What rich inspiration we find at the beginning of Hebrews 12. The brushstrokes of the first two verses paint a very clear picture in which we see ourselves as athletes, chosen to run the most important of all races, the race of the Christian life. It’s not a short sprint, but a marathon, a race of endurance with important instructions on how to run it.
First we’re encouraged to think about those who’ve gone before us, who have proved God’s absolute faithfulness. That’s such valuable advice, especially for times when the going gets tough. I love reading missionary stories. At a time when I was facing really hard things in my life, I’d feel like it was just too hard to keep going, or too long, or I was too weary, and I’d come across a pearl of inspiration from Amy Carmichael or Isobel Kuhn or another great hero of the Christian faith. They wrote their books far from home, often alone and in the midst of real hardship, but they didn’t give up. Instead they would find something of real encouragement right in the midst of the struggle.
I remember Amy Carmichael thinking about tree roots that dug in deeper and stronger when the wind blew hard, and she wrote, “Let it be so with us. Let us not be weaklings, yielding to every wind that blows, but strong in spirit to resist.” My spirit would soar, “Yes, Lord, I want to be like the tree roots, digging deep into you!” We need that encouragement, to hear the saints of old, not least those in the previous chapter of Hebrews, urging us, “Don’t lose heart! Keep going! Don’t give up!”
Then, as athletes running the race, we’re instructed to strip off things we’re carrying that weigh us down, and sin that can easily trip us up. These can be things we’ve brought with us from our past, things like false guilt, negativity, passivity, self pity … things we don’t need to carry anymore, and if we do, will hinder us, holding us back in bondage as victims to past experiences, slaves to cruel masters of things like fear, guilt and shame … and living as orphans instead of sons and daughters.
We’re urged to “run with endurance and active persistence” implying this isn’t a race where we won’t encounter pain and strife. We’re passing through the rough terrain of a fallen world, but the key is, not allowing these things to become the focus and distract us into misery, weariness and discouragement. That’s where we can so easily slip up. It’s so sad and disappointing when, as Christians with a real message of hope in the Lord Jesus, we are miserable and despondent.
If we “fix our eyes on Jesus”, and see the struggles in the light of who He is and what He has done for us, and with Him as our focus, bring the hard and painful realities to Him and receive His forgiveness and healing, then we will “not grow weary and lose heart” (v.3). Instead we’ll experience the real hope, joy and freedom of the life Jesus won for us, and we can look forward to being able to say, like Paul, “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 Timothy 4:7).
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, Please forgive me for the times when I’ve ignored your instructions for running the race of my life, and not heeded all the wonderful pearls of encouragement you have woven into your Word, and I’ve become negative and despondent. I truly repent, and I want to seek out and receive in my heart the encouragement of those who have gone before and proved your faithfulness. I want to fix my eyes on you, not on the problems, yet not deny my struggles either, but bring them to you. For you have the answer. You are the answer. Thank you that you have given me your Holy Spirit and I don’t have to run this race alone, but it is by your grace and enabling power. Amen.