Lockdown has seen many people taking up physical exercise, especially running, which is brilliant. Whether you’re running around the block, doing the 5k Park Run or training for a marathon, all runners face the same temptation though, and that is the temptation to give in. It’s in those moments that you have to dig in and keep going. Running a race is a metaphor used to describe the Christian life, especially by the writer to the Hebrews. He’s writing to Christians, many from a Jewish background, who were tempted to give up on Christ and return to their old Jewish faith, because of opposition. They needed the encouragement to keep going. As we approach the fourth month of lockdown, I sense that many of us are growing weary. We too need the encouragement to keep going. Here are five things that we need to know.
1. Learn from those who’ve run the race
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” (v1a) The writer has spent the entire previous chapter telling us about the great men and women of faith who have finished the race of faith. Some were ridiculed (Noah), some mistreated (David), many had to be very patient (Abraham, Moses), some lost their lives (Abel). There were no visible rewards for their faith (like trophies or medals) and most had to endure hardship and sacrifice, yet God thinks so highly of them that he says, “the world was not worthy of them.” (11:38). They belonged to a better place, a heavenly one. The crowds lining the route of a marathon are an enormous support to the runners as they cheer them on. Imagine this heavenly cloud who’ve finished the race of faith and witnessed God’s faithfulness to all his promises cheering you on when you’re tempted to give in- “Keep going, Keep going!” they’re shouting!!
2. Discard everything that hinders me
“let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”(v1b) As a runner you have to be ruthless with things that get in the way or slow you down, be it outer-clothing, excess weight or distractions. Similarly in living the Christian life we need to be ruthless with things that get in the way. The writer mentions two- what is ungodly (sin that entangles) and what is unnecessary (everything that hinders). In a way the ungodly (sin) is easier to confront and confess to God. The unnecessary may be a little trickier, as it’s probably a good thing in life that we’ve made the ultimate thing, eg our work, children, possessions, comfort, reputation. Someone once said that “the good is the enemy of the best” in that God always gets pushed to the edge. What are some things in your life that are getting in the way of you following Christ?
3. Persevere through the pain barrier
“and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (v1c) There will always be some pain with running be it exhaustion, blisters, injuries, thirst or sore feet. But all runners will have stories of how they fought through the pain barrier to finish the race. So it is in the Christian life. There will always be trials that will be painful, but these are the times when our faith paradoxically grows. James writes- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds”. Why is this? “because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (1:2-3) Covid-19 is a test of our faith. It’s disrupted our routines, robbed us of many things we relied upon, and brought great sadness as people have lost loved ones. But as with all trials, it will serve to strengthen our faith as we learn to depend upon God more and more.
4. Keeping a single-minded focus to the end
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (v2a) Some popular video clips on YouTube are ones of athletes prematurely celebrating winning a race by waving to the crowd only to be overtaken in the final metres. You think to yourself, “how could they be so stupid?” The athlete that wins is the one who keeps their focus right to the end. Living the Christian life is not a competition, but it does require focus to the very end. That focus is Jesus Christ. We must keep looking to him and trusting him alone. He is the one who is the author and perfecter, or starter and finisher, of our faith. To do this, we will have to carve out time to read God’s word, get to know the Lord more and more, speak to him in prayer and trust him in life. Church & small groups are a great, practical way of allowing others to point our focus to Christ.
5. Endure the suffering to win the prize
“who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (v2b) Imagine crossing the finishing line and completing 26.2 miles of a marathon. The pain is behind you; the training regime finished; friends & family greet you; you’re exhausted but overjoyed. Jesus is our perfect example of maintaining a heaven-mindedness. He looked past the suffering of the cross to the joy that would be his when he would be resurrected and reunited with His Father. His suffering was for my sin. He died the death that I deserved. The ultimate rewards of putting my trust in the Lord Jesus as the Saviour for my sin and Lord of my life, are not in this life but in the life to come. As the recipients of this letter would have testified, they suffered for following Jesus, and so might we. Jesus’ suffering preceded his glory and it will be the same for us. But Jesus’ victory over Satan, sin and death guarantees our victory. So keep going, keep going!
Dear Lord God- “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:7-8) You know my struggles but please help me to overcome them, to keep trusting Jesus and to keep going to the end. Amen