A few years ago, I found myself at the starting line of a road race. It wasn’t going to be a terribly long race, but after having several children in a short amount of time, I was tired and less than in shape. With that in the back of my mind, I was ready to jump back in and “get to it”.
The gun went off and we were all on our way, weaving through the crowds of people. Some quickly headed to the front of the pack and others fell behind. It was obvious that everyone came with the same goal in mind that day: to finish the race.
I wasn’t at the front of the pack, but gave myself a goal (more than finishing) and quickly settled into a pace that had me huffing and puffing just a bit. I was quickly reminded of my age and stage in life, but pressed on anyways. I found a girl who was ahead of me, running a pace that would feel challenging and I followed her. There she was in bright green shorts with me trailing behind. It wasn’t like I was going to lose her in the crowd; the green shorts were much too bright for that!
As I ran, I kept her in my sight. There were a few times that she seemed to be digging in even harder and while I wanted to just fall over onto the grass, I knew I had come to finish. Keeping my eyes locked onto her kept me going that day. She quickly grabbed a drink at the refreshment table and about 20 seconds later, so did I. She ran hard up a hill and so I determined that I would as well. She pushed me that day and I don’t even have a name for her, other than “the girl in the green shorts”.
It’s funny how many times I’ve thought of her while out on a run. I guess it’s because I “met” her at a pivotal time in my life. I had a decision to make about my physical health and even my emotional health at that time and pushing through to finish the race that day made me realize that both would come at a cost. I had to be disciplined and work hard. I had to say no to some things and say yes to others. She helped me with my goal that day and keeping my eyes on her helped it to become attainable. Jesus has done that and much more as I’ve run my life’s race.
In the first few verses of Hebrews 12, the author, who may have been Paul, wrote: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 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.
So, who is the cloud of witnesses that we are surrounded by? Since context is everything, we have to look back into Hebrews and we find that in chapter 11 our author is talking about men and women who stepped out in faith and because of it, their lives were marked by faith. They are “the cloud of witnesses”-Moses, Joseph, Abraham, Sarah, Noah…and the list goes on. These people were witnesses to God’s faithfulness. They were obedient to what God told them to do and for each of them, it was deeply personal. Following God cost all of them something.
He then encourages us to lay aside every “weight”, which are those heavy things that hinder us from running full-speed for Jesus in the race (life) he’s set out for us. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m weighed down by my sins of judgementalism, pride, selfishness, anger, and jealousy. With all of that in tow, my load is much too heavy for a full-on sprint! I’m huffing and puffing and carrying “extra weight” that Christ never intended for me to carry.
When I put those things off and all the other sins that I’ve often clung so closely to, my load becomes lighter and more joy-filled. There is peace that pervades my “race” and suddenly, Jesus comes back into focus. He’s been there all the time; I just had too much junk in the way to even be able to see him.
Once my focus is on him, I’m reminded through God’s word of who he is and what he’s done that changed my life. When my focus is on him, my vapor of a life is lived with urgency and my “pace” picks up, because I know that I’m not guaranteed tomorrow. It’s then, that my prayers change from being self-focused to being others-focused and I ask God for “crazy” things like, “give me eyes to see people like you do!”
When my focus is on Jesus, he allows me to see others as desperately in need of him. Instead of the “turtle-slow cashier” or that “obnoxious political agenda,” I see real people in need of a Savior and a little kindness! Somehow, the weight of judgment that I’ve been carrying becomes lighter as I choose to give it over to my Savior, who desires for me to obediently trust him.
I’m thankful for the girl in the green shorts. While she’ll never know it, she gave me a visual for this passage of scripture and certainly helped me finish the race that day. May we each be reminded to fix our eyes on Jesus, whose example of love and grace is the greatest encouragement to our life’s race.