Our pastor recently asked us to keep this passage before us as a reminder of the fact we all run a race. As he shared, some run a direction all of their own choosing, but the run alone. As a believer in Christ, we run in a race alongside the greatest runner of all times - Christ himself. If having his example (pace-setting) before us was not enough, he left us with a huge crowd of "models" who also ran the race and won. We can learn much by considering how they ran.
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! (Hebrews 12:1-3 The Message)
I don't want to focus on these models today, though. I want us to really consider the content of this passage. There is some instruction on "how to" run the race which I think it would behoove us to see:
1. Strip down! In the military, we learned to run in combat boots, full fatigue uniform, and sometimes even with our packs on our backs. Now, if you have ever tried to run any distance in combat boots, you know this is not an easy feat. They are just not built for running! It is amazing to consider just how much "stuff" we want to carry into the spiritual race we run. We have burdens we just don't want to let go of - serving only to weigh us down. We have covered up our sins with ill-fitting facades - all they do is add extra weight and really are not helping us to run any better. We are to have our feet shod with the gospel of peace - - yet we plod along in "combat boots"! We hold onto anger and bitterness as though they were attached to our very soles (actually they are attached to our "souls"). The instruction: STRIP DOWN!
2. Start running! No race is ever won until we actually begin running! I have been both the observer on the sidelines and the runner in the race. I no longer can run in the natural sense due to the damage my knee has suffered over the years, but I can still cheer on those who do. In some senses, I miss the ability to run. There was something in the adrenaline rush of running alongside others -- pushing beyond your perceived capacity to run any longer until you got that second burst of energy. You don't get the energy until you run! Have you ever seen a runner out at 2:30 in the morning? I have. Why are they out there at that hour? Their body craves the run. I wonder how much we actually crave the run in the spiritual sense?
3. Keep your eyes on the finish line! If you run, there must be a destination in mind. If you just set off running without a goal in mind, you might not ever make it home. I think of the character "Forrest Gump" -- in the movie, he sets out one day to "run". He has no destination in mind -- he just runs. When he gets to the opposite coastline, he stops, turns around, and runs again. He does this several times until one day, he just stops. He is finished running. This is similar to us running without a goal in mind. We set out, run a long time, then just stop. We really don't have much to show for our running, but we can say we "ran". How much better is it to have run a race in which the goal is clearly in mind?
4. Study how Jesus did it! A good runner always has "pace-setters" in mind. He studies how others endure the race. He looks at how they pace themselves, where they rest, when they take nourishment -- how they run stands as an example for us to follow. Now, imagine learning how Jesus "paced" himself. You don't see him arriving on the scene (earth), taking over local governments, clearing the temples of all sinful characters, and announcing "I am God", do you? He allows himself to be "paced" by one who knows how the race should be run (his Father). He had dedicated times of rest. He took nourishment (both natural and spiritual) because without it, he'd not be able to continue on. Why do we attempt to run any differently?
5. You will get weary! Running fatigues the one running. It is natural to get weary in this race. What we do with the weariness determines if we will win the race! Do we rest a while, regrouping our spiritual strength, renewing our stamina to run hard again, or do we just give up? If we allow weariness to keep us from running hard again, the race beats us! I applaud our writer -- he is realistic. He warns us of the weariness which will come upon even the best runner. His advice to us -- review the race from the viewpoint of the winner! That will shoot adrenaline in your soul indeed!
So, are you running today? Have you stripped down? Is your goal clearly defined, or does it need some refining? Who are you holding out as a "pace-setter" in this race? Are you finding yourself weary? Maybe it is time to refocus, renew, and re-engage in the race. See you on the "track", my friends!