The_Amazing_Race_2_logoThere may have been a time when I thought that the Christian life gets easier when one gets older. No longer. I have come to terms that there is no such thing as an ‘easier’ Christian life this side of heaven. Surprise! That’s what Jesus told us: “In the world you will have suffering…” John 16:33 REB.

This was definitely Paul’s experience. Near the close of his life, we find him still facing formidable opposition:

“Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will deal with him as he deserves, but you had better be on guard against him, for he is bitterly opposed to everything we teach.” 2Timothy 4:14-15

No breaks for the old man.

And Paul was no stoic without feelings. He felt deeply when friends deserted him:

“Demas, his heart set on this present world, has deserted me…” 2Timothy 4:10

He longed for the company of old friends:

“Do your best to join me soon.” 2Timothy 4:9

Difficult problems. Experiences of loneliness. Sound familiar?

I suspect that that is how many of us are feeling at the end of another year. With the prospect of more in ’04.

Which is why we need to ask senior citizen Paul how he does it. How does he keep on going with loneliness and opposition dogging him every step of the way? How did he manage to finish his race? Again 2Timothy Chapter 4 gives us some clues.

First, Paul was utterly sure of the victory that awaited him at the end of his race. His eyes were not fixed on this world. His eyes were focused on the reality that he first encountered on the Damascus road. He knew what awaited him at the end of his life.

“I have run the great race, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. And now there awaits me the garland of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on the great day…” 2Timothy 4:7-8

His eyes were fixed on the author and finisher of his faith. That vision was so real that he could see the ephemeral nature of his daily experience. And the fact that nothing he endured this side of heaven could ever compare “with the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is in store for us”. Romans 8:18 Hence he could run a long and difficult race. Which may explain our lack of stamina for our race.

I don’t know about you but I find that what I encounter daily much more real than the life to come. And hence my view of life is defined by the short-term view. Not the long-term view.

Somehow, and paradoxically, being focused on the life to come doesn’t take anything away from our life on earth. Instead, realizing the shortness of life, and what awaits us at the end of life, actually strengthens us for our time on earth.

But Paul’s source of strength was not just his clarity of what awaited him at the end of his life. There was also the constant awareness of the presence of God in his life in real time. Though friends had deserted him, the Lord had not.

“At the first hearing of my case no one came into court to support me; they all left me in the lurch; I pray that it may not be counted against them. But the Lord stood by me and lent me strength…” 2Timothy 4:16-17a

Indeed, Paul understood that a key feature of the work of the Spirit was to enable the believer to experience the reality of his identity as a child of God and to mediate the reality of God’s presence and guidance. (Romans 8:12-17)

God’s presence is mediated to our hearts through the Holy Spirit. But Paul also gives us some hints as to how we can cultivate the presence of the Lord in our lives. The presence of the Lord in our lives can be cultivated through: 1. The fellowship of good Christian friends, both via letters and especially in the flesh. (2Timothy 4:9) 2. The study of the Scriptures and other Christian literature, hence Paul’s desire for his books and notebooks. (2Timothy 4:13)

This then was Paul’s formula. Life is tough but you can finish your race if you keep your eyes on the life to come and experience the presence of God in your life.

1. Keeping our eyes on the life to come.

2. Cultivating the presence of God in our lives.

I recommit myself to cultivating these two disciplines as I hit ’04. Maybe you need to too. May the Divine Wind give us all second wind as we continue to run our race.

Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan