On Monday, September 21, I went out for a run. I was doing my usual route, and running at my usual pace; in that sense, it was totally uneventful. But suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my left calf.
I kept running through the discomfort, knowing that an intersection was close by. I made it to the stopping point, did some stretching, massaged the muscle, and attempted to run again – only to find that the pain was still there. I limped the rest of the way home, and took it easy the next few days.
I went on three more runs after that day, and had no setbacks. But then – just when I was convinced that it was a fluke – the exact same thing happened again. As I write this devotion, my leg is still sore, and I’m still limping around the house.
The author of Hebrews compares the Christian life to a race. He writes:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
You don’t have to be a marathon runner to understand the comparison. A good race features challenging obstacles, requires great endurance, and holds a worthwhile prize at the end. The same is true of following Jesus.
Faithfulness to Jesus doesn’t come without obstacles; at times, we might even have fewer external obstacles in this life if we compromised our faith. But sometimes the obstacles are of our own making. We occasionally lose our focus, or get tripped up by our own sin.
As for endurance, anyone who’s followed Jesus for any significant length of time knows that obedience to God doesn’t always feel exciting, romantic, or heroic. It often looks and feels more like a daily grind, with the finish line far off in the distance. We may wonder whether we’re really making any progress at all, and be tempted to throw in the towel.
But what about the reward? In the middle of a race, sometimes the only thing that can keep your feet moving is the thought of rest, a drink, or a trophy. You keep going because you know that the suffering will be worth it in the end. Likewise, the race of the Christian life may be daunting while you’re in the middle of it; but when you reach the finish line, you’ll have no regrets. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:18, “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Christians keep running, knowing that the reward at the end vastly outweighs the hardship of the race itself.
But how can we finish this race? Going back to our passage from Hebrews, a couple of thoughts:
First, we remember that we are not running this race alone. The “great cloud of witnesses” the author refers to points our eyes back to Hebrews 11. The entire chapter is an extensive record of believers who came before us. As we read of their faithfulness, we are spurred on in our own faithfulness. There are Christians before you who have run the same race you’re running, made it to the end, and received their reward. Likewise, you have brothers and sisters in Christ running the same race you are right now. So don’t try to run it alone. Don’t try to live the Christian life alone. If you do, you’ll inevitably be overcome by the obstacles of external opposition, internal temptation, or plain old exhaustion.
Second, we remember the race Jesus ran. Jesus never tripped up the way we do; he never lost focus on obedience to his Father, and never fell into sin, knowing while he ran that his finish line was a cross. Because of his divine identity and sinless humanity, Jesus was the only qualified sacrifice for our sins – and the Father vindicated him in his resurrection. And it’s because Jesus finished his race that we can finish ours. We fix our eyes on him, rather than the obstacles we face, the exhaustion that we feel, or the sin that once condemned us. And when we finish our race – at our death, or Jesus’s return – we too will have the reward of eternal life in God’s presence.
At times (maybe especially during this difficult year), you may feel like you’re running the race of the Christian life in quicksand. This specific leg of your race may feel particularly difficult. Like me over the past few weeks, you may currently feel like you’re running with a limp.
But with fellow believers running with you, and your eyes fixed on the Savior who ran before you, you can be confident that by God’s grace, you can finish your race. You will surely have have some bumps and bruises by the time you reach the finish line; you may be limping from the injuries you sustained along the way. But God can sustain you to the end – when the pain will be no more, and you will truly be able to rest.
So until then, don’t give up. Keep running.