When I was in high school I ran cross-country. We would train by running eight to ten miles a day about four times a week. The purpose was to build endurance and effectiveness when the pressure of a two-mile race up and down hills was the runners’ reality. Suffice it to say it wasn’t always fun, but it did prepare me to run better.
A cross-country team can have an unlimited number of runners compete for a school. Runners are not required to meet a specific time to qualify to run the next race. You simply need to keep running and endure. A cross-country course will generally create some hills to challenge the runners’ endurance. Our school raced at a local agricultural college. When my heart rate was at capacity and I was breathing heavily, running by pigs and cows provided additional challenges. Every year many quit and give it up, the race is too unpleasant and the benefits seem too elusive.
The race of faith is like a cross-country endurance race or marathon. There are difficult people and difficult circumstances. We are fallen people in the midst of a fallen world. Our flesh, the enemy of men’s souls, and a culture that generally opposes Christ create pitfalls, and hurdles. It is not surprising that you and I have felt like giving up the race. How will I ever finish this race and finish well?
The author of the Book of Hebrews understood the nature of this endurance race when he penned, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” [Heb. 12:1-2].
- Jesus is the One to focus on: There are many who have run the race of faith well. Many enshrined in the “Hall of Faith” receive honorable mention in the preceding chapter of Hebrews. Our faith is encouraged and inspired by this great cloud of witnesses. Furthermore, there are contemporaries who have set a fine example for us. Although they provide an example and help us to run they are unable to get us to the finish line. That is why we are exhorted to look unto Jesus. We are to stay focused on Jesus. He is the one who keeps us on course. He empowers us to finish well, and is the ultimate example of endurance. And to behold Him we must look away from other things that tend to take us off course.
When I behold Jesus, I’m more likely to jettison the sin and other hindrances that keep me from running well. It has been a long time since I ran cross-country, but I did start riding long distances on a bicycle. For the longest time I resisted wearing bicycle shorts, a cycling jersey, or cycling shoes. When I finally gave in and got appropriate gear I discovered that riding was easier, less painful, and more efficient. Similarly, when I deal with my sin, and other distractions that keep me from running well in my spiritual race I discover that it is generally easier, less painful, and I’m more effective for Christ.
- Jesus is the author: The Greek term translated “author” in Heb. 12:2 can refer to a captain, chief leader, or prince. The term also refers to the originator. Jesus begins our faith, and like a captain he steers it to a desired destination. As a prince, He oversees our faith like a loving Sovereign.
The term “author” also relates to a creative process and implies a story. The whole of the Bible is an epic meta-narrative of redemption. Joseph’s story is just one of countless epics within the meta-story. The arc of Joseph’s life swings: dreams that his brothers would bow before him, enslavement at the hands of his brothers, imprisonment when falsely accused, apparent near deliverance from prison, and then forgotten in prison for two years. But the Lord was not done writing Joseph’s story. Joseph would be released and would rise to authority in the Egyptian Empire second only to Pharaoh. And the brothers did bow before Joseph, just as god foretold. It is a story that only the Lord could write, direct, and produce in Joseph and through Joseph to impact the world. Undoubtedly during the difficult valleys that Joseph had to experience in real time there would be concern about how the story was going to end, and what does the next chapter hold.
I wonder what does the next chapter of my life hold, and how will my story unfold. Those concerns are real to me in difficult times. Through the years I’ve seen many chapters in my life written. I’ve seen the red ink of redemption spread across the pages. And I’ve learned the goodness of the Author. And this has helped me to trust the Author as He keeps allowing me to experience my story with Him. Ultimately, I know that when my story ends on this earth the best part of my story begins (one of the few times that I’m confident that the sequel will surely be better).
- Jesus is the finisher: The Greek term translated “finisher” in Heb. 12:2 can be translated “completer” or “perfecter.” The sense is bringing something to its conclusion. Jesus initiates, sustains, and completes my faith. It was and is a gift from God. I’m comforted by this truth when I experience difficult circumstances, doubt, or realize areas of my life where I need to grow.
Paul wrote, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” [Ph. 1:6]. I can relate to the construction analogy as well as the endurance race of faith imagery. Sometimes I feel like I’m a construction project. At times it feels that caution tape should be around the construction site. And I rejoice that Jesus will finish the project. The project will be done on time from His perspective. It was delivered on budget, because He paid the price. And it will be beautiful from His perspective, and Lord willing will glorify Him.
So with that in mind, let’s choose to stay in the race, behold Jesus, jettison our stuff, and finish well for His glory. And let’s enjoy the Author and the unfolding of our story.