One of the challenges of the Christian life is contentment with the race God has given each of us to run. Many believers struggle with their course, obstacles along the way, or envy of other runners; we often wish we could run someone else’s race. As we chug up a long incline, we look over to see a brother or sister cruising by in a convertible. We sweat and slog with ears pounding with our own heartbeat while they have the wind in their hair and worship music blasting on their 12-speaker Bose sound system. We compare our backpack, filled with the struggles of life, to the woman pulling a barely-filled, wheeled suitcase.
Sometimes the race set before us, rather than a means of depending on Jesus, becomes the thing that takes our attention from Him. It does not have to be this way.
The author of Hebrews says:
“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.”
In one sense, all believers are running the same race — we all are following Jesus to his eternal kingdom. But in another sense, we run different races. Some suffer physically more than others. Some suffer emotionally more than others. Some are blessed with financial increase. Some struggle to make ends meet all their days. Some have wonderful family experiences. Some have no earthly family to speak of. When we look around at another’s race we can fall into envy — envy that their race appears to be so much easier than ours, or that the ditch on their side of the course is not as deep as the ditch we ran into, or that God seems to have favored them more than He has favored us.
If we remember Hebrews, we can be encouraged to run our own race in at least four ways.
1. A cloud of witnesses encourages us.
The “large cloud of witness” is most probably those mentioned in chapter 11, the heroes whose lives testify to the blessedness of living by faith. Their stories encourage us, their faith challenges us, and their lives inform our own. If Abraham can run his race, so can I. If Sarah can run her race, so can you. (And talk about two people who often found a ditch!) That roll-call as well as the many others throughout church history remind us that we can indeed run the race that lies before us.
2. We can shed the things that would beset us.
A number of years ago I watched a report on a popular, annual 10K race event. One of the entrants chose to run in full military gear: fatigues, boots, and full pack. Needless to say, he didn’t win; there was just too much weight. Seeing him reminded me that setting aside hindrances (“weight” in the KJV) is needed to run well. Although we sometimes find ourselves running the race with hindrances and sins, Scripture reminds us it does not have to be that way. We can lay aside hindrances. We can confess and forsake sin (1 John 1:9). We need not run this Christian race carrying concrete blocks with our shoelaces tied. Jesus encourages us to cast all our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). We will run better when we do.
3. We already know the race will require endurance.
When you register for a race, you know in advance its length. Only a person really not paying attention would show up for a half-marathon thinking they had registered for a 5K. A good thing about our spiritual race is we already know it calls for endurance.
I usually run up to about 4 miles at a time 4 to 5 times a week. Not because I enjoy it; I need to do it for my health. One thing I know is if I intend to run four miles, I need to pace myself at the beginning. If I start too fast, my run will end up being cut short due to fatigue. I have to plan for endurance (similar to Jesus saying “count the cost”). To run our race with endurance, we need to plan for the long-haul. The fuel of Scripture, prayer, Christian community, and ministry, all in the power of the Spirit, are needed to take us the distance.
4. The key to endurance is looking to Jesus.
We can run the race before us if we keep our eyes on Jesus, the one who authored and perfected our faith. It is His life we seek and in His power we run. If we run focused on the challenges before us, with the baggage of sin upon us, or envious of the runners around us, we will neglect to focus on Jesus. He is our goal and it is He who will bring us home.