Encouragement for Fellow "Weary" Runners
Thoughts on Hebrews 12:1-13
By Kara Ranck
Every four years, the world watches as the best athletes in their field gather to compete in the summer Olympics. While large crowds fill the stands, even more people fill their living room couches to watch the world’s fastest runners clock times on the track. Our hearts pound with them, we hold our breath and sit on the edge of our seats as their arms swing and feet fly towards the finish line. As they race, they are running towards a goal—the podium, a medal, a new record, world recognition.
With the current change of season—winter to spring—and the changing weather, it struck me that we don’t watch or compete in running races in the winter. That may seem obvious, but take a minute to picture the Olympians barreling down the track in cold weather gear—hats, parkas, ski pants, and snow boots. Maybe even carrying a sled. Now just think, how many of us are running the race of life burdened with the weight of selfishness, greed, idolatry, and addiction? We are slowed down by self-righteousness, relational discord, anger, and impurity. We try to run the race of life carrying the baggage that weighs us down. Often we take our eyes off the prize, slowing down, and instead gaze inwardly at self or outwardly to the runner beside us.
The writer of Hebrews uses this picture of a foot race complete with spectators to call us to endure through the race of this life. He reminds us that fellow runners who have successfully completed their life’s race are watching us and cheering us on (1).
Since we have spectators as well as people running alongside us, we are to consider how we are running. If we are running alone, it doesn’t really matter what our pace is or if we get in another’s way, and no one will see if we trip and fall. Are we running in our snow gear, holding on to things that slow us down and hinder our progress and performance? Is our sin preventing us from running well, tripping us up, and slowing us down? Is our sin hindering our brother or sister running beside us? He says, in essence, “Tear off and throw down all that is holding you back, leave it on the side of the track, and then run (my paraphrase, 2).”
There are some hurdles we must jump. Some handicaps we cannot shed off. These may be illness, harm inflicted by another, the death of a loved one—circumstances beyond our control. These, the writer states, we are endure as discipline. This is would equate to a runner completing resistance training in order to strengthen and push themselves further. Our suffering is not to cut us down, but rather build us up—strengthening our tired hands and weakened knees—when we are trained by them (3).
While we are running along it’s easy to look around and think, “What is the purpose of this race? Can I just stop and catch my breath, get a drink, lie down and rest?” But good runners start a race with the end in mind and focus on the prize to remind themselves of why they are enduring when difficulty comes. Likewise, we are to fix our eyes on Jesus (4). He is the prize and our encouragement to press on; he graciously grants us faith and perfects it in us. We are to look to him as an example of endurance through the most difficult circumstances—physical death by crucifixion, taking on the spiritual death of our sin and descending to hell, and winning the fight against darkness on our behalf (5).
We have hope because he promises we will succeed and finish the race because he already won it for us! We undeservingly get the gold, the first place finish, the world record that will remain undefeated, and his fame because he simply offers it to us as a free gift. Philippians 2: 5-11 gives us a beautiful, humbling picture of Christ the victor with every knee bowing and every tongue confessing he is Lord.
1. 1. Hebrews 12:1
2. 2. Hebrews 12:1
3. 3. Hebrews 12:12-13
4. 4. Hebrews 12:2
5. 5. Hebrews 12:3-4