. During that final recording session, she offered godly perspective on transition from someone living it.

As you well know, when transition comes, costs increase. As Revive Our Hearts continues to settle in to this new change, would you consider helping us? If you’ve ever felt an outpouring of love after moving or bring home a new baby, you know how important friends are during these big transitions.

Well, Revive Our Hearts doesn’t need any baby clothes or casseroles, but we do stay on the air each day thanks to the generous donations of our listeners. As we build our studios, hook up equipment and prepare to record in Michigan, would you help us meet these new costs?

When you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll say “Thanks” by sending you Nancy’s booklet, “Portrait of a Woman Used by God.” As you study this during your quiet time, you’ll have a greater heart to embrace all that God has for you.

We’ll also include the CDs of our current series called “Farewell.” Today’s message was longer than the allotted time that we have on the radio, so you’ll hear additional content when you get these CDs.

Donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1-800-569-5959.

Well, whether you realize it or not, you are under attack from false teachers and others hostile to your faith. That doesn’t have to make you nervous because you have everything you need to resist that attack. Nancy will tell you how to stand firm, continuing in the series, Farewell, tomorrow.

Now she’s back to wrap things up.

Nancy: Let me share with you what has become perhaps my life hymn. It’s not real well known, but it was written by Charles Wesley, and it’s a hymn that has inspired me over many years. I think it reflects the heart of the apostle Paul as we’ve looked at it in Acts chapter 20. It reflects my heart about God’s calling in my heart as well. I hope it reflects yours.

He said:

A charge to keep I have, 
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
Oh may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!

Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare 
A strict account to give!


Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
And let me ne’er my trust betray,
But press to realms on high.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

 

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