I have always heard that people who run marathons talk about “hitting the wall”. I have a picture of a person on staff when they “hit the wall” in a race. When I asked people who actually train and compete in marathons if “hitting the wall” is a real thing their immediate response is “Oh yes!” They say it usually happens around the 20-mile mark. They say there is hardly no way that you can not “hit the wall.” No matter how hard you train or how good of shape you are in, everybody who runs a marathon will “hit the wall.”
Researchers have looked at data from people who are what I would call “weekend warrior” and “world class” types of marathoners and it has been proven that all of them struggle with the last 10k or a marathon. But how you persevere through “the wall” is determined by how much effort you have put into your training, hydration, nutrition, etc. All of that is important when it comes to competing and finishing well. They say when you do “hit the wall” perseverance and determination is what gets you across the finish line.
The Christian life as we saw last week is often illustrated as a race. When looking back on his life and sharing with his young protege Timothy, Paul said, 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7). He also told the church in Corinth, (1 Corinthians 9:24). One of the biggest ways many of us feel the odds are against us comes when we think about living this life or as Paul refers to it as, “running this race”.
We face pressures, temptations, struggles, battles, etc. We have a daily fight with our sin nature and we begin to identify with what Paul said about himself, 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:15,18-19).
In the Christian life most of us struggle more with the finish more than we do the start. Our constant struggle is with perseverance, determination and faithfulness. Our biggest question is, “When it feels like I am ‘hitting the wall’ how can I persevere and stay faithful in my Christian life?” You look around and it seems like the odds are really against you staying faithful in your commitment to Christ. With all the external temptations and pressures and the battle with your own sin nature you feel that the odds are definitely against you.
When we see that the odds are not for us what we can know for sure is God is definitely for us. If I look at the odds over here and they are not so good and God is over here, I will choose God over the odds any day, every day, any time and all the time. Because I know that even though the odds are not so good, God has a plan and He is for me. The real game changer that we have to remember in all of this is . . . The odds are definitely against us but God is definitely for us! Make the decision to choose God over the odds so you can defeat the odds.
Psalm 119 is on record as the longest chapter in the Bible with 176 verses. What you see when you get into Psalm 119 are these internal keys to success that equip you to finish strong and persevere and push through “the wall.” If you have your Bible with you, turn over to Psalm 119. If you don’t it will be on the screen so you can follow along. If you are going to persevere you have to . . . Be determined and discerning in your life.
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. 106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules. 107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word! 108 Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your rules. 109 I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law. 110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts. 111 Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart. (Psalm 119:105-111).
There are several things the psalmist knows for sure . . . He knows there will be difficult times ahead. He knows there will be some places where he will have to go that will require some insight and direction. He knows that to make it through he will have to be determined to stick to what works and walk away from what doesn’t work. That is why he says from the beginning, 105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105). Somewhere along the way he realized that God’s Word is the only thing that works. God has proven Himself and to make it he will have to trust God and stay close to God as he lives this life and runs this race.
That is why you see such conviction from him about staying faithful to God and His Word. He uses some strong words to show how determined he really is. 106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to keep your righteous rules. (Psalm 1119:106). He has made it his conviction based on his personal experience and made it clear to the people around him that he is staying faithful to God’s rules and laws.
Life is put before us with choices of where are we going to go and what are we going to do. 109 I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law. 110 The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts. (Psalm 119:109-110). Anytime you “hold something in your hand” that means you have multiple options about what to say, what to do, where to go, etc. It’s like an option play in football. The quarterback has the ball and once he takes the snap, he has the option of running with it or pitching it to the running back who is supposed to be in position beside him. In that small amount of time what is going through their minds is, “Based on what I see coming at me, what is the best thing to do?”
What the psalmist says is, “I’ve got all these choices, but I DO NOT forget your law.” “There are these very alluring and tempting traps laid out there in front of me, but I DO NOT stray from your precepts.” You must always know what God’s Word says so you can remember what God’s Word says so you can always do what you are supposed to do!
If you are going to persevere you have to know that . . . Change is a heart issue before it can ever become a habit. Another way to put that is that for something to become a behavior it has to first become a belief. 112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end. (Psalm 119:112). The belief that drives the behavior has to change otherwise the change won’t stay.
If you incline something that means it wasn’t naturally in that position. If you incline your heart that means your heart was not naturally in that position. If something is inclined that means it was declined before you inclined it. The Latin root of the word incline is “inclinare”, and it means “to lean”. “Incline” means, “to bend the head or body forward; to bow; to lean, tend, or become drawn toward an opinion or course of conduct: to deviate from a line, direction, or course; specifically; to deviate from the vertical or horizontal.
