When I was in high school, I ran cross country each fall. Some of our races were run on ¼ mile tracks while many were run on cross country courses … most all were at a distance of around 2 miles. My sophomore year, I was running my first two mile race on a track and somewhere around 1.5 miles I just collapsed into the infield. I would like to say I was just overcome by exhaustion and the heat … but truth be known … I just did not persevere … I did not endure … I simply gave up.
I must have learned an incredible lesson that day because in the next 30 years I never started a race that I did not finish … be it the quarter mile, be it mile relays, be it cross country races (I actually placed in the top ten in Dekalb county, GA my junior year), be it road races or trail runs, be it 5Ks, 10Ks, 15ks, 10 milers, half marathons, marathons (I ran Atlanta and NYC) or the 24 hour 170 mile Lake-to-Lake Relay in North Georgia. That one day as a 15 year old that I gave up taught me a lifetime lesson … one that Winston Churchill proclaimed in WWII … ‘Never, never, never give up.’ I learned to prepare or train, I learned to persevere, I learned to endure, I learned to finish the race …
And that is a lesson that holds true not only in the competitive and recreational world, but one that holds true in life and our walk … our race … of faith. Consider these words that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth …
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)
And as Paul also reveals in Ephesians 6, our race is a fight … there are spiritual forces of evil that do all they can to keep us from finishing the race but we must just like Paul …
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:7-8 (ESV)
Jesus said it a bit more succinctly (surprise surprise) in what I consider to be one of my life verses …
But the one who endures to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:13 (ESV)
Which finally brings me to the passage that inspired me to write this post …
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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful man, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
A quick definition before we begin … while I have no clue what Greek word may have been translated as cloud, so this interpretation may be off … one of the English definitions of cloud is a group of many things in the air or on the ground. So consider that definition as I offer a recap of the verse above …
A brief recap …
- A race or race course has been marked out for each believer to run
- There are both heavenly and earthly witnesses observing our race and cheering and encouraging us on
- We will encounter opposition as we run the race
- We are to fix our eyes on Jesus … our Finish Line
- Jesus endured until the end … until it was finished ,,, for the joy awaiting at the finish line
- When we are fixed on Jesus, we will not grow weary or lose heart
- Through all things we are to run with perseverance
- We are to throw off everything that hinders
- We are to throw off sin that so easily entangles
- We are to keep the faith and finish the race
Perhaps you have seen the race, where someone is hurt near the end, and without the help of someone, they will not make it to the finish line … but perhaps a father, a loved one, team mates even the opposition … help the runner reach the finish line … while from a worldly perspective it is not an official race finish, the goal has been accomplished … the goal has been reached.
Yes, the race of faith is an individual race … but it is also a race for the church … for the brethren. And I am at that point where oftentimes I am being lifted up and carried along on the wings of your prayers … like the friends who lowered their crippled friend through the roof to Jesus; people are helping with my burdens and carrying me along. Much like that beaten boxer who returns to his corner between rounds, I find encouragement and edification and love in my corner before returning to fight another round.
While I may be premature in my thinking about how close the finish line is, these Scriptures and my assessment of the cloud of witnesses who surround me is spot on.
Thank you for loving me … the desire of my heart is to cross the finish line into the loving arms of Jesus!
May that indeed be the will of Almighty God!