Staying the Course

As a regular runner who is always trying to get a better time, I know all about striving and perseverance. When you first start running any distance your legs hurt, your ankles hurt, your feet hurt, in fact you hurt in places and muscles you didn’t even know could.

I still remember the first time I went out for a 5 mile run. I had been running for 2 miles at most so I thought that I was fairly fit. After 15 minutes into that run I thought that I must be near the end but no, I was less than halfway. For a whole week afterwards I ached. Just going up and down stairs was torture on my leg muscles.

However, it didn’t deter me. I realised that I thought I was pretty fit but I actually had a long way to being really fit. I built up my runs, eventually deciding on putting running to some good use and ran my first half marathon in 2008. It wasn’t an amazing time but I was pretty chuffed with it.

In fact it was during the training for that half marathon that I felt God directing me to this verse in the Bible,

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

I felt that God gave me this passage from Hebrews during the run as an encouragement not just for myself but also more specifically for the wider Church.

I’ll come back to this verse later but first I want to encourage you by considering Hebrews 12:1-13.

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This passage from Hebrews draws a metaphor between enduring and persevering through the discipline of God the Father and the running of a race. Both involve discipline, endurance, hard work and determination. Just like our athletes demonstrated at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Hebrews 11, the previous chapter, is of course the great chapter on faith. It details many of the Old Testament saints who attested to the value of living by faith.

At the end of Hebrews chapter 11, it talks about those who were faithful to God and in closing, the chapter states,

“These (that is the Old Testament saints mentioned) were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:39-40.

So it is from this encouragement, that God had planned something better for us, and that something was the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets. So chapter 12 of Hebrews starts with,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” again those Old Testament saints mentioned in chapter 11, “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.”

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In other words, let us not let those things in life that so easily distract us and entice us into sin; lead us away from the cross of Jesus.

When I was training for the Half Marathon there were many times when I thought, “Well maybe I can get away with not running my long run today” or “Maybe I can run tomorrow instead, even though I know it’s unlikely I’ll have time to do the run”.

I knew however, that even when it was cold and chucking it down with rain I had to run. If I did not, if I was to miss just one run, I would set myself back and would not be able to run as well on the race day.  I made the training quite hard for myself since I chose to run up an 800ft hill for my Sunday long run.  As the day of the race approached I had to go further and further over this 800ft hill until the week before I ran almost all the way to the next town and back again, just over 12 miles in total.

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Just as the writer of Hebrews commends us to do in chapter 12, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”. During my training, I had a better understanding of ‘running a race with perseverance’ because even when it was cold and raining I knew I could not stop because I would then be in danger of getting too cold.

Indeed, on the day of the Half Marathon, the race route was marked out and we were all clear on where we had to run. We had to run in the area marked out for us to qualify and we all in our minds had the finish line, the goal, as our objective. Just as the writer to the Hebrews commends us to do,

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2

To continue the metaphor, Jesus ran the race first and completed it victoriously giving us the confidence to run with strengthened arms and legs and to make level the path for our feet as it says in verse 12.

Now when you are running a race, you need not to concern yourself on how fast those around you are running. In training, you establish your own running pace and you know how fast you can run. So that, when you are in the race it is important to run at your own pace because you will quickly tire if you run faster than you have being training for. Just as the writer in Hebrews commends us,

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” Hebrews 12:3

Jesus faced opposition from the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders of the day and His own disciples at times. Those religious leaders who were in authority and who had political power had the power to harm Him and yet Jesus was not afraid of their threats or taunts. He endured their testing, persevered through their attempts at trickery and was determined to finish the race set before Him. He had the goal, His own death to bring salvation to all by faith in Him, in mind. That was the victory and the prize of finishing the race.

Thankfully, we do not face such political opposition in this country (yet) but we may do from our neighbours, friends and work colleagues. Jesus gives us hope though that when we do face such opposition we can endure it and persevere through it. The Bible is clear that,

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” 2 Timothy 3:12.

Therefore, if we are running the race marked out for us then opposition and persecution will happen but we need to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”.

Hebrews 12:4 then says,

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood”

What is the writer referring to here? Was he referring to the ultimate price that is paid for by standing for our faith, such as the martyrdom of Stephen and James?

Let us examine the verse more closely. He says, “In your struggle against sin”, which is in present tense, in other words in our daily struggle against sin. So in our ongoing struggle against sin, we have not yet resisted – to what? To the point of shedding our blood for our own sins because, Jesus was the only one who was qualified to do that so we do not have to.

Therefore, in our daily struggle against sin we do not need to shed blood for our own punishment, indeed we cannot because we are not holy and blameless, because Jesus Christ had already paid the price demanded by God. Therefore, that was an encouragement to the Hebrews and it is to us today.

Hebrews 12:5 continues,

“And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.””

675px-tailleur_de_pierreHere the writer is reminding the Hebrews that even though they might go through times of testing and times when their they feel that their character is under attack, God, rather like a stone mason with a block of stone, is honing their characters into the image of His son Jesus.

In the Kings James Bible the phase “and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son”, translates as ‘scourgeth every son whom he receiveth’. The original Hebrew word for scourgeth is yosapat (yoss-a-phat) which means ‘Yahweh judges’, i.e. God judges. Therefore, God judges and disciplines those that He loves and accepts as sons. God does this not only to us but He also has done it repeatedly to His nation Israel. We read twice in Jeremiah these words,

“’Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only with justice; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.” Jeremiah 30:11 & 46:28.

So why does God discipline those He loves? God disciplines because He loves His children (us) and to not discipline His children would go against His character and nature. The writer to the Hebrews stresses this point in the next few verses,

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons” Hebrews 12:7-8

As a father I can relate to these passages and understand that discipline is essential to,

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6.

Disciplining a child is necessary, not only to teach them what is acceptable and what is right but to also protect them from sin and danger. How much more then, will our Father in heaven, train us in the way that we should go?

Verses 9 and 10 make this point clear,

“Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

This is the key part of this verse that, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness”. God’s desire is that we become more holy through His discipline. God desires holiness within us. In fact the writer encourages us that being disciplined by God is a good process in verse 11,

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Therefore, even though God may cause us to go through some painful disciplining the outcome is that it, ‘produces a harvest or righteousness and peace’. God’s desire for our lives is that we are fruitful in our own characters and fruitful in our relationships with others.

Therefore, what are the main distractions in life that can cause us to not ‘fix our eyes on Jesus’? Well anything really. Our relationships: friends, family, partners. The media: TV, magazines, newspapers, the internet. You can probably think of a few more.

What of the ways in which we can stay focused on the ‘author and perfecter of our faith’? Well that leads us back to the verse in Hebrews that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog:

Hebrews 10:25, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

We can stay focused on our Lord and saviour by encouraging one another by meeting together. In fact, as the footnote to this verse in my bible says,

“To neglect Christian meetings is to give up the encouragement and help of other Christians. We gather together to share our faith and to strengthen one another in the Lord. As we get closer to the “Day” when Christ will return, we will face many spiritual struggles, and even times of persecution. Anti-Christian forces will grow in strength. Difficulties should never be excuses for missing church services. Rather, as difficulties arise, we should make an even greater effort to be faithful in attendance.”

So let us persevere in our faith, in our love for one another and in our love for our Lord and risen Saviour, Christ Jesus. Let us accept the discipline that He causes us to go through and let us run the race with our eyes fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith; Christ Jesus.

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