What Is the Pace of the Race?

The key concern in this session is that we learn what it means to run the race marked out for us at the Lord's pace. How do we stay in step with God's Spirit? As we look at life's race, there are four possibilities concerning its pace.

  1. Some will run the race too fast—2 John 1:9.
  2. Some will run the race too slow—Heb. 5:11-6:15.
  3. Some won't run at all, or only crawl, because they don't think they have the capacity to run.
  4. Some will run the race at God's pace, i.e., keep in step with the Spirit (grow and mature in the Christian life at a consistent pace).
Let's take a look at each of these members of the Lord's track team and try to evaluate our own pace.

Some will run the race too fast.

In the book Real Life, Real People (Thomas Nelson Pub., 1995, p. 39), there is a short article in the book entitled, "Let Christ set the pace." It begins:

In full sprint, the runners ran toward the ribbon, the crowd cheering in excitement. Hank held the lead at the turn, but one after another of the runners pulled in front of him on their final kick. At the ribbon, Hank crossed fifth in a field of eight and slipped to his knees, exhausted. From the sidelines, his track coach watched with disapproval.

In the locker room, Hank's coach, Ivan, admonished him. "Hank, everyone knows you have the talent to make it to the nationals, but you lack discipline," growled Ivan. "How many times must I tell you before you'll get it into your head that you must keep your pace? Instead, every time a runner challenges you for the lead, you speed up, and by the end of the race you have lost the energy you need for the kick. Your attitude is all wrong! What good is it to be in the lead if you end up losing the race?"

"Hey, is it really necessary to yell?" snapped Hank in annoyance.

"Apparently it is!" the coach snapped back. "You don't seem to be paying attention, so maybe if I yell a little louder, you'll hear me!"

They eyed each other angrily for a moment, and Ivan threw up his hands in despair. "Okay, tomorrow we adjust your training program. If you hope to have a chance of running the ten thousand meter in the NCAA championships by year's end, be at the track tomorrow at 7 o'clock."

Hank showed up the next morning and was surprised to see two figures out on the track. "This is Aaron Beck," Ivan told him." "Aaron, Hank Wallace. Now down to business." The coach instructed Hank to allow Aaron to set the pace, and he would follow, matching Aaron's stride step for step. Hank immediately started to complain, but the coach wouldn't hear it. "Just do it," he said. As they ran their laps, Aaron deliberately set a slow pace. Lap after lap, they seemed to crawl around the track. Hank found it almost unbearable, but somehow managed to restrain himself.

On the final two laps, the coach gave a signal to Aaron, who opened up the pace. As they came toward the final bend, the coach yelled, "Now, kick!" They sprinted, and Hank felt himself flying effortlessly past Aaron. When he passed the line, he was hardly winded. He was even more astonished when the coach announced his time. Yes, it was slow, but not nearly as slow as it had felt to Hank. Over the next few weeks, Aaron set the pace for Hank. It wasn't too long before Hank surpassed his personal best. The program had worked, and Hank had become a more disciplined and better runner as a result. A few months later, Hank ran in his first NCAA championship race.

In life, some will run the race too fast ! In fact, there are many examples in Scripture of those who decided to run ahead of the Lord. Some started running with the Lord, but decided they knew better than He did; or secretly worked themselves onto the team for the purpose of leading others out of the race. Second John 1:9 describes these people and how the Lord evaluates them.

2 John 1:9—"Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son."

Here we have the contrast between one who keeps in step with the teachings of Christ and one who runs ahead and does not continue in that teaching. The tendency in all of us to run ahead should concern us! In John and other passages of Scripture, the question might be, "Has this person ever really known the Lord?" Again, John states, "Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God..."

If you are convinced Christianity isn't enough for you, or the teachings of Scripture are archaic and out of step with the race you want to run, you should understand: we can run with or behind Jesus, but never ahead of Him. He sets the pace; His teachings are the totality of what should govern our lives. I encourage you to turn your life over to Him and run His race.

If you really want to have ultimate victory in your life, a wonderful verse to give you a four-step entry plan to God's race is 1 John 5: 4-5,6b—4] for everyone born of God over-comes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5] Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 6b] ... And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. These four steps give us what will assure victory in the race:

  1. birth
  2. faith
  3. belief and
  4. truth

First, we need the desire to be born of God, or born again by the Spirit of God.

1 John 5:4a—"For everyone born of God overcomes the world." How is it possible to be born again?

Second, we must exercise faith.

v. 4b—"This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." What does it mean to have faith, and who should we have faith in?

Third, we must believe Jesus is not only the Son of God, but that He is the One who took our sins on the cross, died for us, and rose for us.

v. 5—"Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." This belief is obviously more than mental assent; it is belief followed by action and submission of our lives to Christ. Jesus will be in control/our boss. How will you know all this is true?

Fourth, we base our birth, faith and belief on the truth of Scripture written by the Holy Spirit of God.

v. 6b—"... And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth." Christianity is not based on man's opinion, but is shaped and formed by the truth of God.

