The twelfth chapter of Hebrews begins with the words, "...we must rid ourselves of everything that slows us down..." Do you have things which slow you down in life? I think we all do. I have had to learn to do things at two different paces since my mom came to live with me over six years ago. One pace is my normal, get-er-done pace which is almost at light-speed compared to the other, which makes mom and I look like a race between the hare and the tortoise! Mom isn't able to move at the break-neck speeds I do anymore, so I have had to adjust some of my tasks to a slower speed. Now, I am not complaining about mom being someone who slows me down - I wouldn't want to miss a day of this life we have together. I just wanted to show how we sometimes have very "regular" things in life which slow us down - sometimes external to us, like another person; sometimes kind of internal, like raw emotions or fear. There is nothing which quite slows us down as much as the weight of sin in our lives, though. No person or other weight quite exerts the same pressure which sin does - pulling us down, loading us with guilt, and holding us in miry links to our past. Maybe this is why the rest of the verse we started with today goes on to say, "...especially the sin that just won't let go..." Look at that again - the sin that just won't let go. This implies sin has a way of holding us back - not letting us out of the clasp of its grip. This kind of puts a different spin on our sin, doesn't it? It isn't just us moving toward it and giving in to that temptation, it is that sin holding onto us like it would be losing its best friend if it let go! If you have ever had to break ties with a relationship which just wasn't the best for you to stay in because of the influence of that relationship, you know what I am about to say - this is tough work! It is hard to walk away from something which has a grasp on us - especially when there is ANY kind of emotional tie between the two objects!
We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete. He endured the shame of being nailed to a cross, because he knew that later on he would be glad he did. Now he is seated at the right side of God’s throne! (Hebrews 12:2 CEV)
The rest of the story is that there is a race laid out for us - one which we must actually engage in if we are to ever get beyond the starting blocks. No runner comes to the starting line, assumes the position, hears the crack of the starter's pistol, and then just gets up slowly, turns around and walks away from the race. Nope - they lurch forward with determination and hope they will make it all the way around the track to the finish line! Yet, somewhere along the way, they tire, feel the pull of fatigue, and want to just give up. The effort comes not in starting, but in finishing. Many a battered woman will tell you the effort needed to stay out of a damaging relationship they have walked away from is not in walking away, but in staying away from that relationship for the long-term. Why? The emotional warfare is hard - there is a hold that damaging relationship has on them which is quite difficult to break free of. Breaking free is one thing; living free is another.
How we live free is by changing our focus. I have said this frequently in my blog, but the truth bears repeating. The one crossing the finish line isn't the one who just toddles along aimlessly - it is the one who keeps their focus on the prize ahead. It may amuse some of us to see how we move toward sin at break-neck speed, but then tend to have the speed of the tortoise when it comes to turning away from it! It doesn't surprise or amuse God, though. He knows the hold our past has on us and he isn't surprised by how much pull it exerts on us to get us to quit once we have started this race toward a new life in his freedom. You would think one taste of freedom would make us really ravenous for more and more freedom, but as is often the case with anything held in captivity for a long period of time, when freedom comes they just don't know what to do with it!
Here is where we need the "rest of the story", as Paul Harvey would say. It is in keeping our eyes on Jesus that we stand the best chance of breaking free from what has held us captive. We come to understand and function within freedom only when we are being led into it! Christ leads us into freedom and then he helps us walk around in freedom until we become familiar with it - at first liberating, then a little uncomfortable because we don't fully understand what to do with this new-found freedom. It gives us liberty and we don't know how to handle liberty sometimes. Maybe we take it to excess, or just don't use it at all. He is there to help us know moderation, develop a "tolerance" to freedom, and to remind us repeatedly to forget what is behind. It is Christ who helps us run the race at break-neck speed toward the right goal - and it is also him who helps us develop the snail's pace to return to the things we left behind!
Christ endured the cross - not because he had to - but because he wanted to on behalf of each one of us. He had us in his mind as he took those final steps toward Calvary those many years ago. He has us each in his mind today as we take the tiniest of steps toward the freedom he calls us into. In his mind, we were foremost. In our minds, he is working to make us see him as "foremost". He endured what we could not - he provides what we cannot. He knew his effort on our behalf would be his greatest reward - for our freedom came at a huge cost - his life. His life for ours. Now that bespeaks love! Just sayin!