Running the Race of Your Life
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, 2fixing 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. The Word of the Lord.
This is the season of the year for marathons. In a couple of weeks, New York City will hold its annual marathon with approximately 35,000 runners getting up early to start in Staten Island, and run 26.2 miles through all 5 boroughs of the City to end on the western side of Central Park.
When I was younger, I ran two of those marathons. Although I am past that time of running, I still remember the excitement of running those 26.2 miles. People lined the streets to see the runners. The New Yorkers were so excited, they helped the runners along by handing out water or oranges as a runners passed.
Having heard stories of what happens to a person in New York City, when I saw runners taking glasses of water from the by-standers, I declined because I did not know if it was safe. I tried to take water at aid stations along the route; however, those aid stations were few, the water was hot, and they were too crowded to get a cup of water.
As the miles passed, I grew weary and thirsty. The crowds along the route were still passing out water. The temptation grew every mile I ran to risk taking what they offered. At first, I thought there might be something in the glasses so I passed by; then a few miles later I thought – “Well, there is probably nothing in it” – then, by the time I was at mile 15 or 20 I did not care. In fact, by that time I was hoping they had put something into the glass they offered. If it did not give me more energy, maybe it would just put me out of my misery.
Near the end of the race, I did take a glass, and found nothing wrong. The people were helping me and the other runners along. Surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, their cheering urged me on to finish.
In our Scripture lesson today, the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that life is like a race you and I run. That is the first truth the writer of Hebrews is telling us. Life is like a race. Hebrews says, 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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
Yes, life is like a race. But, the second thing Hebrews tells us is that life may be like a race; but, it is not like any race. It is a marathon. In a marathon, endurance counts, not sprints. You cannot run too fast; or you will wear yourself out too soon.
However, you cannot run too slow either. The story is that when a woman boarded a New York City bus one day, she gave the driver a transfer slip. The driver looked at the woman and said, “Miss, this transfer is dated yesterday.” The woman replied, “That is how long I have been waiting for this bus.”
In a marathon, a steady, persistent, determined pace matters. The writer of Hebrews is telling us that those same qualities are what is necessary to make it through life.
The third truth Hebrews is telling us is that we are not alone in our race. In a marathon, friends, family, and supporters gather along the way to urge the runners on to the finish line. Usually, they will gather at the toughest parts of the course. When I ran, my son would go to certain spots along the course to yell at me. Seeing his face, and hearing his words urging me on, were an incentive for me to keep running.
When Hebrews says - since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us – the writer is speaking to us about those crowds and people around us who urge us on in our lives, especially when times get hard. I am thinking not just of family members, but friends, co-workers, church family, as well as the examples of those people who have gone on before us, but whose examples urge us on to finish what we have started, and to not lose heart.
When times get rough, often it is difficult for us to pray – somewhat like Job, which we have been learning about in our Bible study. It is in those times that the prayers and the presence of others keep us going. As one woman said to her friends: “Your prayers for me have been like hands holding me up when I was ready to faint.” In sports, a cloud of witnesses are the cheering crowds urging the players on to victory.
Such people around us remind us that we are not alone, but are surrounded by people to give us support, to give us words of encouragement, to be present when we need them.
Fourthly, besides the crowds to support us, we are urged to - throw off everything that hinders and… easily entangles us. When you run a race – any race – whether it is short or a marathon – you want to run as light as possible. No marathon runner wears hiking boots or a backpack. You want to run without anything that hinders your advance. Every extra ounce slows you down and makes you weary.
What are the extra weights you and I carry around each day as we run the race of your life? Things that weigh us down are grudges, bitterness, guilt over past mistakes, despondency, fear, or an inordinate amount of material possessions.
We are a pilgrim people. As pilgrims on the move, we need to travel light. Get rid of anything - within or without - that hinders our race. Do not carry or wear anything which someone can use to hold you back.
The story is that when President Reagan was holding a state dinner at the White House for the French President and his wife, President Reagan was escorting Madame Mitterand. Suddenly, Madame Mitterand stopped and spoke to Reagan in French. Reagan had no idea what she was saying until an interpreter told Reagan that he was standing on Madame Mitterand’s gown.
You cannot go very far if someone is holding you down, or if you are holding yourself down.
Fifthly, and finally, Hebrews tells us - to run with perseverance the race marked out for us fixing our eyes on Jesus…. Perseverance is the key to finishing any race. Indeed, it is the key to finishing anything we start.
When you run a marathon, every mile wears you down. Each minute into the race your muscles and joints are telling you to stop. Every hill becomes a mountain and every slope becomes a landslide. But you keep going by determination – by setting your mind to finish what you have started, knowing that the end will be worth the effort.
Every race you run has a course set out for you. You do not set the course. Your job is to run the course set in front of you, no matter if it be long or short, difficult or easy, flat or hilly. Pain may be inevitable, but “misery is optional.”
How then do you finish the race you start? By looking to the goal that is set before you. Always keep in mind the finish.
For us, our goal is to finish the race with the goal of having served God and other people the best we can, in the time we have, with the gifts we possess. Having done this, then we await for the reward that awaits us.
For we do as the last verse of our opening hymn stated –
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend. Amen!