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A Profile of Enduring Faith - Training|
"Going for the Gold" - (Hebrews 12:1-3)
Many of the greatest runners in history never won any medals, never set any records on an actual track, and probably never put on a pair of track shoes. But, in God's eyes they were still gold medal winners. One person in particular was Paul who said,
"I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Then you have people like Amy Carmichael, who ran a long and exhausting race of bringing the love of Christ to the outcasts and untouchables of the country of India. And then there's William Wilberforce and the grueling marathon he ran in the British Parliament to get England out of the business of the slave trade.
Those people were champions of enduring faith. They were gold medalists who ran their particular races against some pretty formidable odds.
As I think about us here, I realize that there might still be a few, perhaps many, of us here who think that enduring faith is only for the stained glass saints of days gone by. Some of us might still think that not every believer can have the kind of faith that goes the distance like the people listed in Hebrews 11. But, it's not true!
Spiritual Boot Camp
The author of Hebrews gives his readers some coaching so that they could not only run in the race of faith, but run all the way to the finish and win the gold medal from God's point of view. That's what many of us need today. Hebrews 12 is like a training camp for spiritual marathon racers. All of those who want to have enduring faith have to train here. There are no exceptions.
Coaching Tips for the Gold
Here are four coaching tips we need to keep us going for the gold:
The first thing the coach does is offer his runners education. Look at Hebrews 12:1a,
"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses…"
The New Living Translation puts it this way, "Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith."
He opens up training camp by urging us to learn from the examples of the list of winners in the previous chapter. He's educating us with the reminders of all the people who were not necessarily of any special class of people, not necessarily highly educated, not necessarily perfect, or overly mystical when it came to their walk with God.
I don't know about you, but what captures me about people who are my contemporary heroes-of-the-faith is that they're still going for God. Even if they have gotten off track in their lives, they didn't stay there long. They have gotten back on track and are still in the race.
It's not an easy race, is it? There are times when it seems extremely difficult to live for Christ and keep going on. It's not a coincidence that the word used in verse 1 for "race" comes from the Greek word, "agon," from which we get our word, "agony." In the Holy Spirit's sovereign ministry of using the author's grasp of language, He chose a word that pictures athletes in an agonizing foot race all the way to the finish line.
Cloud of Historical Witnesses
I don't believe that the reference to the witnesses in Hebrews 12:1 is referring to an actual crowd of onlookers - as if there were some full set of grandstands in heaven with people watching our lives down here. I believe that the reference is here to remind us of the endurance of faith of those who've already run the race. By thinking of their examples we can better run and finish our own part of the race. By looking to the examples of our contemporary heroes still in the race we can be energized to keep running, too.
You and I need the coaching of education - learning from both past and present runners.
I have a friend who is about 55 years of age and runs a marathon every year. Every year he gets better and better. His goal is to get his time fast enough where he can run in the Boston marathon. He trains all year long. We used to run together almost every morning before he got that ambitious. But, it was definitely encouraging to run with a partner.
Proper Clothing - Proper Warm-Ups
If you were going to run in a long-distance race you would want to be as prepared as possible before you ran too far. You would need to do things like stretch and loosen up, make sure you are dressed right, had on the right shoes, and knew the kinds of things to do to be successful.
Look at what the coach tells us to do as far as preparation for the race,
"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us" (Hebrews 12:1, NASB).
Rid Yourself of Excess
So, what we need to do as far as preparing for the race of the life of faith is to put aside anything and everything that might weigh us down and keep us from running a good race. The word, "encumbrance," suggests any type of excess weight. The Greek term used here literally refers to "mass" or "bulk." The New Living Translation says, "Let us strip off every weight that slows us down." It would be like trying to run a race in thick, heavy sweat pants and boots.
What all of that translates into for you and me as Christians today is anything that would slow our pace and hinder us from going forward and growing in our walk with God. It could be things like an
- a lack of spiritual and mental discipline,
or anything else that might hinder us from going forward for God. It could even be good things that take the place of better or the best things.
He also mentions "the sin which so easily entangles us." What's being referred to here in context is, most likely, the sin which hinders our growth and progress forward in the faith. In the context of Hebrews 10-12 it's the sin of "unbelief" - not believing God's totally dependable Word.
Lack of trust in God's Word can be like a leg cramp!
A couple of months ago I had a pulled hamstring muscle that would not let me run or even do leg workouts. Every time I tried to run, I would end up hobbling after about a mile. If you and I don't completely trust God and His Word we'll get a spiritual leg cramp and be hindered from running well in the race.
But if the phrase, "the sin which so easily entangles" doesn't refer to the sin of unbelief, then it could refer to sins that easily creep up on each one of us. All of us have some specific types of what are called, "besetting sins." They are sins into which we fall very easily. What entices someone else easily may not necessarily entice you. But, there are some sins that have no trouble wiggling into our lives through our eyes, ears, touch, taste, and thought, simply because of who we are. There are also specific sins that don't appeal to us but seem to really attract others.
