with Rev. Fr. Anthony Mario Ozele, PhD
The Bible compares life to a marathon race – a long-distance race we need endurance to complete the race. Will the people in your church finish the race of life faithfully? Serious runners always strip down for a race. They don’t carry a lot of baggage or extra clothes. They don’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 FOUR 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 people’s progress to spiritual maturity. The more we worry, the more it slows us down. Proverbs 12:25 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 us to do, we are often stuck in worries. Start by identifying 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(23) 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, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
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. Beloved, 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, “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 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: 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? 1) Guilt disconnects us from God. Isaiah 59:2 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 us from God. You can’t connect to God with sin in your life; 2) Guilt affects your health. Psalm 32:3 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; 3) Guilt dominates your mind. Psalm 51:3 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. God has given us a wonderful promise in 1 John 1:9, “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.
4. Let go of FEARS – Too often, our actions in church are governed principally by a response to what we fear might happen, rather than faithfully discerning what God is calling us to do. We assume that the only way to tell if we’re being faithful is if the church buildings are full and the budgets are met. But this mandate is nowhere to be found in the Bible. We can let go of the fear that America is becoming an “anti-Christian” nation. When surveyed, only about 5% of Americans actually claim atheism, and there are an increasing number of people who either identify as Christian or “other” who feel some connection to God, but who don’t see the value of using Church to explore that connection. This is not necessarily an indictment of us as individuals, but rather a wake-up call to help us recognize what’s really important. As Jesus demonstrated, the relationships matter so much more than our religion, and Jesus’ call is to go out among the people, not wait until they come to us. Sure, it’s scary, because it’s vulnerable and a little bit risky. But Jesus never promised us a risk-free faith. Rather, he offered us a life filled with meaning, provided we would embrace the perfect love he offered that promised to cast out such fear.
Worries, Wounds, Wrongs, and Fears are holding back Christians and the Church from being all that God wants us to be. All of these are capable of creating a comfort zone that actually holds us back. WE NEED TO RELEASE THE PAST SO AS TO MOVE FORWARD. Growth is uncomfortable and requires change. But Those Who are Comfortable Do Not Grow. Remaining in a comfort zone encourages people to do the BARE MINIMUM. Thus, their only goal is to keep things the same way they’ve always been. To become successful, you must be willing to push yourself outside your safety zone over and over again. Additionally, you must plan to escape from the “Prison of Comfort.”
Challenges and obstacles are all a very necessary part of any success journey. Ask any super achiever, who has achieved their success, despite having overcome numerous challenges and obstacles, along their path to success. If they could go back and do it all over again, but this time around, they could avoid the greatest challenge, they faced the first time round. Ninety-nine out of one hundred of them would invariably say that they would leave things exactly the way they were, as the challenges they faced and overcame, were often the very catalyst behind their success.
Pushing your limits is like stretching your body. You will know it’s working when you start to feel uncomfortable. When you feel that twinge, be assured that you are inching your way closer to your ultimate goal. Let this be the year you decide to break free from the “Prison of Comfort.” I know you may be afraid, but, I’m encouraging you to be bold and courageous. I once heard someone say, “Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s moving ahead in spite of your fears.” If you have dreams, goals, or aspirations, you need to grow to achieve them. RELEASE THE PAST. HE WHO HOLDS THE FUTURE IN HIS HANDS WILL LEAD YOU INTO A GLORIOUS FUTURE.
Lyndon B. Johnson: “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.”
Alyson Noel: “The only thing a person can ever really do is keep moving forward. Take that big leap forward without hesitation, without once looking back. Simply forget the past and forge toward the future.”
Over the years, we have seen both victory, defeat, joy and shame in the life of the Church to this point. Like Israel of old, we need to continue to move forward. Joshua continued relentlessly taking the land, and we Christians are to move forward in faith. Our churches are not to be content to sit back and do business as usual. We cannot rest on past victories or be paralyzed by past defeats. We are to move forward in faith personally and corporately as the body of Christ with Persistent prayer; Extended effort; and Union with the Holy Spirit. Joshua knew that taking the land was not simply a matter of prayer. Joshua was constantly on the move, sometimes all night long. He extended tremendous effort. He avoided the pitfall of attempting this in his own strength by spending time with God. However, he also realized that he could not sit back and wait for things to happen. Victory for believers comes when we depend on God in prayer and then prepare ourselves and extend the effort, in union with the Spirit of God.
If God is for us, who can stand against us? The God who fought for Israel enables us to face all that comes our way. By His power we are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37).