The Bible compares life to a marathon race – a long-distance race we need endurance to complete. Will the people in your church finish the race of life faithfully? As a pastor, you need to be prepared to answer that question.
Serious runners always strip down for a race. They don't carry a lot of baggage or extra clothes. I remember being in New York one time in the middle of the winter and seeing people running in jogging shorts and T-shirts. They didn't want anything to slow them down or hold them back.
That's how God wants us to run the race of life – with as few distractions as possible. So many people in our churches aren't living up to their full potential in Christ. In fact, many are being held back by three particular struggles we need to overcome to be all God wants us to be.
1. Let go of your worries. Worry is emotional garbage that hinders our people's progress to spiritual maturity. The more we worry, the more it slows us down. Proverbs 12:25 (NLT) says, "Worry weighs a person down." Think of what God's people could do if we weren't being dragged down by worry. Think of the people we'd reach, the evil giants of the world we'd conquer.
Worry exhausts our energy. It exaggerates our problem. And it wastes our time. Instead of doing what God has called our people to do, they are often stuck in their worries. So what do you do with your worries? How do you help your congregation deal with them?
Start by having them identify those worries. You can't release your worries until you know what they are. One of the reasons why we're often stressed out is we have a vague feeling that "something is wrong," but we don't know what it is. If you carry this vague sense of anxiety, it's harder to deal with.
Then we need to take those worries to God. Psalm 55:22 (NCV) says, "Give your worries to the Lord and He will take care of you." He says, "Let it go. Give it to Me. I'll take care of it."
You don't get rid of worry through therapy, fads, diets, pills, seminars, or conferences. You get rid of worry by prayer. If you prayed more, you'd worry less. Philippians 4:6-7 in the Message paraphrase says, "Instead of worrying, pray. Let your petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness…will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life." Don't let your people waste any more time with their worries; help them to let them go.
2. Let go of your wounds. Many things wound us emotionally. Lies, broken promises, conflict, and betrayal are just a few. And internal wounds are much more serious than external ones. For example, you don't remember the cuts, scrapes, and bruises you got on the playground as a kid, but I bet you remember the painful words that were said to you. We remember emotional wounds a lot longer than physical ones. Why? Because we rehearse those hurts in our mind over and over again. We replay the tape.
That's dumb. Your past is past. If you keep rehearsing a past wound, you allow someone to hurt you over and over again. There's a word for rehearsing a hurt over and over again in your mind – resentment. That literally means, "to cut again." Every time you nurse an old would, you're cutting yourself again.
The Bible says in Psalm 37:8 (GW), "Let go of anger and leave your rage behind. Do not be preoccupied. It only leads to evil." When you rehearse the pain, you just reinforce and reinvent the hurt.
You have people sitting in your church every week who have been nursing wounds for years. They can't let go. They'll never reach their God-given potential and purpose for life until they let go of the past.
What hurts do you and your congregation need to leave behind? The only antidote for those hurts is forgiveness. There's no other way to get past your hurt and pain. If you preach that from the pulpit, you're going to have people say, "The person who hurt me doesn't deserve to be forgiven." There's a great answer for that: neither did you. You don't forgive people for their benefit. Resentment doesn't hurt the other person. It hurts us.
3. Let go of your wrongs. In order to move on and be all that God wants us to be, we've got to let go of our sins, mistakes, regrets, and failures – all the things we wish hadn't happened and we feel guilty about. Some of the people sitting in our churches this weekend have been carrying the same guilt for 40 years. No wonder they're not growing spiritually!
We need to help people come clean. There's no time to waste. Every day we live with guilt is another day it's dragging us down. Why is it important to come clean?
* Guilt disconnects us from God. Isaiah 59:2 (NLT) says, "It's your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore." When you have a bunch of guilty garbage piled up, it separates you from your God. You can't connect to God with sin in your life.
* Guilt affects your health. Psalm 32:3 (NLT) says, "When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long." When you're dealing with guilt in your life, you're always worried about being "found out." That takes a toll on your health.
* Guilt dominates your mind. Psalm 51:3 (NCV) says, "I know about my wrongs, and I can't forget my sin." When you feel guilty about something, you can't think about anything else. You can't become what God wants you to be when your mind is dominated by guilt.
We need to teach people to set aside time for a moral inventory. We need to help them make a list of everything that's between them and God. (I try to do it on a regular basis.) God has given us a wonderful promise in 1 John 1:9 (NIV), "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." God is ready and waiting to forgive us if we just confess our wrongs to him.
Worries, wounds, and wrongs are holding back Christians in our churches from being all that God wants them to be. That's why we're going through Life's Healing Choices this fall – to help people get past their hurts, hang-ups, and habits. Our weekend services, small group curriculum, and personal devotionals will all focus on this theme. We can't wait to see what happens as people leave these things behind forever.