Chasing God

October 28, 2016

Image result for picture of a runner

In Hebrews 10:36, the author exhorted his readers, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” [lit., “the promise”]. Then he devotes chapter 11 to many examples of Old Testament saints who endured by faith, although they did not receive the promise (Christ), which we have received. In our text, he returns to the theme of endurance, saying, “We have both this great cloud of witnesses from the Old Testament and Jesus Himself, who is the supreme example of one who endured horrible suffering by faith. He endured the cross and now is at the Father’s right hand.”

 

To run the Christian marathon with endurance, faith focuses on Jesus, who endured the cross and received the reward.

  1. The Christian life is a difficult marathon that we must run.

Many years ago, a young woman who was a drug addict found my name in the phone book and began calling me frequently. She was married with two small children, but she was hooked on drugs. She had no concept that normal people sleep at night, and so she would call at 2 a.m. from some phone booth where she was stoned out of her mind.

 

She professed to believe in Christ, and said that she wanted to follow Him, but she had no idea of what that meant. On one occasion when she was relatively sober, I described in detail what a daily walk with Christ looks like. I explained what a daily time in the Word and prayer was like, what obedience to the Bible means, how to think like a Christian, etc.

When I was done, I asked, “Have you ever done anything close to what I’ve just described?” She said, “Yeah, I did that once for two weeks, but it didn’t work.” She thought that she had given it a fair try in two weeks! I explained to her that the Christian faith isn’t a two-week sprint. It’s a lifelong marathon.

 

 

The Christian life is a lifelong, grueling race that entails some long hills to climb and some swampy marshes to plod through. To make it to the end, you need self-discipline to get into good shape, you will need to maintain your motivation, and you will need sustained effort. No one enters a marathon with the thought of dropping out after a mile. Finishing well is everything. In this race, you are not competing with other believers. We’re all on the same team. We’re competing against the enemy of our souls, who opposes God’s kingdom and wants us to drop out.

  1. To run the Christian marathon, we must get into shape and stay in shape.

The primary thing, as I said, is self-discipline motivated by the goal of finishing well. But it specifically involves two things:

  1. We must lay aside every encumbrance.

The word means weight. It can refer to physical weight (obesity), or to unnecessary baggage. Ancient Greek runners would actually run naked so as not to be encumbered. Olympic athletes in our day wear some pretty skimpy outfits. They don’t want anything to slow them down or drain their energy.

 

 

Encumbrances are distinguished here from sins. They include things that are not intrinsically wrong, but they’re wrong because they keep you from running as you should. If you got rid of those heavy hiking boots and put on some jogging shoes, you’d run better. If you dropped the pack and dressed in shorts and a tank top, you might finish the race.

 

 

At the risk of stepping on some toes, but to help you apply this, let me get more specific. Let’s say that in the morning, you don’t have time to read your Bible and your favorite blog before you head out the door to work or school. Which do you choose? You protest, “But I need to keep abreast of what’s happening in the world!” Really? Where does the Bible say that? It does say that you need to drink in “the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). Maybe you don’t have time to read anything because you don’t set your alarm early enough to spend just 10 minutes with the Lord. You need to shed the encumbrance of loving sleep or the paper more than God.

 

 

Too much recreation can be another encumbrance in the race. We all need some free time free to be renewed, but the question is, “How much time do you need?” Many Christians fill every evening watching TV or playing video games, but they don’t have time to study the Bible or read good books. They view the entire weekend as a time for recreation, even if it means missing church. To run the race, you’ve got to lay aside these encumbrances.

 

 

Some Christians ask the wrong question here. They ask, “What’s wrong with this movie, or listening to this music, or participating in this activity?” The right question is, “Does this help me to grow in godliness?” If not, cast it off as dead weight.

  1. We must lay aside every sin that so easily entangles us.

In biblical times people wore long robes. You can’t run with a long robe entangling your legs. You must either pull it up and tuck it in your belt or cast it totally aside. In the case of sin, you must totally get rid of it if you want to run the Christian race.

 

 

This doesn’t refer only to certain besetting sins, but to all sins. Sin always begins in the mind, and so we must judge all sin at the thought level. Pride, lust, envy, greed, anger, grumbling, selfishness—all of these things originate in our thought life. If you cut it off there, it goes no farther. If you entertain these things, they incubate and develop into sinful words and actions (James 1:14-15). But the author’s point is, you can’t run the Christian race if you keep tripping over your sins.

  1. To run the Christian marathon, we must run with endurance the course set before us.

Note two things:

  1. God sets the course.

If you’re running a marathon, you can’t make up your own course. If you stray from the course, you’ll be disqualified. The race is “set before us,” just as Jesus had “the joy set before Him.” God is the Sovereign One who sets the course for each of us, just as He set the course of the cross for Jesus.

 

 

To finish the Christian marathon, it’s important to keep in mind at all times that the Sovereign God sets the course. You may not like parts of the course. You may be prone to grumble, “Why did the course have to go over this hill, or through this swamp?” The answer is, “Because the Sovereign God planned it this way.” You won’t be able to run by faith unless you submit your will to His will.

  1. We must run with endurance.

Running with endurance requires adopting a certain mindset. If you have in mind that you’re running a 400-meter race, you’re not going to do well when the pack keeps going after 400 meters. When you learn that the race has barely begun, you’re going to quit with a bad attitude.

 

 

This is what Jesus meant when He talked about counting the cost of following Him (Luke 14:28-33). Before you make a glib commitment to be a Christian, think it through. Are you willing to put out the effort, the sweat, the endurance, and the pain of going the distance? If not, don’t start the race, because you’re going to look pretty silly when you drop out after 400 meters!

 

 

Obviously, one key to running the whole distance is motivation. But where do you get the motivation to run the Christian marathon? Our author suggests two sources, both valuable, but the second is incomparably greater than the first.

  1. The encouragement to keep running comes from those who have run before us, but primarily from Jesus Himself.

  2. The great cloud of witnesses encourages us to keep running.

The opening phrase of 12:1 refers back to chapter 11. All of the Old Testament saints, who endured all sorts of trials by faith, should encourage us to keep running when we feel like quitting. The word cloud was a classical Greek metaphor for a large multitude

There is a question about whether these witnesses are watching us from heaven as we run the race; or, more in line with the meaning of the word witness, do we look to their testimony as an example of how to run the race? There is no indication in the Bible (unless it is here) that those in heaven are watching us on earth.

Probably, with the race metaphor, the picture here is that as we run the race, along the route we encounter the Old Testament saints (and, by extension, other heroes of the faith in the New Testament, plus those who lived after biblical times). They are calling out to us by their examples of faith, “Keep going, I made it and you can, too! I know it’s hard, but the reward is worth it! Don’t quit! The finish line is not too far ahead!”

 

 

I would encourage you to study both the many interesting characters in the Bible and the great men and women who have run the race of faith over the course of church history. You’ll learn how they failed, so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes. And you’ll learn how they ran well, so that you can imitate their faith (13:7). Many of the battles they fought, whether on a personal level or in their ministries, you will have to fight, too.

 

 

No matter how tired, how worn, the bible promises rest and strength, they are both found by taking time to be with God.

 

God bless from scumlikeuschurch@gmail.com

 

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