The point is this:
If we're going to go the distance and finish well in this life of faith we've got to strip our souls naked of everything that hinders us and the sins that so easily entangle us.
Before God, what are your hindrances and besetting sins? I would strongly encourage you not only to identify them but to name them before God and ask Him to help you strip your soul of them. A hindrance can be a perfectly good thing that pulls you down. A besetting sin is just that - sin - and there's no debate. You just need to get rid of it.
That's the coach's talk on preparation. Now for his next word…
Notice that the last part of Hebrews 12:1 says,
"and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."
Hang in There
The word, "endurance," is the steady determination to keep going, regardless of the fact that we may feel like taking a detour or like hanging it up altogether. Endurance is all about "gutting it out" and "hanging tough" - not allowing ourselves to be diverted from the course.
This may date some of us. But, do you remember the toy vinyl clowns with the sand in the bottom, about 36-48 inches tall with the nose you could punch? Every time you'd punch them they'd pop back up. That's a picture of endurance. That's how the Lord wants you and me to learn how to "hang in there."
Our race is the one God has marked out for us individually.
What About Him?
You and I may look at what God is doing in someone else's life and we may think their life is going too easy and ours is too hard. It's like when the Lord Jesus was talking to Peter about the remainder of his life and ministry. Peter looked over at John, the disciple that Jesus loved and said, "What about him, Lord?" Jesus responded, "What about him? My plan for John's life is different than my plan for your life, Peter. You need to keep on following me!" (John 21:18-22).
What About Me?
The race course God has for you is tailor-made to you so that you can bring God pleasure and glory and honor in a way no one else can. We can all finish well if we keep going and keep our head in the race God has for each one of us. Hang in there!
Next, the coach talks to us about…
If we have reminded ourselves of those who've come before us, prepared ourselves by getting rid of hindrances and sinful entanglements, and are running our race with perseverance, we then need to have a certain focus that will ensure our finishing the race.
Notice the writer says,
"Fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and has set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2, NASB)
Perfecter of Faith
It says that Jesus is the "author and perfecter of faith." That means that he is the pioneer, the ultimate example, the perfect picture of trust in the Word of God. Jesus lived on and trusted every word that came out of the Father's mouth (Matt. 4:4). Jesus continues to be the author and perfecter of our faith by what he continues to do in us today. Not only does he give us faith as a gift (Eph. 2:8-9 Matt. 11:27), but then he refines and matures our faith (Heb. 11).
We can fix our focus on all sorts of things. Many times we focus on our problems, challenges or hardships. Other times we can look for answers elsewhere and shift our focus from the Word of Christ.
That's why the writer says what he does. The word he uses in the Greek literally means that,
We must deliberately lift our eyes from other distracting things and focus with utter concentration on Him - and continue doing so.
I'm sure that most of us have had those times or conversations where there were distractions in the background and it took us an extra effort to focus on the person or thing in front of us. That's the picture here.
In a race it's easy to get distracted and lose your footing. Sometimes runners can get distracted by the people on the sidelines not even in the race. Other times we can be distracted by those beside us in the race.
Jesus Our Sympathizer
Not only did Jesus start and finish the race you're in, but he is also sympathetic to your struggles and will give you mercy and grace to help you right when you need it (Heb. 4:15).
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (ESV).
Fix your eyes on Jesus and learn to keep them there. Verse 3 is really all about how to keep that focus. The writer says,
"For consider Him who has endured such hostility from sinners against himself so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Heb. 12:3, NASB).
Avoiding Spiritual Collapse
Growing weary and losing heart is an ancient, athletic way of describing a runner's exhausted collapse.
The way you and I can avoid a spiritual collapse is to constantly remind ourselves about Jesus and what he chose to endure for us. Remind yourself of what God promises ahead for you, too. He's saying that to run well and finish the race our life is to be spent, our days and hours are to be spent considering how Jesus lived.
Going for the Gold
As we close this section on instructions about going for the gold, I have the sense that most of us really need to focus on the area of preparation. What hindrances - legitimate things that might be pulling you down - do you need to cast aside?
Where do you have a tough time really letting go and trusting God? That's the sin of unbelief. What sin or sins is it easy for you to fall into? Those are the sins that so easily entangle us. Be specific. Be decisive and get away from those things. Build some accountability and safety nets into your life.
Live Hour by Hour Remembering His Sacrifices for You
Finally, what distracts you from keeping your focus on the Lord? You cannot pursue sin and God at the same time. They are mutually exclusive activities. Learn to live day by day, hour by hour thinking about what Jesus went through for you to have all of the temporal and eternal blessing that you have.
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