So, would there be even one person out there who would not believe that this is my #1 favorite passage in the Scriptures? Yes, what is not to like about it? It is all about the elements of long distance and endurance running! Oh, what I would give to be able to run again! But of course, this is an illustration of running the life of faith; and I can still do that with you, and you with me.
12:1 – Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Before I talk about the four directives we may take from these verses, there is first for us to note the connection to what has preceded – the heroes of faith, those who are now called “a great cloud of witnesses.” Seeing this as a stadium full of spectators who have completed their race and who are now cheering us onward as we run our own is to press the analogy a bit too far. We should not think of these “witnesses” as watching us from heaven and yelling “go baby go, you can do it,” but rather as those who by the stories of their lives can testify what it means to be successful in the marathon of life.
The first of four directives is to get rid of anything that hinders running successfully. To run over a long distance for a long time, it requires the shedding of anything that is going to weigh down the competitor. Perhaps for the Hebrews it was ridding themselves of their heavyweight traditions and fears that had thwarted their progress. Beyond that is the issue of sins – described as entanglements, and sin certainly is that in terms of successfully running for the Lord. But the word here rather has the idea of something that is always hanging around nearby; and we know that sin is like that as well, always close and ready to hitch a ride like burrs that detach and stick to your clothing.
The second encouragement is to run the race with endurance. To be successful at a marathon, one has to prepare strategically for a long day on your feet. It helps to know the entire 26.2-mile course – where are the hills and more difficult sections to be found. I would sometimes go a day early to a city where I was running a marathon for the first time and take a map and drive the course route. As well, dehydration can be a problem, and a runner has to drink a lot early and often in the race, even if not thirsty at that point. It you wait until you really need it, it is too late. There are going to be difficult sections, and mental preparedness in advance is a necessary element. The Christian life is like all of these things – there are going to be tough times and difficult stretches. Keep moving! The crest of the current hill might be very near … just keep going and trusting.
The third encouragement is to have your eyes set upon the goal or prize at the end. The early part of a marathon is the easiest run in a runner’s life. It goes by quickly and easily. But after a while, fatigue begins to set in and difficulties emerge. As a runner you stop thinking about how far you have come, and next about how much remains. The goal is the glory of the finish line. The first marathon I ran was in Washington. And my fastest mile of the day was the last one – coming down off Capitol Hill to a finish in front of the National Gallery of Art. I was so excited to finish and complete my goal, I whipped through the final mile. And so should we in the race of life have the final goal in mind as we run.
And finally there is a consideration of the ultimate endurance example – Jesus Christ. His race was beyond anything that we will experience. He had a goal – the completion of his mission in obedience to the Father and the reward as the King of Kings. Christ’s life was full of suffering and difficulties, and at the end he carried the sins of all mankind upon the wretched cross. And even as we have encouragement from the faith of others such as the heroes of chapter 11, our ultimate example of encouragement unto full endurance is Jesus Christ.
So in conclusion (as Chris comes back to write the final six devotionals in this series) the plan for endurance in the Christian life is more than just avoiding the sinful things, but also denying lawful pleasures if they hinder spiritual progress. And it is the addition of a specific plan of growth. It certainly involves food – what one puts into one’s mind and life = God’s Word. And it certainly involves an action plan, with intermediate goals.
Just as a runner has no shot at being a champion without a long-term, well thought-out plan of training and racing, you have no shot at being a champion and enduring in the Christian experience without a plan of growth and development. We are talking about valuing the things that are eternal, and then making it happen a day at a time, a week, a month, a year … and before long, you’ve run a long way in the same direction and you can begin to count down to the glorious goal of finishing well and hearing the “well done.”