Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
~ Hebrews 12:1-2
This weekend I ran my third half-marathon, but my first since baby Zoë has been in the picture. It took me a long time to commit to doing this race this time around. When I started running again, it was barely what my friend, Heather, dubbed “wogging” – somewhere between walking and jogging. I would only be able to “wog” for about 2 minutes and then I would walk for 2, or 3… or 4 minutes. In the early stages I wouldn’t even write it down. Gradually my body began to recover, and I pushed the ratios down until I was mostly running and only occasionally walking. But by the time we got to race day, I still hadn’t run for more than 5 kms without taking a little walking break.
In long-distance running, the training plan typically takes you to within five kilometers of your actual race distance. I found myself extra nervous about racing the half marathon because even with my little walk breaks, I hadn’t yet come close to running the race distance. Would my body hold out?
That’s a lot like life, isn’t it? The author of the book of Hebrews exhorts us to “…run with endurance the race that is set before us”. Life certainly is a marathon, not a sprint. We definitely don’t have the privilege of knowing what it will be like to run the whole distance ahead of time! Every definition of ‘endurance’ that I looked up mentioned the capacity to withstand pain, unpleasant things, difficulty or hardship “without giving way.” It doesn’t mean to simply let life take its own course and push us off ours.
The next key element in Hebrews 1:1-2 is that we keep “looking to Jesus”. Indeed, Jesus is the finish line. Right after the famous “Golden Rule” is articulated in the Book of Matthew, Jesus says, “…the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14) Not only does this race require endurance, it requires a map and a compass because the racecourse itself is hard to find! By His grace, we have been given both of these things: the Bible and the Holy Spirit to help us keep on track.
Lastly, Jesus is described as the “perfecter of our faith”. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can get pretty disgruntled that the race seems to be so long and hard. Sometimes it really bugs me that the course isn’t obvious, and I resent the obstacles that are in my way. I long to see the finish line, yet fear how close I might be to it at the same time. But notice especially that we are not the perfecters of our own faith, Jesus is. Our job is to run and to run with endurance… His job is to perfect. AMEN!
We do have one other responsibility, however, and that is to “set aside every weight, and sin which clings closely”. Again, this is a perfect racing analogy. In an effort to be as fast as possible, all racers across many sports will remove any extra clothing and jewelry, and if they use equipment, will make sure that equipment is as legally light as possible. Are you as light as possible in your spiritual life? Or are you running the race with all of your baggage that you can’t let go of?
Fortunately for us, “…the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18)
I urge you to free up your arms and feet for this race, and set aside anything that is slowing you down. There is freedom to be found in the Lord, and as this freedom is found we are being transformed!
PS- My friend and I finished the race. We didn’t even walk once, and we shaved 3 minutes off our personal best times from 2013!