How to Run My Life Race Well
Three top contenders in the Bangalore Half Marathon were following their pace car when the car missed a turn and led the runners 2.5 miles in the wrong direction. The mistake occurred about nine miles into the 13.1-mile course, and the runners didn’t realize right away that the crowd had disappeared. They had to borrow money from morning joggers in a Bangalore neighborhood so they could buy train tickets to the finish line.
Even though they were running with complete sincerity, they were running the wrong way. There is only one route in a race and they missed it. And even though people may believe something else with all sincerity, the Bible is clear that there is only one route to salvation: Jesus Christ.1
I want to share with you how to run my life race well from Hebrews 12:1-2. Let’s first look at four truths to remember about my life from this passage. From this passage, I want to encourage you and challenge you in your relationship with Jesus.
FOUR TRUTHS TO REMEMBER ABOUT MY LIFE
1. Life is a race.
…the race that lies before us,” (Hebrews 12:1, CSB)
Life is a race. The Bible uses the image of a marathon race for how we live life.
“It is like a bridegroom coming from his home; it rejoices like an athlete running a course.” (Psalm 19:5, CSB)
“Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24, CSB)
“by holding firm to the word of life. Then I can boast in the day of Christ that I didn’t run or labor for nothing.” (Philippians 2:16, CSB)
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7, CSB)
The Bible speaks about life like a race.
2. Other people in the faith are my cheerleading section.
“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us…” (Hebrews 12:1, CSB)
The cloud of witnesses is not spectators. You read this section and you think that there are a bunch of people sitting on clouds watching the game, like the ultimate nose-bleed seats. But that is not what is going on here. These people are not spectators. They are former martyrs. These are people in the faith who have endured and died for their faith. These people are listed in Hebrews 11. They are examples who cheer us on. It is not so much they who look at us as we who look to them—for encouragement.2
“For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures.” (Romans 15:4, CSB)
These faith followers encourage us with the story of their own life races. In essence, they become my own cheerleading squad as I run in the race of life. As I run this life marathon, these people are the ones cheering me up and encouraging me to consider. They are more like the people on the side watching the race and helping me along.
While these witnesses are people from the past who watch us in the present, I also believe that we can be cheerleaders for one another. I know it is not easy to cheer other people on. But we could all use encouragement. The Bible teaches us to encourage one another.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, CSB)
We should encourage and build one another up. It should be a continual pattern and habit.
“And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, CSB)
SUNDAY FAITH PEP RALLIES
This is the reason we meet together. We meet in Sunday School to encourage one another as we read the Bible. We meet in worship so that we can provoke love and good works. So that we can we can encourage one another as we see the day for Jesus to return coming closer.
When I was in high school, we had what we called pep rallies on Fridays. We would shorten class for 5 minutes each class so that we could have a full 30-minute pep rally. I played in the band and so I got out extra early so that I could go to the band hall and pick up my instrument and then head to the gymnasium. When we got there, the cheerleaders would come out, we would play, and there would be students in the stands. The cheerleaders had banners painted and set up so that the football team could come crashing through. After the football comes crashing through, the band plays a few songs. The cheerleaders chant a few cheers. The coach comes out and encourages the team.
When we meet here on Sundays, we are here to encourage one another. We come to sing songs that lift us up and focus us on our God. Then we listen to our Coach. No, not the pastor. The Coach is Jesus.
So life is a race. Other people in the faith are my cheerleaders. Jesus is my coach.
3. Jesus is my Coach.
“keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2, CSB)
Jesus ran this race. He ran it well. But His race was hard. He was my “forerunner.” Now, He is my coach. He teaches me how to run my race.
FOUR WAYS JESUS COACHES ME TO RUN MY RACE
1. Look forward to the joy.
“…For the joy that lay before him…” (Hebrews 12:2, CSB)
That means that He kept His head up high and always looked forward to God’s promises. God promised Jesus joy.
2. Endure the present
“…he endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2, CSB)
Jesus knew that the present sufferings are temporary. He exercised patient endurance. I should be willing to endure suffering for Jesus because He endured the cross for me. Although He knew death on the cross was a shameful death, Jesus despised the shame and accepted this death willingly. Because He did all this, Jesus attained His joy and attained salvation for us.3
Paul says the same thing:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18, CSB)
As a matter of fact, the writer of Hebrews will encourage us as believers to continue based on Jesus’ example.
“For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up. In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:3–4, CSB)
Jesus didn’t give up on you. So, don’t give up on Him. Keep running the race of faith.
3. Look down on the shame. Don’t let the shame get me down.
“…despising the shame...” (Hebrews 12:2, CSB)
Jesus looked shame in the face and stared it down. You know, there are difficult things in our lives that we have to stare down if we are going to continue to run this race. One of them is the shame.
Here are a few verses to remind us that Jesus didn’t let shame get Him down. He looked down at the shame that He endured.
“he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8, CSB)
“Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing his disgrace.” (Hebrews 13:13, CSB)
Jesus took on our sin. He took up the shame that came with it. He carried it and buried it with Him. Because Jesus bore my shame, along with my sin, I don’t have to let it stop me from moving forward. There are going to be times in my life when I will endure shame. I will endure shame because of my sin. I will also endure shame for standing up for Christ.
Jesus endured an enormous amount of shaming from other people. He was bullied. People mocked Him. They spat on Him. They cursed Him. Jesus didn’t let those words hurt Him. Instead, He kept moving forward. He kept running His race. Because Jesus was able to endure shame, He teaches us to endure it was well, by staring my shame down for what it is. It is a hindrance in my race. But I can overcome the hindrance that shame brings. I can stare it down and continue forward.
