*This is Part 1 of 2 articles looking at Hebrews 12:1-2. In this first part we will mainly focus on verse 1. To read part 2 go here
Run the Race with Endurance
As I’m about to turn another year older, I’ve been reflecting on my life, and it has me thinking about this verse from Hebrews 12:1-2.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.[a] Because of the joy[b] awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
What does it mean for us to run the race with endurance? What does that really look like lived out in each of our lives? Breaking it down here is what I learned:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, (v. 1 a)
Who are the witnesses?
Looking at the previous chapter, Hebrews 11 which has also been known as the “Hall of Faith” – lists men and women of God who displayed great examples of faith. As we read their stories throughout the bible we can learn from them about God’s faithfulness, and the faith it took to endure through all circumstances. They weren’t perfect people, their lives were not without its share of trials and difficulties. They just learned to trust God in the midst of all those imperfections, problems, and obstacles.
There isn’t just one witness either – it is a huge crowd of witnesses. Imagine a track and field meet with a crowd of spectators all on the stand cheering you on. Just how loud and encouraging that can be. Imagine all those spectators are Olympic athletes who have been where you are. What difference would that make? See these aren’t just any plain spectators – these witnesses described in Hebrews 11 have run their own race. They know what you’re going through, and we have their stories to encourage us to press on. To keep running our race with endurance. They are perfect examples of what ordinary people (like you and me) can do with extraordinary faith.
Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. (v. 1 b)
What are the weights that slow us down or trip us up?
I used to run track in high school. We would often train wearing these sweats and hoodies, and possibly several layers depending on how cold it was at that time in Michigan (where I grew up). But when it came to the actual race, we would strip off all those layers and just run in these very thin, lightweight jersey tank tops, and super short shorts. I would also wear my track spikes, and double knot my laces and tuck them in, and then tape them up so there is no way for the laces coming untied during the race. We needed to be as light as possible, and remove anything that will slow us down, trip us up, or get in the way of running and finishing our race.
Likewise with the Christian faith – there are things in life that can weigh us down, hinder us, or even trip us up. Sometimes it can be things that are generally good, but can still be a distraction or burden for us. Other times it can be outright sin in our lives:
Some examples of this can be the worries, cares, riches and pleasures of this world (see Luke 8:14). Sometimes our life circumstances can be too much – suddenly that’s all we seem to see. Ultimately when these things become our sole focus over God – we have turned them into idols. These idols have become weights we need to strip off.
Another weight that slows us down is when we doubt or question God. Looking back at what Hebrews 11 is referring to is FAITH. All these great clouds of witnesses are listed because of the faith they exemplified. They were faced with all kinds of obstacles, yet they endured because of the faith they had in God. When we doubt the promises of God, or question the truth from God’s words, when we look to our own abilities and resources we are displaying a lack of faith. Without faith we aren’t able to get very far in this race.
In track and field, my coach would always tell us to focus on the finish line, always looking straight ahead. There are times in a race where I may be out in front, but I can hear the footsteps of the other racers right behind me. There is the temptation to look around or look backwards, to see how close the runners are to me. But when we do that, when we lose focus of the finish line – it actually slows us down, and can even cause us to trip.
That is what I’ve seen shame do – even in my own life. Shame makes you look around or look back at your past mistakes and sin. Shame has a way of tripping us up, and debilitates us from running. It keeps us from moving past our mistakes. Instead it makes us dwell on them, and keeps us there – unable to truly move forward.
These are just some examples of the things in life that weigh us down or trip us up. Basically they are examples of sin. Bottom line these examples are a form of disobedience to God. When we choose to disobey God, we are setting ourselves up for a fall. We’re choosing to go our own way, and that inevitably gets us off course (See Isaiah 53:6). We are slowed down by sin, or worse yet, it will trip us up. So what are we to do?
And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (v1c)
In track and field I was a sprinter. I stuck to 100 or 200 meter races. I once had to run a relay that required me to go around the entire track – and that was once too much for me. Let’s just say the coach never asked me to run that race again. Definitely could not run anything beyond that. I just did not have the endurance. But for the distance runners a few laps around the track is quite simple. Because they have taken the time to train and build up the strength and endurance to go the distance.
Run with Endurance
Life is certainly not a sprint – though sometimes I wish it was. However, it is better compared to a marathon, or a cross country race with different terrains and hills of all sizes. In a long distance race we can’t just shoot out of the starting line full speed and expect to make it to the finish line with that same energy. It requires time and patience, and learning how to set your pace so you don’t burn out. It is unyielding determination to keep going even when you start to feel pain, and you are tempted to call it quits. Endurance is being able to keep going – even when you feel you don’t have the strength to anymore.
The key part in this section of the verse – is this is not just any race. This is the race GOD has set before us. Again looking back to the examples of faith in Hebrews 11, God called each of them to a task. As he called them to their own race – he equipped them. He was faithful to help them reach the end of their race. When we understand that this race is set by God, when we see that we can put all our hope and faith in him – we will endure.
*In the next article I will expand on how we can run with endurance, looking specifically at Hebrews 12:2
Until then, some things to think about:
- What are the weights in your life that may be slowing you down and tripping you up?
- How does it make you feel knowing there are others who have run the race before you and have endured to the end?
- What does it mean to you that this race you’re on is set by God?