Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Finish your race in Christ’s footsteps

I don’t run. I just thought I’d put that out there. I have all these friends who are so into running, cross country, endurance, marathon. I’m glad they enjoy it, but that’s not an activity that I enjoy. It’s ironic, though, because while I don’t run for sport literally, I run through life figuratively. I’m one of those people who never stops moving. I’m always dashing about, up to my elbows in busyness, especially this time of year. But then I don’t think that’s just me.

Everyone is running a race of some kind. Everyone is seeking a goal in their life, no matter what it may be. It could be a big goal, an accomplishment that will change the world. Or it could be a “small” goal, one that will only matter to a few people–maybe even just you. But whatever the size of your goal and no matter how many people it will affect, there will be days when you won’t be up to achieving it, especially if your goal/dream is something that you want God to use to help others.

Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Today’s verses are Hebrews 12:1-3.

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. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

Running is hard work, especially the marathons and cross country races. Those events take time and discipline to prepare for and even more of both if you want to finish. If you sign up to run a cross country race or a marathon, you don’t get to take a nap in the middle of the race. If you’re going to run the race, you have to run it from start to finish without stopping.

I know a lot of runners, but none of my running friends have ever won a marathon. I’ve got a cousin who came pretty close, but everyone else I know doesn’t run a marathon to win. They run a marathon to finish. That’s not to say that you can’t run a race like a marathon with the goal to win, but I’m not really sure if that’s the reason to run a marathon. Remember, I don’t run. So I may be totally off course here. But marathon racing and cross country racing isn’t like sprints or 100-meter dashes. Long-distance running is all about endurance and focus.

It’s kind of like life, don’t you think? If you’re a follower of Christ, God has given you a race He wants you to run, and I guarantee it’s not a 100-meter dash. God doesn’t give us things to accomplish that only take a few minutes and a little bit of effort and faith. No. If God gives you something to do, I promise it will take more of you than you have access to, and the only way you’re going to get through it is with His help.

What we have to remember when we start running the race that God has set for us is that we’re not the only ones running it. There are many others around us who are running too. And, what’s more, Jesus already ran the race ahead of us. We have His example to draw from. We can run our races the same way He ran His.

It wasn’t easy for Him either, so don’t get into the habit of thinking that Jesus sailed through life because He was God. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He struggled just like we do with people and circumstances and the general trouble our old sinful world insists on throwing at us.

What I’ve noticed about racing–both literally and figuratively–is that the start of the race is the easy part. Sort of like the end. At the beginning, you’re fit and fresh and ready to go. At the end, you can see the finish line and you have hope that it will be over soon and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. It’s the middle where people start struggling. It’s the middle where people give up.

Remember that. And when you hit the middle of your race, be on the lookout for discouragement and despair. You’ll wonder what you’re doing. You’ll wonder why you’re doing it. Just like a runner has to train for the middle span of a marathon, we need to prepare for the middle of our spiritual race so we’ll know how to make it through. And the key–as with everything else in life–is to watch Jesus. How did Jesus handle it? What did He say? How did He act? Follow His footsteps, and you can’t go wrong. And on the days when the trouble and the challenges you’re facing feel like too much, remember that He faced more issues than we do, and He’s right there with us offering His help if we’ll just ask for it.

Dirt road through the jungle - Peten, Guatemala

The goal of a marathon

My dad was a race car driver before he became a professional business type. He raced Ford Fiestas and Volkswagen Rabbits. My earliest memories are sitting in the front seat of that beat up old Rabbit pulling the buttons and dials off the dashboard. But because my dad loved racing so much, we grew up with NASCAR and Formula 1 races on the television. So the concept of racing got an early start in my young brain.

I have met a few people in my life who don’t think that racing is a sport. And maybe that’s because they’ve never tried it or have never spoken to anyone who has. Because racing isn’t just driving around in circles. It’s a sport of endurance. And it’s not as easy as it looks.

Dirt road through the jungle - Peten, Guatemala

Dirt road through the jungle – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Romans 12:1.

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.

In this context, Paul is referring to running a race in a literal sense, not driving a car. But the concept is the same. When you’re in a race, whether you’re physically running or directing an engine that’s running, you don’t want anything extraneous that will slow you down.

Paul uses sports metaphors to refer to the Christian faith many times throughout Scripture, which leads a lot of folks to believe that he was athlete of sorts. He could have been. I don’t really know. But many sports metaphors do fit the Christian walk very well. Racing is just one of them.

In a race, you’ve got a bunch of people all trying to get across the finish line. But have you noticed the difference between the attitudes of people who run the 50-yard dash verses a marathon? The 50-yard dash is all about speed. The 50-yard dash is about who can run the fastest. But a marathon? The goal of a marathon is to finish. Yeah, it’s great if you can win, but most people you talk to are just thankful that they can reach the end of the race without dying.

One will finish first and win, obviously. There always must be a winner. But whether you come in first or last, it’s your job to finish.

It’s the same with race car driving. Yes, there will be a winner. There must be a winner. But if they can actually finish the race without crashing, they count themselves fortunate.

That’s the kind of race Paul is talking about. Not the short sprints. Not a drag race. Not a race to determine who is faster. The race God has set before us is a marathon. It’s Talladega or the Indianapolis 500. It’s not about speed; it’s about endurance. And we’re not competing against each other to win; Christ has already won the race. He just wants us to finish alongside Him.

Hebrews 12 begins with the word therefore which means you need to refer to what was said in the previous verses to truly understand the context of what follows.

Hebrews 12 comes after Hebrews 11 (duh, I know, right?), but if you have the opportunity to read Hebrews 11, you should. Hebrews 11 is called the Faith Hall of Fame. It’s a chapter of names of people in the Old Testament who ran the race and ran it with endurance. They suffered. They struggled. They stumbled. But they finished.

Faith isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. The day is coming when something will hit you so hard you won’t know what to do about it. Something in your life will break loose. You’ll lose your job. You’ll lose a relationship. You’ll lose an opportunity. Your dreams will come crashing down around you. Your family will fall apart. And all you’ll want is an answer. All you’ll want from God is for Him to fix it … or to tell you why. And He may not do either.

But that’s His prerogative. And that’s where faith comes in, believing that even though things in your life aren’t going the way you think they should be that He still knows better. And that His way is better. And that however your story is going to end, you will keep running the race. You won’t look back. You won’t pick up additional weight as you run. You’ll just keep running.

It’s not an easy choice. But the wisest choices in life are rarely easy. Nobody accidentally finished a marathon; someone made choices before they started running and during the race itself to reach the finish line.

Romans 12:1-3 (The Message)

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!