The Race Marked Out for You
The Race Marked Out for You
I have made many mistakes in life and have quite a few regrets. When I was nineteen I took part, on a whim, without any training, in ‘The Boundary Run’. It was slightly longer than a marathon and involved running around the boundary of the city of Cambridge, with much of it across ploughed fields.
For the first 14 miles, I was fine. After that, various bits of my body started to seize up. Although I completed the race in a reasonable time, it took me weeks to recover. Running a marathon without training is not a wise thing to do.
The writer of Hebrews says that the Christian life is like running a race. It is more like a marathon than a sprint. We are ‘long-distance runners’ (Hebrews 12:13, MSG). It requires training, endurance and discipline ‘if we are not to grow weary and lose heart’ (v.3). In each of the passages for today, you see what you need to do in order to run ‘the race marked out for [you]’ (v.1), as well as some of the results of doing so.
Stay on track and keep goingPsalm 125:1–5
‘Nothing great was ever done without much enduring,’ wrote St Catherine of Siena.
The key to endurance lies in trusting God: ‘Those who trust in God are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures for ever’ (v.1). This is not based on wishful thinking, but on the character and protection of the God in whom we trust.
God is with you. He is for you. He is above you. He is in you. He surrounds you: ‘the Lord surrounds his people’ (v.2). This protection is something you can rely on ‘both now, and for evermore’ (v.2).
Faith (‘trust in the Lord’, v.1) leads to righteousness (Romans 3:22), and the rest of this psalm focuses on the long-term outlook for both the righteous and the wicked. Regardless of how things may seem at the moment, ‘the sceptre of the wicked will not remain over the land allotted to the righteous’ (Psalm 125:3a).
The psalmist warns against turning off the track: ‘Those who turn to crooked ways the Lord will banish with the evildoers’ (v.5). When we wander off the path we lose our peace. The psalmist’s prayer is ‘peace be upon Israel’ (v.5b).
Lord, thank you that you surround those who trust in you. I trust you with my life again today. Please protect me and give me your peace.
Run the race with perseveranceHebrews 12:1–13
There is a race ‘marked out’ for you that you are urged to ‘run with perseverance’ (v.1). In this race, you have great encouragement. You are ‘surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses’ (v.1). These are the men and women of faith. Those listed in Hebrews 11 have all died, but the witnesses that surround us also include those still alive who are living examples of faith: ‘all those pioneers who blazed the way, all those veterans cheering us on’ (v.1, MSG).
Running your race is not going to be without its obstacles, difficulties, opposition and challenges. There are things that can trip you up along the way: ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles’ (v.1).
In the ancient world, contestants stripped down to a loincloth for the race. Don’t be a spectator. Get in the race as a contestant.
Too many clothes would hinder an athlete. This is an analogy of getting rid not only of sin but also of other hindrances and distractions. Today, for example, social media can be good but it may also be a distraction.
The key to running the race successfully is to ‘fix our eyes on Jesus’ (v.2). Where an athlete looks is key to their success. Good athletes keep their eyes fixed on the finish line.
Jesus ‘never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God’ (v.2, MSG). The only way to make ‘straight paths for your feet’ (v.13, KJV) is to be looking ahead at the goal rather than looking down at your feet. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. For every one look within, take ten looks at him.
As a follower of Christ, you will receive a lot of opposition, criticism and negative publicity, but it is absolutely nothing compared to what Jesus endured for you.
Jesus is ‘the author [‘leader’, ‘originator’, ‘pioneer’] and perfecter [‘completer’, ‘finisher’] 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’ (v.2, AMP). The key to your endurance is to ‘consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart’ (v.3).
Keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus should help you to put it all in perspective. For most of us, in our struggle against sin (like the readers of this letter) we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding our blood (v.4).
Running a successful race requires training. Training is hard work; it requires discipline and can even be quite painful.
Here the writer uses the image of parents disciplining their children. It is done out of love: ‘the Lord disciplines those he loves’ (v.6a). Discipline is the proof ‘that God regards you as his children’ (v.6, MSG).
He goes on, ‘God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children’ (vv.7–8, MSG).
‘We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God's training so we can truly live?’ (v.9, MSG). God is training you for your own good that you may ‘share in his holiness’ (v.10). It may be painful at the time but, ‘later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God’ (v.11, MSG).
Keep running the race: ‘So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!’ (vv.12–13, MSG).
Lord, help me to endure hardship as discipline, knowing that you are treating me as your child (v.7). May I come to share in your holiness and produce a harvest of righteousness and peace.
Throw off anything that slows you downEzekiel 26:1–27:36
Western society is in danger of going in the same direction as Tyre. It was wealthy and powerful. It was a nation of successful business and global trading. This has a contemporary feel. As Ken Costa describes in his book, God at Work, ‘Tyre was at the corner of all financial and commercial transactions in the region. Tyre could so easily be the City of London or Wall Street or Tokyo.’
Tyre is an example of society organised to fulfil itself without God. It is attractive (27:3), and that is what makes it so seductive. Money-making, empire building and luxury are attractive.
We are supposed to love people and use things. We go wrong when we start loving things and using people. Consumerism is a great danger in the modern world, but it is nothing new. Tyre was a nation that had ended up loving things and using people – even trading slaves (v.14).
To run the race successfully we have to ‘throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles’ (Hebrews 12:1).
The sins of Tyre were pride, revelling and self-sufficiency (Isaiah 23; Ezekiel 27:3). There was treachery and slave trading (Amos 1:9; Ezekiel 27:13). Ezekiel warns that God’s judgment will fall on the nation (Ezekiel 26:1–6). Its pride will be its downfall. Tyre boasted, ‘I am perfect in beauty’ (27:3).
But God warns, ‘Everything sinks – your rich goods and products, sailors and crew, ship’s carpenters and soldiers, sink to the bottom of the sea. Total shipwreck’ (v.27, MSG).
This prophecy was partially fulfilled in 586–573 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, laid siege to Tyre for thirteen years. Nebuchadnezzar did not completely destroy Tyre, but Alexander the Great fulfilled these verses in 332 BC.
The focus on trading, money and consumer goods seems eerily similar to some aspects of modern consumerism (especially in this season as we lead up to Christmas). We need to remember that, however enticing these things may seem, they are transitory and fleeting.
Don’t get entangled. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:1–2). Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Run with perseverance the race marked out for you.
Lord, help me to run with perseverance the race marked out for me, to fix my eyes on Jesus and never to grow weary nor lose heart.
‘As the mountains surrounded Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both now and for evermore.’
This is a powerful picture of God’s protection, strength and enduring love for us.
Verse of the Day
Ken Costa, God at Work (Alpha International, 2013), p.174.
Henri Nouwen, If I were to let my life be taken over by what is urgent, I might very well never get around to what is essential in @HenriNouwen Twitter 31 July 2012, https://twitter.com/henrinouwen/status/230384864438919168 [Last accessed November 2015]
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
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