Many of you know I’m keen on cycling and my favourite sporting event would be the Tour de France. You’ll also be familiar with the Lance Armstrong story. Here’s a man who made a remarkable recovery from life threatening illness, to win the TDF seven times, an unprecedented number of victories in arguably the world’s toughest event….lauded for his amazing accomplishments, admired by and inspiration to thousands around the world….only then to be outed as a drug cheat by those he bullied and coerced, to which, after much pressure he admitted to. All that accomplishment stripped away. The tragedy, is in his case he had the natural gifting and aptitude to, likely, win as many events, without the performance enhancement…you’ll forgive the spiritual correlation, but there is one…

 

Begs the question, how are we getting to where we need to go? With what sort of character, values and integrity? What is our point of reference?

 

Everything we’ve been discussing in the series on Community has been about developing, growing and strengthening who we are as a community of faith, at the base.  The kind of church that honours the Lord is one where there is unity, where people genuinely love each other, integrity, and one that is fully engaged with the Great Commission. That’s the kind of church that the gates of hell will not prevail against.

 

 

We have a responsibility in pursuing Christ, loving Jesus, through these three proactive statements help us do exactly that: “throw off everything…run with perseverance…let us fix our eyes on Jesus”…foundational principles within the community that capture the essence of the Christian walk.

 

(READ Heb. 12:1-2)

 

 

The spiritual principle being conveyed here is: because you have these examples of faith to be encouraged by, because they were able to live a life of faith, you, “run the race”, with perseverance, throw aside everything that is an obstacle or an impediment…

And then the author gives the key, how this is possible…fixing your eyes on Jesus. Christian perseverance, endurance and eyes fixed on Jesus mitigate such conduct in the church

 

Let’s take a closer look at these 3 primary principles from the passage required to “run the race…with eyes fixed on Jesus”                                                                                                                                                               

 

  1. The Christian life requires us to deal with hindrances…

…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…

This is one of the kind verses that don’t require much interpretation.

Note here, that there’s everything that hinders and, sin, so there could well be things in our lives we’re needing to deal with that aren’t necessarily sin, but are nonetheless obstacles that are holding us back, they’re having an effect on our ‘running the race’

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but how many elite marathon runners have you ever seen wearing overalls, gumboots, a big straw hat and a backpack…you’re not likely to see many…why is that? Because, apart from the .1 % body fat they already have, they want to be burdened or hindered by as little as possible, increasing their performance, giving them the best possible chance of a fast time and a placing in the event.

 

Figuratively, this verse is speaking to the Christian who has a serious hindrance who desperately needs to advance their walk[1] and the writer is expressing some urgency in dealing with it

We cannot advance our walk with Christ without throwing off hindrances and sin. And let’s be aware that hindrances are not just physical things either, this could be unforgiveness, bitterness, my attitude toward someone else or toward God himself.

 

2ndly…

  1. The Christian life, like a long distance run is difficult, and therefore requires sustained effort – to finish well

…and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 

Back when I was at High School, Te Awamutu College, as part of our yearly fitness test in PE we were required to complete a 2.4km run within a certain time, I think it was around 12 mins, to be given a reasonable grade.

One notable thing that sticks in my memory was how each one us applied ourselves to the task of completing this test so differently. So we had boys who struggled big time to make the mark, but they gave it absolutely everything they could.

 

And then we had boys, who had the physical capability and could have blitzed the time but couldn’t really care less,

Then a third group who did just barely what they needed to do, to get over the line, putting in only the necessary effort to beat the 12 min mark

Which of the 3 groups I’ve just described would you say were committed to finishing well? The first group right!

 

It’s important we realise the author of Hebrews is not promoting competition among Christians, this isn’t about being better or faster, than others…it is setting our spiritual compass on Jesus, and persevering through whatever may be “in our lane”…here’s how Paul put it…

 

(Phil. 3 READ)

 

“Straining” = (ep-ek-ti’-nom-ahee) = stretching intensely towards…[2]. Paul encouraged with the same intensity as the Hebrews writer

Do we battle mediocrity? Do we take a half-pie attitude to our spirituality? These guys are saying let’s get some urgency about ourselves…

 

The circumstances that each one of us finds ourselves in are all so different. Circumstances we’re faced with throughout our Christian walk most certainly affect us, however our circumstances don’t need to dictate or determine our intent to finish well.

