In last weekend’s sermon, Pastor Aries Zulkarnain encouraged the members of City Harvest Church to focus on Jesus as they run their race of faith.
The Bible likens the Christian life to a race. Preaching from Hebrews 12:1-3, City Harvest Church’s executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain encouraged the congregation to fix their eyes on Jesus as they run their race of faith so that they can bounce back from every setback.
He was preaching at the service over the weekend of 16 and 17 Sep. Pastor Aries first noted that the hallmark of Jesus’ ministry is endurance and resilience. “While we are going through life, we must develop endurance and resilience because, through it, we can become overcomers in Jesus Christ,” he said.
He gave the example of his member, Bayu Prindu. Rejected by her family because of her drug addiction, Prindu came to Singapore from Riau, Indonesia with empty pockets. She met her husband and became pregnant before marriage. However, her husband was abusive, and she suffered terribly living with him. When she became a Christian, her husband and his family tried to stop her from going to church and would lock her outside the house whenever she did.
“Here’s the amazing thing: the turnaround in her life was not because of any supernatural miracle or power,” the pastor noted. “The turnaround in her life happened because of a simple encouragement a minister gave to her that made her decide not to give up on life and to put her trust in Jesus Christ.”
Some may find that there is nothing spectacular about her testimony, Pastor Aries acknowledged, adding that this attitude presents a problem. “When we are too focused on the extraordinary, we will miss out on the revelation that can be found in the ordinary,” he said.
“We forget that sometimes the blessing comes through a process, not through a miracle.”
Prindu received a rhema word from God, which gave her the strength to go through her valley instead of looking to escape from her situation. That became her turning point. She surrendered her future to God and claimed Jesus’ reign over her life. She went on to forgive her husand and his family, before taking active steps to change her life.
She moved into a women’s shelter for a year and sought help from the church and other community services. After some time, she found a job and was able to obtain her Permanent Resident status in Singapore. Today, she has saved enough to buy a flat to live with her two children, who are both attending CHC.
Prindu’s story is nothing out of the ordinary, said the pastor, “but the extraordinary thing about this story is the extraordinary God who gives ordinary people the faith and the courage to go through problems in life and not to give up hope. Despising the shame [like Jesus in Heb 12:2), they can endure the cross and have the power to be resilient and to resurrect after every setback.” He added that Prindu’s story of success has now been shared across many media platforms in Singapore.
“Nothing spectacular happened to her. She simply embraced the race of faith in God, trusted in Jesus and relied on His grace,” he said.
With this, the pastor shared two points on how a Christian should run this race of faith.
1. It’s a race of faith, not a fantasy run
“Each of us has our own race of faith to run,” Pastor Aries preached. “It is a race that has been given by the Lord, not one that you have chosen.”
He went on to suggest that given a choice, most people would not want to run the race they are given. “This is the problem, isn’t it? If given a choice, you would have chosen different capacities, different kinds of strength, different kinds of resources than the ones God has given you. You would have chosen those strengths that you believe can help you run more effectively in life,” the pastor noted.
While believers can pray for God to change their situation, he cautioned, “There is nothing more deceptive than the illusion of fantasy and comparison.” Fantasy gives people the illusion that they can escape their reality. However, the Bible teaches believers to fix their eyes on Jesus and what He has in store for them, despite their circumstances.
The pastor directed the church to the familiar story of Peter walking on water in Matthew 14:28-31. “Notice that Peter waited on the Word of God before he stepped out of the boat,” he highlighted. Peter did not pray for the storm to cease—as long as his eyes were fixed on Jesus, he could walk on water.
Similarly, many Christians set out with faith when they hear the word of God. As long as their eyes are fixed on Him, they will be able to endure their suffering and emerge victorious, Pastor Aries encouraged.
However, Peter started looking at his circumstances and lost his focus on Jesus. When Jesus said to Peter, “You of little faith” (Mt 14:31), He was referring to Peter’s short duration of attention on Him. Likewise, fantasies distract Christians from God’s will and cause them to focus on their own desires instead.
“A fantasy is an illusion we cling to in order to escape reality, but faith is a vision and hope we cling to in order to have the courage to face it and to walk on water,” Pastor Aries declared. He encouraged the church to embrace the race that God had given to them. Instead of fantasising about escaping their limitations, he urges them to ask God for the courage to face the storm.
“Faith is not only about removing mountains but also about hiking up and reaching the top of the mountain,” he said.
2. Lay aside every weight that hinders your run
Reading Hebrews 12:1-3, Pastor Aries warned, “If you’re not careful and you disregard this, you can be destroyed by addictions, toxic behaviours and sinful behaviours in life that you do not want to deal with, and you will cut short your race of faith.”
He went on to list a few other things that one could carry as extra burdens. “They may be weights that you’re not supposed to carry, such as other people’s responsibilities,” he said.
Quoting the familiar verse in Philippians 4: 13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, the pastor noted that “all things” refer to the things that God has given one to do. “If He asked you to be responsible for something, He would strengthen you to do it all,” he said. “But you can’t do everything when you run your own race. Don’t try to carry other people’s weights and responsibilities.”
Also, one must offload the burdens that do not belong to them, like anxiety, worries, guilt about the past, sins and most importantly, the opinions of others.
Pastor Aries shared that 19-year-old Coco Gauff recently won her first Grand Slam at the 2023 US Open—the youngest champion since Serena Williams. In an interview with CNBC, Gauff told the reporters that one of the biggest differences between last year, when she missed winning the championship, and this year was that she avoided social media and she ignored other people’s opinions about what she can or cannot do.
“Perhaps the reason that is stopping us from becoming the champion that God wants us to be is because we are too concerned about finding out what other people think,” the pastor suggested, adding, “The moment you tune out other people’s opinion and start focusing on what God asks you to do, on the expectation of God, it will revolutionise your mindset.”
In closing, Pastor Aries acknowledged that there are burdens and responsibilities that one needs to carry in the race that God has set one on, and sometimes, these burdens become too heavy to bear. “You must know that you don’t have to carry your burdens alone because we have our greatest burden bearer Jesus Christ,” he encouraged the church. “He doesn’t take away your burden, but He shares the load with you.”
The act of surrendering your burdens to God is an act of faith, stated Pastor Aries. Reading Romans 8:29-30 (MSG), he reminded the church that everything they possess is there to enable them to finish their race of faith—and it is not a race they run alone: “God wants you to complete the race by the power of the Holy Spirit.”