If you haven't entered the race, I strongly encourage you to enter by these four elements: birth, faith, belief, and truth. If you do, you can run the race with Jesus; not ahead, not behind, but "with." In Scripture, there are many examples of those who decided to run ahead of Jesus and not with Him. On the surface, they seemed to have good intentions —possibly trying to "help God out" by solving some of their own problems. They were in the faith; they loved the Lord; however, they may have thought that God was a little slow and needed a little "encouragement" to get the job done. "Pick up the pace here; it's agonizingly slow."

The primary example of this would be Abraham. He had to wait a long time to receive his promised son; certainly longer than anyone could have imagined. When Abraham first arrived in Canaan, God promised he and his wife Sarah's children would have possession of the land. While Abraham believed God's promise, and trusted Him to provide an heir, he was over 100 before the promised Isaac was born.

Waiting patiently for the right time for God's blessing is much like holding yourself back in a race and running the pace God has for you. It's so easy to want to run ahead.

Abraham was commended for his great patience, but he also suffered lapses of patience while he was waiting on God. While traveling in a foreign land, Abraham feared he would be killed; so he told the inhabitants of the nation a lie, that Sarah was his sister. This was an example of a lack of trust, doubting that God would preserve his life long enough for the promised heir to be born.

Abraham was like us, unsure he could trust the pace of the race; he thought he would "help God out" by running ahead of Him. Probably his weakest moment was when he took Sarah's advice to make Hagar his second wife and have a child by her. Now, Sarah's suggestion was according to the legal custom of the time. It was, however, an attempt at a shortcut solution, running ahead of God's perfect timing.

History makes it clear that Abraham's reliance on his own wisdom ultimately brought great grief to all those concerned. Receiving the promise of God was a long and painful process, but in the end, Abraham learned to trust God fully, even being willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, at the Lord's request.

I encourage you to study the life of Jacob in Genesis. Over and over Jacob tried to run ahead of the Lord, by cheating his brother Esau out of a birthright and by lying to his father; but the end result was that he paid a heavy price for trying to run ahead of the Lord. God sent someone like him, whose name was Laban, to give him some of his own medicine.

Laban actually became his father-in-law and switched sisters on Jacob's wedding night (can you imagine that?)—Gen. 29:14-30. The story tells how Jacob and Laban sought to get each other back over and over again! I believe an honest assessment of Jacob's life would reveal that much of their pain and strain could have been avoided, had Jacob simply trusted God's promise to be with him.

With those examples in mind, let me ask a series of questions concerning the way we are running:

  1. Are we like Jacob when we find ourselves frustrated (manipulating our way or trying to manipulate God's will)?
  2. Do we maneuver situations to avoid God's clearly defined pace and path because it is just too difficult to run that way?
  3. Are we like Abraham, substituting alternatives for God's plan because we think it is taking too long (or we know best)?

    More specifically:

  4. How about the financial areas of our lives: Have we decided to trust credit rather than trust God for the provision? (Does our financial situation reflect our faith, or running ahead of Jesus?)
  5. How about the sexual area of our lives: Have we decided to run ahead of the Lord's plan and try to secure a relationship and fulfillment in a way that is obviously off course?

When we run ahead of the Lord, it quickly becomes apparent that there is much wisdom in staying in step with Him. If we run at the Lord's speed, not only will His will be accomplished, we will also have ultimate fulfillment and avoid a lot of pain and hurt. One author has said,

"Let Christ be our pace-setter... we can do this by adopting God's values and focusing on His desire for us rather than blindly running after what we want. This may require a big 'attitude adjustment' on our part. When we make a habit of turning to God for direction, over time our values will come to conform to His own. By keeping our eyes on Christ, we will develop the discipline we need to follow His will in everything we do"—Real Life, Real People, p. 39.

Some will run the race too slow.

Luke 24:25—He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!"

Heb. 5:11 says, "We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn." Later on in Hebrews, the author picks up the same idea, but describes the slowness with a different word. He calls it "laziness."

Read Heb. 6:10-12,15—God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11] We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. 12] We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised...15] And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

These three portions of Scripture describe slow runners and why they run so slowly.

They are slow of heart; reluctant to believe what God has said.

Luke 24:25 —"He said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!'"

Our Christian experience will slow to a snail's pace if we are continually questioning, or are slow to believe God's wisdom and plan. We have to trust the coach who knows best and not over-think or rethink our faith at every point of crisis or pain.

They are slow to learn.

Heb. 5:11 says, "We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn." The context of this verse is that the recipients of this letter should have been teachers by this time, but because they were not growing by hearing and obeying the truth, they had to have the ABCs of the faith taught to them all over again.

The only way we can run at the correct pace and continue to grow into maturity is by continually hearing and obeying the truth. I encourage you to read through Heb. 5:11-6:3.

They are simply lazy.

Heb. 6:12 says, "We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised." Without patient endurance, we will never finish the race, and laziness will take over. Running the race is simply hard work at times. The sheer drudgery of staying focused on it and persevering through all kinds of emotional weather, will take all that we have. It will certainly be easy to take more frequent rest stops and find reasons not to be as active in our service.

The Lord certainly is not calling us to work ourselves into exhaustion, but neither is He advocating that we run when we want or when we feel like it.

