“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 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.” (Acts 20:22-24)
Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I like to read about the apostle Paul. Being lashed, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, endangered, sleepless, hungry and thirsty, cold and naked, facing daily pressure and anxiety, and of course the mysterious thorn in the flesh that God chose not to remove (2 Corinthians 11:24-27; 12:7-10). That was a man who knew suffering!
In this passage Paul is on his third missionary journey, but he feels the Holy Spirit is calling him to go back to Jerusalem to preach about Jesus even though he will be imprisoned. In fact, Paul believes such horrible hardships await that He will die (v. 25). I wish I could accept suffering from the Lord so willingly! But Paul wanted to finish the race and the task God gave Him more than he wanted His own life.
The Bible speaks numerous times of the Christian life as a race (Hebrews 12:1; 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; Galatians 2:2, 5:7; Philippians 2:16) or a good fight (1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7). In my healthier days I think I often believed running the race or fighting the good fight meant feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, teaching Sunday School, or going on a mission trip and sharing about Jesus.
But how can someone who is chronically ill or in pain run a good race when they can’t even get out of bed?
Pastor John Piper in his book Taste and See says,
“The race is run against temptations that would make us doubt God’s goodness. It is a fight to stay satisfied in God through broken hips and lost sight and failed memory.The race can and may be run flat on your back. In fact, it may be run and fought better by the paralyzed than by the able and seemingly self-sufficient” (p. 153).
Paul tells us that the Christian life is a race of keeping the faith, not necessarily of “going” or “doing” things for Jesus. Faith in God and His goodness is how Paul could follow the Spirit and go to Jerusalem to face death, and this is how those of us who suffer with chronic illness can run the race set before us no matter how difficult.
Prayer: God, help us to always “testify to the gospel of [your] grace” even if you call us to do so from our beds.
About the Author:
Kari is a young wife and mother of a busy toddler. After ministering to those suffering from HIV/AIDS and living in Africa she is learning personally that pain has a purpose.
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How would you define the race that God has placed you on? It is reaching out to others? Growing closer to God through study and worship? Just resting and surrendering it over to the Lord? What race has God placed you on?