How many believers take time to read the life stories of great men and women of faith of past generations? The "Torchbearers" series presently running in the Magazine brings to our attention the faithfulness of some of those who carried the bright torch of the gospel in days when, for so many, it led to martyrdom. Reading of these faithful servants of God causes us to turn to another catalogue of faith in practice (Heb 11.1-40), faith that was exercised in many varied circumstances. This raises in our minds the question, "Is it possible to live by faith as others did in the past?", or do we simply ignore the challenge and content ourselves with the excuse that "times have changed". The chapter which follows the catalogue of mighty deeds wrought by faith gives us the answer. It drives home the lesson - Yes! It is possible to lead a Christian life which triumphs in todays circumstances.
The instruction (12.1-3) likens our life to a race, not a short sprint but a life-long marathon. Three things are expected of those who take part in this race. First, "let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us" (v.1). Weights are not necessarily sinful, but are not helpful. They are anything that obstructs our effort to make progress in the race. It falls to each of us to examine our lives and determine what a "weight" is. Our modern society has created much that holds us back. Do our friends and acquaintances have this effect? Do we use our time in a spiritually profitable manner? How many hours are taken up with the media; how many with electronic gadgets or the internet? Does the desire to "get on" or to "get rich" weigh us down?
But not only weights have to be laid aside. Sin must also be dealt with as it "so easily beset(s) us" (v.1). With great skill it seeks to cling to us and entangle us to slow our progress or to bring us down. We all have experienced it! Weights are what we "lift" of our own volition, but sins seek to ensnare us, to entrap us and defeat us. F W Grant has an easily remembered way of warning us. He likens sin to a pack of wolves snapping at our heels as we run and advises those who run, "You must drop the weight to distance the wolves"; sound counsel!
Second, we are instructed, "let us run with patience the race that is set before us" (v.1). We do not wait until an easier course appears. No matter the circumstances, we must persevere in the race. There can be no opting out. But what is involved in running with patience? It is to be steady and constant no matter the circumstances. Seed that falls on good ground will "bring forth fruit with patience" (Lk 8.15). Paul, writing of the believers hope, states, "But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it" (Rom 8.25). Patience, therefore, is seen in the steady consistent pace that continues, no matter the surrounding circumstances. It is the determination to remain undistracted at all times.
Third, the runner must always be "Looking unto Jesus" (v.2). The force of "Looking" is "looking steadfastly" or "looking away from other things and fixing the eye exclusively on one" (JND footnote). There are other runners in the race but it is not on them that the eye is fixed. It must be kept on the One who knows the difficulties of the course - He who endured the cross and despised the shame. He thought lightly of the shame and it did not deter Him. Should the way become heavy and fatigue grip us, consider well Him who endured more than any other, and who triumphantly completed the course.
Let us, therefore, run the race well. There are times when we feel "wearied and faint" (v.3) in our minds. Weariness in our minds may set in when the work is arduous and constant; it results in feeling faint, with no strength to continue. Then we turn our minds to contemplate the joy that was set before Him and the joy that is set before us. Let us so run that when we reach the heavenly viewing gallery we will see our race well run.