By Michael E. Brooks
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV).
I am a dedicated sports fan. Though I have my favorite sports to follow, I can usually enjoy almost any true established sport. That is fortunate because the choice is limited when one is in Asia. Sports channels are long on cricket and “football” (Americans read that as “soccer”). There is very little baseball, basketball, or American football shown over here.
One sport that is televised, which I enjoy watching, is tennis. This week the French Open, one of the four “majors” in tennis, began. Almost every week a professional tennis tournament is held somewhere for the top players. Most of them feature matches in which the winner takes two out of three sets.
But four times a year, during the majors, the men play a “best of five sets” format. That means the winner must win three sets. Frequently the first four sets are “split” and the match goes the full distance.
Five sets of tennis is a real grind. Such matches can easily last four to five hours. There are limited breaks, and the play is continuous. In the majors, fitness can be almost as big an issue as skill.
As I watched such a match this week and noted how fatigue played a part in determining the outcome, I was reminded of the Hebrew writer’s exhortation, “Let us run with endurance the race set before us.”
Many writers and preachers before me have noted the obvious: The Christian life is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Speed is not the most important quality for a runner to have. Endurance is far more critical. This is the reason for Paul’s admonitions:
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9).
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work
of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Paul and the Hebrew writer between them give several keys to a successful run, all of which help build and reward our endurance.
First, the Hebrew writer tells us to rid ourselves of all distractions and encumbrances. A good athlete does not carry anything unnecessary in his pursuit of victory. He may train with extra weights or accessories, but in the race these are all left behind. So in the Christian race, distractions and weights (sin) rob us of strength and take away our reserves. We get tired more quickly and our run is hindered.
Second, Paul speaks of the importance of morale. We must not lose heart. As soon as one begins to think he will be defeated, his loss is assured. The Christians’ heart is called hope. So long as we live and work in hope we can keep our spirits and our confidence high and do our very best. “But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Romans 8:25).
Third, we are reminded of the importance of concentrating on the prize. We are to work on, knowing that “our labor is not in vain.” No reward compares with that which Jesus has in store for those who are faithful.
“Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
If we love his appearing we will endure that we may receive that crown. The race can be run, and it can be won, if we press onward toward the goal (Philippians 3:14).
By Michael E. Brooks