So then, with endurance, let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.
Last week I ran a trail marathon race. I do that sort of thing fairly often as one of my quirky hobbies. My goal was to have a good time, to keep a steady relaxed pace throughout, and not let my competitive spirit take over.
I admit that when 70 of us left the starting line and headed into the woods, I kept to my goal, chatting with a bunch of other runners for the first few miles and taking it easy. But then I started to notice a few people who had taken to a faster pace than me, and I realized I wasn’t even sure how many were up ahead. And then the kicker— a runner OLDER than me passed me (we all have our breaking points) and the temptation took over to keep pace with those ahead. But the problem, as I learned later- was that they weren't even running my specific race!
You see, multiple races were happening at the same time that morning. Though we all began at the starting line, some people would soon peel off for a 5 mile loop. Others would continue and do a 10 mile race. Still others were running a half marathon, and finally, some of us would continue on to do the 26 miles.
And we were all running along the same course for quite a while. Almost without thinking, I was trying to match stride with others running a completely different race than mine, which would require a completely different pace.
I do indeed love a good running analogy, and the Apostle Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews, it's a big debate) gives a great one. He challenges his readers to throw off the sins that get in their way of freedom with God, as well as the religious trappings that they are learning to leave behind in the new realm of grace. And it's all so they can run freely.
It's a race that God has "marked out for us." Yet even though we are surrounded by a witness of those who have run before, and even though we are surrounded by the presence of those who are running alongside us, we can only correctly know our course through one single way. And that way is looking steadily at Jesus.
There is clearly a shared experience with other disciples as we run along seeking to faithfully live in God's kingdom. However, just as the calling of each of the disciples was unique (take the exchange between Jesus and Peter about John as an example), there is an individuality about our journey too. The reality is that, even when the start and finish line are similar, the journey each of us takes with Jesus is going to be unique. And if our only approach is just to look comparatively at others rather than fixing our eyes on him, we will not be running the race marked out for us. We'll be caught up in someone else's race.
That doesn't mean that our brothers and sisters don't matter. It's quite the opposite. There is great beauty in the shared experience of faith (like I wrote about last week), but faith community is always the healthiest when together, we are each personally seeking Jesus.
When disciples are at our best, we encourage each other as we seek to follow Jesus, despite knowing that there will be different twists and turns that each of our lives take as we faithfully love God and our neighbors. So we make space for each person to run the race and the pace God has marked out for them, alongside our own.
Where have your eyes not been fully fixed on the loving leadership of Jesus?
Where have you been running a race or a pace that is not yours to run?
Identifying these areas can help us walk in personal faithfulness to Jesus, and in grace-filled love toward each other.
The beautiful thing about my race experience last week was that afterwards, we all enjoyed watermelon and gatorade and snacks together. With laughter (and regret) we shared the good and the bad from our miles out on the trail, and the distances we each ran was almost irrelevant. We had shared a journey, and we had crossed the finish line, and we had done it together, each in our own way. It was worth celebrating.
Jesus, help me fix my eyes on you today and run the race you've marked out for me.