Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1
Races have a certain hype or excitement to them, whether it is horses or people who pit their energies and strength against one another. Anyone who has ever participated in a race, be it a 5 or 10-kilometer run, or a marathon, realizes that pacing yourself is very, very important. The individual who exhausts his energies early in the race has nothing to draw upon when the finish is near and he needs that extra reserve, that extra kick, to finish and win.
One of the analogies, which is found throughout the New Testament, is that of the distance runner who represents the believer in the race of life. Writing to believers who were familiar with the games, which were celebrated throughout the Roman Empire, the writer of Hebrews, likens the Christian to the athlete who enters the vast coliseum in a race. Instead of a coliseum filled with noisy spectators, the writer of this book says that you as a believer are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, men and women who have run the race down through the centuries, who are there to encourage and cheer you on.
Going one step further, the writer gives some practical advice which provides guidelines for living today. He begins these three guidelines with the words, "Let us..." including himself with the vast number of people who have run the race of life.
He begins by saying, "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles..."(Hebrews 12:1). Simply put, he says that two things hinder your Christian walk: one he describes as a weight, or an encumbrance, something which hinders your progress; the other he describes as a sin. But both are to be put aside. Some things are not wrong in themselves, but they become wrong when our priorities give them an edge over our families and our God.
The "sin which doth so easily beset us" as King James puts is, is a graphic word. The Greek word bears the idea of something that ambushes you, or encircles you, or traps you. It's the thought of something gradually working its way into your life, until that habit has you in its grips. Both, he says, should go.
The second piece of advice is, "Let us run with perseverance, ["patience/endurance" is the way another translation puts it], "the race marked out for us" (12:1). He is saying, "Don't give up! Pace yourself. It's a long race, so don't quit halfway to the finish line." There's another interesting thought here. You don't choose the pathway. It's done for you. Neither do you choose the time or place of your birth, or the burdens and challenges you must face. But before you were born, God knew exactly the path that you would be required to run, so nothing in your life comes as a surprise to Him. He knew about the difficulty that you face long before you were born.
The third, "Let us..." is perhaps the most important of all because it deals with perspective and motivation. He says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...."
In 1954, two men--both of whom had broken the four-minute mile, met on the same track in Vancouver, Canada. Australian, John Landy, led the race for most of the time. But at the final stretch of the race, Roger Bannister, a British neurologist, saw his opportunity when Landy looked over his left shoulder. Bannister surged past on Landy's right and won the race.
Friend, looking back always gets you into trouble. It's the upward look that really counts. Make a note of Hebrews 12 in your New Testament and apply those three powerful guidelines to your life today. It can, indeed, make a real difference.
Resource reading: Hebrews 12:1-3