When God called Abram to go to the land of Canaan he called him to not just start the race but finish the race. This call is not unlike the call of God on every Christian to finish their race and to finish well. Shortly before Paul faced execution by Nero he wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). In the beginning of the race we are beneficiaries of the Gospel but by the end of the race we are benefactors, giving to others what we so freely received.
The Bible tells us, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you’” (Genesis 12:1). Abram was from the land of Ur in Babylon or modern day Iraq. He started this journey with his father Terah, his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot. Terah’s intention was to go to Canaan but he stopped in Haran (named for Abram's brother who died back in Ur) in the land of Assyria and settled there. We read in Genesis 11:31, “Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there.” When it says “but when they came to Haran, they settled there,” the “but” tells us that they had not finished the race. Terah had given up.
Terah is a picture of many Christians who have only come so far and then stop running. They may say to God, “I can’t go any farther.” Finishing is not easy. It means giving up our own lives. Olympic cross country skiers have no life of their own. All they do is train, train, train. Many who start in the sport never finish because they give up. They say it is just too hard. Many Christians have had the same experience. Yet they miss the point that Jesus does not mean them to run the race on their own. He wants to pour out His Holy Spirit upon them. That’s what Pentecost is all about.
The reason that many people do not want to move on in their faith is that they want a faith that does not ask much of them. They forget that Christianity is a revolution. George Washington was asked to be the Commander of the Continental Army. He had to weigh this seriously because he knew that he didn’t have a lot of experience nor was he as well trained as the professional generals on the British side. And if the colonies lost and he somehow survived, he would lose his precious Mount Vernon estate and probably be hung from a very high gallows. But once in, there was no turning back.
From time to time even true Christians think about going back to Haran because finishing is so hard. Our problem is that we are broken people and we have often been discouraged by our many failures. We begin to say to ourselves, “I’m no good at this. I might as well just give up.” But thanks be to God, Jesus, like the people with the cow bells all along the cross-country course, keeps urging us on to the finish line. He is saying to us, “Together we can finish this thing.”
As with Abram, He makes many great and precious promises to us. We read in Genesis 12:2-3, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” It almost seemed unbelievable. Abram was 75 years old at this time and Sarai was 65 and barren. How would God make him into a great nation? But God often makes incredible promises. To the early Christians he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Their first response may have been, “No way! Didn’t you see how we all failed you on Good Friday? Some revolutionaries we were.” We may wonder how God will use us as His revolutionaries. We have good reason to wonder. We haven’t been very revolutionary either, so far. But God knows something about us that we don’t know about ourselves. With Him we can do things that are seemingly impossible.
The promise to Abram was not only that he would be blessed, but that he would be a blessing. Many in the church today want to be blessed but they are not so sure they want to be a blessing. That sounds like work. But that’s what finishing the race looks like.
For God’s promises to become real in our lives we must step out in faith. It says in Genesis 12:4-5, “So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan.” Abram was obedient to God. He was willing to finish the race. He didn’t simply sit back in Haran and contemplate how beautiful the Promised Land might be. He went there. Are you ready to go to your Promised Land? That doesn’t mean that the rest of our lives will be easy. Abram had many struggles. More than once he gave into his fears. He even tried to help God by siring a son through Sarai’s slave Hagar, which led to a terrible mess that we are still dealing with today. Some of you may be thinking to yourself, “I don’t think I can do this. I’m just not strong enough. I will make a mess of everything.” God understands our struggles. He knows that we are weak. He knows that we will fail. That’s why He sent His Son to die for our failures. The Good News is that every time we fail and ask forgiveness, He forgives us, no strings attached. But He does call us to finish the race. He will indeed bless us and make us a blessing.