Your heart is naturally declined and turned away from God. To “incline your heart” is a willful, determined act to orient it in another direction. 112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end. (Psalm 119:112). When you incline you are putting yourself in a different position than what you were previous in. He is telling God, “I have put my heart in a position to always obey You.”
When you incline you are telling the person you are inclining to, everybody around you and yourself that this is what you want more than anything in the world. “Inclining” towards something is a bold statement about your desires, beliefs and convictions. By your actions you are saying, “I know for sure this is what I need and this is what I have been looking for.” Inclining your heart is such a bold statement of faith and strong commitment it becomes obvious to you and everybody around you that you want change in your life. At the point where you say, “I want to incline”, you have finally realized you want your new life to be a habit and you know it is a heart issue that has to be settled first.
When change has become a habit then and only then are you able to see what naturally comes next. You are finally able to truly . . . Hate the bad and love the good. 113 I hate the double-minded, but I love your law. (Psalm 119:113). Paul referenced this same thought when he said in Romans, 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. (Romans 12:9). The only way you can ever truly hate the bad and love the good is to “incline” or “lean in” towards God and let Him know He is all you want and you love only Him and you want to serve and please only Him! If you attempt to hate all the sin in your life and love God without truly inclining towards Him, you will fail every time.
I see people all the time that say, “Well, I was doing really good for the first few months and I just don’t know what happened.” . . . “I made a commitment at camp to live for Jesus but then I got to school and I don’t know what happened to me.” . . . “I made a decision to walk away from the drugs but I just can’t stay away from them.” . . . “I know I need to separate myself from the people that are a negative influence on me but I just keep hanging around them.” . . . Or, people trust Jesus as their Savior and get really involved for two or three months and they disappear.
You want to know why these scenarios and many others like them keep playing out in people’s lives every day? Because what they are doing never became a heart issue. They didn’t really make what they were doing a belief before they tried to change their behavior. If you focus on the outside before you really deal with the inside, you will not see any lasting change! The only way you can really hate something is to love something even more. The more you really love something, the more hate you will have for everything that draws you away that.
So the more love you have for God the more hate you will have for sinful habits, desires and pleasures that pull you away from God. I am convinced the only reason people do not break free from their habits or toxic relationships is because they have just had a “crush” on God or an “infatuation” with God and not a true love for God. The psalmist says he hates the double minded. “Double minded” means you are never fully into anything. You are always bouncing between many things and never really settling on what is the main thing. This is what he says he hates and the only way to hate this is to truly love something opposite of those things.
Don’t be so naive to think that temptations will never come even after you have made a bold declaration of love for God and hatred for what is not of God. Satan will attack and hurl temptations at you. So when they come you have to be ready for the attacks. So the Battle Plan to keep hating the bad and loving God is . . . Hide and hope. 114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. (Psalm 119:114). Hiding is finding a refuge in God; a safe place to retreat to. Hope is not a “I hope this will work out” kind of hope. It is a hope that says, “I know this works and the only hope I have is in your word.”
This hiding place is not somewhere you run to find when you are under attack. You have a plan and you know where you are going. It is a predetermined, pre-planned place that is all a part of your strategy when you feel an attack on your heart and soul. You establish that hiding place, safe place, and refuge before trouble is ever a thought. You know when it happens this is where I am going because I know that is safe. You also know God will protect you as a “shield” at that time and in that place.
It’s like when you used to play “hide-n-seek” as a kid and you found the perfect hiding place where you never were found. When you found that place that gave you a sure win in the game, did you ever let anybody else know where it was? Not unless you were not a smart player because once you did that is where they would come to find you the very next time.
All of this gives you what it takes to persevere in your Christian life. When you feel like you have “hit the wall” and you can’t take another step you will “push through” and win. All of this give you everything you need to look your Enemy (Satan) in the eye and tell him you will not do what he is tempting you to do. It will give you the strength and the boldness to look at all your habits, negative attitudes, addictions and negative influences in the face and tell them you are finished with them and to leave you alone. 115 Depart from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commandments of my God. (Psalm 119:115). When you read that, don’t you feel the confidence in his pen and the boldness in his voice?
In 1980 a young man from Rwanda was forced by his tribe to either renounce Christ or face certain death. He refused to renounce Christ, and he was killed on the spot. The night before he had written the following commitment which was found in his room:
I’m a part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His and I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit power. My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear.
I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.
I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me. My colors will be clear!