4. I will be honored for the race I ran.
“keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith…and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2, CSB)
Jesus got His own bragging rights. NFL champions have their Super Bowl rings. Olympic competitors have their medals. Jesus has His throne.
We won’t get the same bragging rights. But we will get our own honor. As Christians, we will be rewarded for enduring the race with distinction. God will honor that by rewarding Christians. These rewards include crowns, but they also include enduring words: “Good and faithful servant.”
Because I am going to be honored for the race that I ran, I can hold my head up high and finish the race well.
4. I can finish the race well.
“Therefore…let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1–2, CSB)
In order for me to finish the race well, I need to work on some things in my life. There are things that I need to lay aside if I am going to run this race in life well. These are things that I have to lay aside, to put away, to not take up. It’s there. I see it. I know it. But I don’t have to take it up. This implies that there are things that weigh me down and snare me up. These “things” I need to set aside.
Hindrances that weigh me down.
The author of Hebrews mentions two types of impediments that hinder our progress. The first type is not overtly sinful, but it “hinders” us just the same. In reality, “good” things such as work, recreation, money, and friends often become the enemy of the best and keep us from running as effectively as we could. We must “throw off” even the good things if they hinder our progress in our Christian faith.
Just as a runner would never compete wearing a heavy uniform, Christians must make sure that they are not weighted down with unnecessary baggage. It is all too easy for us to become attached to the things of this world (1 John 2:15, 16), so we must constantly throw off those things that slow us down.4
Hindrances weigh me down. What is weighing me down? What is distracting me from running the race that God has for me?
The reflection from the sun is supposed to let us see the brilliance of the moon, which has no light of its own. The moon is dark 24/7. The sun reflects off of the moon so that the beautiful moon is actually the result of the work of the sun.
Now on some days we can see a full moon, on other days we can see a half moon. On yet another day, only a quarter of the moon is visible, and then at times we can’t see the moon at all. How come we don’t always get the full moon? Because whenever there is less than a full moon, it means the Earth is in the way. The Earth has gotten between a portion of the moon and the sun. The moon’s reflection is interrupted as Earth moves in its orbit. Earth simply keeps getting in the way.
Many of us are not able to move forward in our lives, because Earth keeps getting in the way. We are so focused on time, and so foggy about eternity, that the benefits of eternity are not able to penetrate the realities of time and we are stuck with what we see.5
Sins that trip me up.
We should also get rid of “the sin that so easily entangles.” While he does not name any specific sin, the writer was probably referring to the sin of unbelief. It was unbelief that kept Israel out of the Promised Land, and it is unbelief that hinders us from entering into our spiritual inheritance in Christ. The phrase “by faith” (or “through faith”) is used twenty-one times in Hebrews 11, indicating that it is faith in Christ that enables us to endure.6 The second type of impediment (sin) is often more destructive than the first. Lust dilutes our devotion, while immorality destroys our witness. Pride creates divisions within the body, while gossip destroys the body from within. A quick temper drives others away from us, while hypocrisy drives them away from Christ. All these sins and others, which entangle us all too easily, must be thrown off if we are to run the race of the Christian life.7
Sin ensnares. It “snares me up.” What sins are snaring me up? What sins are trapping me, tripping me, and preventing me from being my best?
The first half of the New York City Marathon is a party. You’re swept along by 28,000 runners and the crowds lining the streets. You’re touring the ethnic neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens. You feel like you could run forever. At mile 13, you cross over into Manhattan and start heading north, away from the finish line. The crowds are thinner now. The party’s over.
At about mile 16 or 18, you hit the wall. You’re absolutely miserable. Physically and psychologically, you’re busted. I remember passing one of the first-aid stations, where runners were lying on cots—pale and gaunt, with IVs dripping into their arms. I thought, Those lucky dogs. At that point I began to despair. I imagined myself having to go home and tell everybody I didn’t finish. Why did I ever sign up for this race? What made me think I could do this?
That’s when it hit me: one way or another, I had to get to Central Park. I had no car, no money. I would have to get there on my own two feet. So I might as well keep running. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t think about the next six miles; just think about the next step. Gradually the miles will pass. And when you cross that finish line, it feels like glory—even when you’re in 10,044th place.
Some of you may be hitting the wall right now—feeling like you can’t go on, like you’ll never make it. Following Christ is harder than you ever imagined it would be, and you’re thinking about giving up—about doing something foolish. Don’t do it!
There’s no magic to endurance racing. It’s all about making it to the finish line.8
Looking to Jesus, you and I can run our race and finish well.
1 Jim L. Wilson and Rodger Russell, “Running the Wrong Course in the Bangalore Marathon,” in 300 Illustrations for Preachers, ed. Elliot Ritzema (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015). Originally from Dhanya Ann Thoppil, “Bangalore Marathon Leaders Get Lost, Take Train to Finish Line,” http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2014/10/20/bangalore-marathon-leaders-get-lost-take-train-to-finish-line/.
2 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 333.
3 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Messianic Jewish Epistles: Hebrews, James, First Peter, Second Peter, Jude, 1st ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2005), 171.
4 James R. Girdwood, Book of Hebrews: Blueprints for 30 Messages Built upon God’s Word, ed. Bob Buller, Solid Foundation Sermon Starters (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 1999), 58.
5 Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from More than 30 Years of Preaching and Public Speaking (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 88.
6 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 323.
7 James R. Girdwood, Book of Hebrews: Blueprints for 30 Messages Built upon God’s Word, ed. Bob Buller, Solid Foundation Sermon Starters (Cincinnati, OH: Standard Publishing, 1999), 58.
8 Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), 419. From Bryan Wilkerson, “Endurance,” PreachingToday.com.
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