Run Well

Four different times in scripture, Paul likens living a life for Christ to running a race – and rightly so!
Life, just like a marathon, can be long and difficult – filled with unexpected turns and uphill battles.  There may be times when you just feel like sitting down and giving up.
However, there are also mile markers filled with joy, refreshing, and feelings of successful accomplishments along the way.  There are also downhill stretches that take you through cool valleys and past beautiful scenes of God’s creation.
There are harsh competitors that will do anything that they can to throw you off course, but there are also friends who run along side of you to encourage and strengthen you along your race.
This morning, we’re going to learn how to run this race well and how to avoid pitfalls that keep us from reaching the finish line that Christ has planned for us.
Hebrews 12:1-3
1 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, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Just these few verses of scripture contain an intense amount of life-transforming information.
Starting out with the very first word; therefore.  This ‘therefore’ refers to chapter 11, which goes down through the great people of faith and all that they endured and sacrificed because of their faith.  Willing even to be sawed in two, to live in holes in the ground, to be stoned and imprisoned all because of their faith.  Yet they did not receive what we have today.  In fact, the verse just previous to this chapter states that God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.
What a cloud of witnesses we have!  Not only do we have those people all around us in the natural world within our sphere of influence, but there are also those in the spiritual realm and the thought that all of these people did what they did working together with us!  These great people of faith are sort of like the great crowds that line up along a race track to cheer on those who are racing.  They were pioneers who prepared the way for us to be able to run our race of faith with complete perseverance.  That’s quite a heavy responsibility!  However, this better thing that God planned to do together with us and them, He will faithfully equip and enable us to be!
So here, we also find keys in running this race of life.
First of all, we are to run with perseverance.  This means that we live a consistent and persistent life.  We live for Jesus not just on Sunday mornings, we live for Jesus 24/7/365 because it’s not a matter of acting like a Christian, it’s a matter of being a Christian.  This fact doesn’t change whether we are at church, work, home, golfing, hunting; whatever we do, we’re doing it for the glory of God.  Whether life is going great or we’re suffering through the greatest of trials, we still trust in Jesus for everything – which is the greatest display of perseverance.
Next, we are to run the race marked out for us.  This means that we know that God created us with a divine plan and purpose.  Just like any race, our lives have this divine plan marked out for us.  However, we do not always keep this in mind and often stray off of this course and down our own path.  This path never leads to the blessings that God intended for us and usually contains all sorts of dangers and troubles.  It could be that we live our lives completely ignorant of God’s will for our lives, the marked path for us.
However, it could also be that we are aware of God’s path marked out for us, but we see a possible shortcut to getting down the course faster and take a risk on it.  When we do this in life, we may end up walking into the future plans that God had for us too soon and realize that there was a purpose and reason that we needed to take the path set out for us.
It could also be that along the course of our lives, we take our eyes off of Jesus and begin to stray off of this set path unknowingly.  The most common thing that causes this to happen is when we are enticed and pulled away from God’s marked out path by temptations.  This scripture called us to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
Often, we take on burdens that God never planned for us to carry.  These things may not necessarily be sin, but they are certainly things that hinder us.  It could be us saying ‘Yes’ to take on responsibilities out of obligation when we should have said ‘No’.  It could be relationships that we were never supposed to enter into.  It could be overspending on things that we didn’t really need.  All of these things may not necessarily be sin, but are examples of things that we can take on that hinder us.
These are sort of like hitchhikers along the path that God has set out for us.  God designed us to be able to run our race, but once we start putting extra people, responsibilities, and extra belongings onto ourselves, our run begins to slow down to a crawl.
Can you imagine a person running a race with a few extra people on their back, working on a project, and carrying a wagon full of junk behind them all at the same time?  You’d never see it in reality!  In fact, runners clear their minds and prepare their bodies and attire so that their attention is fully fixed on the race itself as to run distraction and hindrance free.  That’s how God planned for us to run as well; only taking on that which He had planned and prepared for us.
Next, we must be careful not to grow weary and lose heart.  To do this, we are called to consider Jesus, who endured such opposition from sinners.  Even though Jesus lived a perfect and sinless life, He was frequently accused of being a sinner and being disobedient to God’s word.  He never let this accusations and the people who constantly tried to ensnare Him from slowing Him down or holding Him back.  He was always careful to spend time with His heavenly Father and to cooperate only with Him, no matter what people said or did to oppose Him.
This is another thing that we are faced with as we run our race – those who oppose.  In fact, this is another time in scripture when Paul uses the race running analogy.
Galatians 5:7-10
7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.
Now this scripture is in direct context of the Jewish believers forcing Gentile believers to get circumcised.  Paul had grown so fed up with the issue that in verse 12, he said that he wishes that these people would just chop the whole thing off.  Yes, this is in the Bible and written by the good ole’ Apostle Paul.
The truth is that we all too often allow other people to come in and cut in on our good race.  We allow their words or actions to cause us to stumble or to stop and question ourselves.  We allow rumors and gossip to pervert our perspective of God, His Church, and others.
The truth is that we are not responsible before God for what others do to us, what they say about us, or how they feel toward us.  However, we are responsible before God for what we do to others, what we say about others, and how we feel toward others; we’re also responsible for how we react or respond to others.
When our time comes and either we pass on from this life to the next, or Jesus returns to call us all back home, we’ll stand before God at that Bema seat judgment.  It’s not a judgment of Heaven or Hell, but an accounting time for believers.  God will take all of our works, motives, and behaviors and put them to the test.  On that day, we will not be able to say, “Yeah, but they…”.  God will simply say, “It’s just you and I here, they are irrelevant.  What you did, what you said, and how you felt toward them is all that matters here.  They’ll have to answer for their own selves.  Right now, it’s just you and I.”   We have to be so careful not to allow people to cut in on our race and either knock us off track or disqualify us altogether!  Our race is our responsibility.
In fact, Paul continues on in this chapter:
Galatians 5:13-15
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
Everything that God asks us to do is boiled down quite simply – to love others as you love yourself.  Treat other people the way you would want to be treated, speak about other people the way that you would want them to speak about you, work for your employers as you would want a hired person to work for you, you get the idea…
Another scripture where Paul gave this race analogy is here:
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
So, get out there and run the race that God has marked out for you!  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and your ears ever listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit within you.  Don’t let anyone cut in on your good race!  Beat that flesh, those thoughts, and those emotions into obedience to Christ so that you don’t disqualify yourself from the priceless blessings from God – knowing that His word and His commands are given for our good and for our benefit!  Run well!