Christian perseverance is a determination of the heart and a decision of the mind to work through the realities of life, in Jesus.

 

(Shelagh’s testimony)

 

Jesus validates the struggles we have faced, are facing and will face in the future…because he doesn’t always remove them, sometimes we find the challenge even gets a little or a lot tougher

But he says by focussing on me (eyes on me!), trusting me and staying the course we’re going to get through this, according to His outcome. We have a mythological view of God if we believe the Christian life is intended to be an easy life, or that God makes it easy for us. Implicit in what the authors saying is a paradoxical truth, hardship drives us toward Christ…

 

Finishing well is not attempting to live a life blinded to, or ignorant of, our own humanity. It is not invalidating the pain and difficulty that often we face in life and are attempting to traverse. It is not hardening up! We do not read into this text that the Christian life is just for the tough ones, the ones that can hang in there or spiritually speaking if we pace ourselves we’ll go a lot of further

 

Running this race, we call the Christian walk, is living each day trusting that God meets us at our point of need. He is there; he is with us, even when we’re feeling like he isn’t. His presence is not determined by me feelings. God’s ability to presence himself in my circumstances is not determined by me.

 

My ability and decision to trust him and engage with him, is determined by me.  God understanding and having knowledge of what we may be facing is different to pointing to our circumstances being a reason for our apathy or complacency, or even at the extreme falling away from faith in Christ.

 

Perseverance is the fuel in the tank of living for God faithfully and finishing well.

 

Leads to the 3rd principle required to “run the race”, well…

  1. Focussing on Christ is paramount

Usain Bolt when he used to line up for a race, he’s not thinking about how he’s going to get there, he’s thinking about crossing that finish line, in the best possible shape…but he’s still got to get there, effort is still required, so he trusts his training, his preparation…in the spiritual we call that discipleship.

As I mentioned before this is not about winning or losing persee, it is about living and finishing – stretching intensely towards – this Christian life with character and integrity and having grown in Christ.

 

If we consider the metaphor the author has used likening the Christian life to a “race”, then focussing on Christ, the one who has the run the race before us…and was tempted in every way we are yet was without sin…offers us the “preeminent example of how the race should be run”[3] …Because he is the “author and perfector of our faith”

 

  1. Q) What does that mean?

It means our faith and belief start and finish with him, as the author he is our leader. He is the perfector of our faith, meaning faith finds its ultimate and true fulfilment only in the person of Jesus

 

Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection “has cleared the path of faith so we might run it”. In the natural there are hurdles but in the spiritual through Jesus, the pathway before us is clear

 

These 3 factors, rejecting hindrances, a sustained effort, focussing on Jesus held together require us to make the right choices, daily.

Though we are constantly faced with a barrage of opposition and temptation, faced with uncontrolled circumstances, our eyes constantly focussed on Christ make it all that more difficult to divert from his best for our lives

 

In terms of applying these principles, running the race with perseverance will look very different for all of us… running the race for me means dealing with the things that are within my control to change

 

I can change how much time I spend with God in prayer, and in the word. I can change mediocrity. I can change my commitment where it’s lacking. I can change the things I do that I know aren’t anywhere near priorities, I know I’ve got some untangling to do…I need to say no to a bunch of things and yes to a few others…and God’s grace stands by for all of us

 

Often our deepest worship comes when we approach God with an honest heart. Where do we need to reject hindrances, what does my effort look like, are my eyes fixed on Jesus?

 

Maybe today our greatest act of worship might be to bare our soul before the Lord…because worship is a sacrifice it has to cost something…what are we prepared to give up, what baggage do we need to get rid of, what needs casting off in order to run the race?

 

Consider Jesus who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Let’s fix our eyes on him, that’s the essence of the Christian walk!

[1] http://biblehub.com/greek/2139.htm

[2] Bible hub

[3] NIV Hebrews Comm.