This morning I was drawn to Facebook, finding encouragement in a dear friend who is working out in California, trying to make an impact on lives for God’s glory. Just recently, he was rewarded with several joys as a result of his years of effort – years of hard work, discouragement, and even abandonment because of his non-standard approach. Instantly, I was reminded of Hebrews 12:1-2, which states, …“let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
What a shot to the solar plexus it was, knowing how often I get sidetracked and decide to sit on the sideline, rather than participating in the race. Well, here’s my internal contemplation put into words…
Who’s race is it? It’s your race!
For far too long Christians have lived like cookie cutters, making clones of themselves. We’ve expected people to wear the right things and to follow a prescribed set of tasks in order to remain a part of the “holy order.” Are standards and guidelines good? Of course they are, but when a standard becomes the guide over the change and working of God on one’s heart, there is a real problem. The same is true for your race. Christ had a specific path laid down for Him – are you called to die on the cross for the world? Of course not. Hebrews 12:1 starts with, “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…” The author is pointing to the chapter before, which happens to be Hebrews 11 – the great faith chapter/”Hall of Faith” of the Bible. If you look there, you will see example after example of individuals from very different walks of life spread across different eras of time who demonstrated their faith in God in different ways.
You are not a mistake. Nope. All of your successes and failures, all of the celebrations and hurts – the good and the bad – they have been used to shape you into who you are now. You can’t change the past. However, you have a path that is laid out before you. God, in His providence, has a specific plan for your life. Is it going to be easy? doubt it. Nowhere does the Bible promise an easy road for anyone. In fact, looking at the list of people in Hebrews 11, I sometimes shutter to think at how badly some have had it! Yet it is your race. It’s your path. It’s your way to the destiny God has for you. And it is your choice to accept it.
Now, you might be wondering how you size up against other Christians in the race, and that’s normal. However, this race is completely different! Looking back at this, the race is an individual path that God has laid out for you, nobody else. In this race, you are guaranteed to win if you do but one thing – finish. So Sam the Super Christian that quotes half of the Bible in his prayer is not in competition with you. He’s on his own path. How relieving it is to be reminded that God is with you on your path, and it is not necessary to conform to the mold and path that someone else wants to impress upon you! In fact, putting yourself on the path of someone else could be taking you away from the designated direction God wants you to go. Be careful and step-by-step follow your path to the glorious end in store for you.
How do I run? Run with patience!
I really struggle with this, so let me clarify. For years I was at the top of my class as a sprinter. I’m not happy running unless I can feel and hear the wind weaving past my ears. Yet, if you ask me to sprint five miles, it’s not going to happen. Why? The human body can only sustain a sprint for short bursts. It can’t convert fat and sugar stores at a high enough rate to maintain top speed for very long. God did not mean for believers to live like NASCARs in their pursuit of the checkered flag, eating up the pavement with a roar of engines and thrown rubber from the tires into every corner. That’s where patience comes into play.
From childhood days we’ve all learned about the race between the tortoise and the hare. The slow turtle paced himself, invested his energy conscientiously, took step-after-step. The speedy rabbit took-off like a rocket, and rested, bolted, the rested again… Of course, the moral is found in patience – pacing. There’s a goal, and it is achievable if you are patient.
Successful followers of God will pace themselves. Look at Hebrews 12:1 again. Notice the method? Step 1: Lay aside every weight (things that slow us down). Step 2: Lay aside the sin. Step 3: run. Now, a runner can see if he has weights strapped around his ankles, but it’s not necessarily that easy in life to identify the weights and sins we carry with us. Likewise, we all tend to pick-up weights and sins, too, just like a runner can step into a puddle, unaware that it is there, and have to carry the weight of the water. A road by my home has been under construction for quite some time, and it has become an obstacle course, forcing a collection of mud, stones, and debris onto and into my shoes. This requires a regular renewal – a laying aside of the heavy, a laying aside of the wrong and vile; and running.
No room here for the mad dash. This only results in burn-out, frustration, and failure. Run patiently. Run methodically.
Where’s the finish line? Jesus Himself is the finish!
Interestingly, while all paths for the race are different, both the starting point and ending points are the same for all runners. According to the passage, the race starts with Jesus and ends with Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus, who made the race possible for you by providing the way of salvation, is also where you will find your completion. Clearly, the race is a life-long race. As you pursue the goal and keep your eyes on Him you will find the strength and wisdom necessary to keep plodding along. Then, one day, you will reach the finish line – glory and Christ-likeness, completion and perfection, as only God can do. Life on earth is a pilgrim’s progress, but reaching your celestial home will bring about the ultimate solidification and experiential recognition of the true reality – the spiritual battle will cease as your faith ends in sight.
See Him ahead. Recognize His outstretched arms. Realize that He is interceding for you. Know that He provides strength for the journey. Focus your attention on the finish.
What is the benefit, then, while running the race? J-O-Y!
Joy is not happiness, as happiness is dependent on circumstances. Joy is inward strength; it’s the ability to see through all circumstances and to know that there is an end in sight that will be even better than where you are today. This is something that only a Christian can have, for, what hope does one have if he cannot count on someone greater than himself to provide a future beyond this life? Even Christ Himself did not find His joy in his trials and crucifixion; His joy was in the ultimate provision of salvation and the claiming of His rightful spot beside the Father (Hebrews 12:2).
Allow me to clarify with a personal definition: Joy is an internal steadfastness in spite of external stressors, due to a fixed end or goal. You see, joy is much like faith. Joy is based on something. It is based on God’s promises. Now, where was Christ’s joy set? on the ultimate re-seating of Himself next to His Father in glory, having completed the necessary work for man’s salvation. This became Christ’s constant guide while abiding on earth. There was a joy in knowing that the goal would be attained.
You can have joy today. You can have patience. You can have peace. Claim the provision of salvation; see God’s hand; recognize His promises; realize answered prayer. Know that struggles will cease and that one day you will be with God Himself.
Run your race. The prize is there for the taking.