Some won't run at all, or only crawl, because they don't think they have the capacity to run.

Rather than give you a biblical illustration of this, I have been very moved in the last couple of weeks as I read the story of Wilma Rudolph.

Wilma was born prematurely, producing complications that resulted in her contracting double pneumonia (twice) and scarlet fever. But worst was a bout with polio which left her with a crooked left leg and a foot twisted inward. Metal leg braces; stares from neighborhood kids; and six years of bus rides to Nashville for treatments could have driven this young girl into a self-made shell. But she refused. Wilma kept dreaming. And she was determined not to allow her disability to get in the way of her dreams. Maybe her determination was generated by the faith of her Christian mother who often said, "Honey, the most important thing in life is for you to believe it and keep on trying."

By age 11, Wilma decided to "believe it." And through sheer determination and an indomitable spirit to persevere, she forced herself to learn how to walk without the braces. At age 12 she made a wonderful discovery: girls could run and jump and play ball just like boys! Her older sister, Yvonne, was quite good at basketball, so Wilma decided to challenge her on the court. She began to improve. The two of them ultimately went out for the same school team. Yvonne made the final 12, but Wilma didn't. However, because her father wouldn't allow Yvonne to travel with the team without her sister as a "chaperone," Wilma found herself often in the presence of the coach.

One day she built up enough nerve to confront the man with her magnificent obsession—her lifetime dream. She blurted out, "If you will give me 10 minutes of your time every day—and only 10 minutes—I'll give you a world-class athlete." He took her up on the offer. The result is history. Young Wilma finally won a starting position on the basketball squad; and when that season ended, she decided to try out for the track team. What a decision! In her first race, she beat her girlfriend. Then she beat all the girls in her high school...then, every high school girl in the state of Tennessee. Wilma was only 14, but already a champion.

Shortly thereafter, although still in high school, she was invited to join the Tigerbelles track team at Tennessee State University. She began a serious training program after school and on weekends. As she improved, she continued winning short dashes and the 440-yard relay. Two years later she was invited to try out for the Olympics. She qualified and ran in the 1956 games at Melbourne, Australia. She won a bronze medal as her team placed third in the 400-meter relay. It was a bittersweet victory. She had won—but she decided that next time she would "go for the gold." I could skip four years and hurry on to Rome, but that would not do justice to the whole story.

Wilma realized that victory would require an enormous amount of commitment, sacrifice, and discipline. To give her "the winner's edge" as a world-class athlete, she began a do-it-yourself program similar to the one she had employed to get herself out of those leg braces. Not only did she run at 6:00 and 10:00 every morning and 3:00 every afternoon, she would often sneak down the dormitory fire escape from 8-10:00 and run on the track before bedtime. Week after week, month in and month out, Wilma maintained the same grueling schedule for over 1200 days.

Now we're ready for Rome. When the sleek, trim, young black lady, only 20 years old, walked out onto the field, she was ready. She had paid the price. Even those 80,000 fans could sense the spirit of victory. It was electrifying. As she began her warm-up sprints, a cadenced chant began to emerge from the stands: "Vilma...Vilma...Vilma!" They were as confident as she that she would win. And win she did! She breezed to an easy victory in the 100-meter dash. Then she won the 200-meter dash. And finally, she anchored the U.S. women's team to another first-place finish in the 400-meter relay.

Three gold medals—she was the first woman in history ever to win three gold medals in track and field. I should add that each of the three races was won in world record time. The little crippled girl from Clarksville, Tennessee, was now a world-class athlete. Wilma Rudolph had decided she wouldn't allow her disability to disqualify her; instead, she chose to pay the price for victory and "go for the gold."

Christ offers us a winning game plan for life. It is not a distant dream, but a present reality. As He comes into our lives, He brings all the power we will ever need, all the confidence, all the hope, all the determination, everything. He, the Ultimate Victor, smiles with affirma- tion and applauds our every decision to draw upon His all-sufficiency. If Wilma Rudolph could muster the courage to shed those leg braces and overcome one hurdle after another in her world-class pursuit of the gold, I am convinced we can too. And the kind of gold God promises us will never tarnish, never diminish in significance, never fade away. If you are ready, I'll run with you. Let's start today.

Charles Swindoll, Victory, Word Books, Waco, TX, 1984, pp. 63-68.

This example speaks for itself. Whatever our excuse, if the Lord is with us, we can run—the call is to run!

The fourth category is the one we should all desire.

Some will run the race at God's pace; keep in step with the Spirit (grow and mature in the Christian life at a consistent pace).

Gal. 5:25 says, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." First Peter 2:21 says, "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."

That should be our goal, to follow in His steps! How will we all do this? It will take many means and complete dedication on our part to follow in His steps..We believe the race the Lord has marked out for Hillcrest will, in part, be enhanced by a six-course race, or six sequential races. As I have looked at the race marked out for us individually and collectively, there began to be birthed in me a race strategy. I want to conclude by giving you what we as a staff are praying will be a wonderful way to run the race at the Lord's pace, and allow everyone to grow and mature in the race together. This path for the race is very clear.

Go to The Race Overview for more information on the course ahead.