When we receive salvation, we automatically have to run the race of faith for the glory of God. Too often, we hold onto the things of the past that weigh us down. With the Holy Spirit as our indwelling trainer, we can identify and get rid of these hindrances when we choose God above self.
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)
The Comrades Marathon is particularly South African, an iconic event that has captured the hearts and imaginations of every one of us. As ultra-marathons go, it’s way up there in terms of challenge and the agony and ecstasy of what is one of the most gruelling races in the world. No runner in their right mind who is serious about it would even think of weighing themselves down with anything not absolutely necessary to what they have to do. Yet many Christians do just that. We face the challenge of a lifetime, a race of endurance with constant distractions and attacks and diversions. But still, we weigh ourselves down with unnecessary things that hold us back, slow us down, and even contribute to our struggle. Every believer, at salvation, immediately enters the race. It’s not something we can avoid and it’s one of running a spiritual gauntlet.
To run the race requires constant training.
Our Christian race is probably the only one where our training is the race itself. We don’t have the benefit of easing into it with a planned schedule of training and rest and all the other stuff athletes depend on. We literally hit the ground running and learn as we go along. For us, it’s constant training to run the race as we run it. We fall, pick ourselves up, pick a wrong route and have to retrace our steps, and generally make all kinds of mistakes until we begin to get the hang of it. Fortunately, it’s not a competition race. All along the track, we encounter other runners who share their wisdom and experience, teach us what we need to learn, and are there to encourage and support us. They point out the pitfalls and how to avoid them, and keep us going.
Our times of rest are times of teaching and training, too. We may have moments where we’re not actually running, but we’re learning and have to discipline ourselves to a correct diet of the Word and prayer. These are the times where we build our faith and correct our focus, always looking ahead to Jesus who has gone before us. As we progress along the road, our training increases to the point where we are equipped to help and train others. Instead of simply being able to run the race on our own, we are expected to disciple other newer runners just as we were discipled along the way. As we get stronger, so the enemy steps up the resistance, making things that much more difficult. Our training now involves putting on the armour and running with it on constantly. But run we must. There is no turning back.
The sensible way to run the race.
What we often don’t realise is that we make it more difficult to run the race by holding onto things we should put aside. The sensible thing to do is to identify everything that can hold us back or weigh us down and get rid of them. We forget that we come into the kingdom – and into the race – with a whole bunch of baggage from our past life. Most of us have a rucksack chock full of all kinds of stuff and simply start running without dealing with any of it. As we go, things do emerge that, with God’s grace, we are able to jettison and run free of. But often, we’re so busy looking at the way ahead we don’t stop to look at what we’re lugging along unnecessarily. In this, we’re our own worst enemy because the things of the old life will hinder our progress.
The sensible way to run the race is to get rid of anything that has no place in the new life in Christ. The old flesh life is a dogged and determined shadow which doesn’t want to get left behind. Old habits, thought patterns, and sins hang around and make for slow going. For whatever reason, we seem to regard these as normal because they’re so familiar. We don’t question them unless something happens to make us confront them head-on. The sad part is that we could have made much more progress if they were dealt with before we set off. It’s rather like the collection of memorabilia we move from house to house simply because they’re there and part of life as we know it. It’s only when we get ruthless and have a good clear out that we realise they made life more difficult.
To run the race requires a good trainer.
Every athlete will concede that an experienced and knowledgeable trainer is indispensable. They save us a lot of wasted time and effort trying to discover where we go wrong and what we should do to improve. The same is true when it comes to how effectively we run the race. Thankfully, by the grace of God, we have the best trainer possible – the Holy Spirit. Left to our own devices, self would have us wallowing in all our possible problems, nit-picking things that are actually irrelevant and which only serve to bring us down. God doesn’t want us to dwell on our issues. He wants them dead, crucified with Christ. Endless self-examination keeps us bound to the past, which is exactly what self wants. While we focus on that, we cannot focus on Jesus and we cannot effectively run the race.
The Holy Spirit, however, is the trainer who pinpoints the problem and highlights the things that must go. We don’t have to get all introspective. We repent, receive forgiveness, and cast it aside. Our trainer is there to makes sure we run the race the best way possible. The key, of course, is to hear and to listen. It’s pointless have God as our trainer if we simply continue to do our own thing. We have the incredible privilege of having the divine trainer living within us, constantly on call and ready to teach and empower us. With our eyes fixed on Jesus and our ears trained to hear the Spirit, the only thing left for us is obedience. This, however, requires that we must choose between self and surrender to the Lord for whom we run. Our race is never for ourselves. It is for the glory of God.
We decide how we run the race.
If we receive salvation, we automatically enter the race. There is no other option. We’re immediately earmarked by the devil who will do all he can to hinder us. Self immediately rises up to protest its rejection. When we run the race, it’s as much a battle as it is a marathon. We can choose to hold onto the things of the past or to heed the Spirit and cast them aside. Our free will determines whether we continue to run weighed down unnecessarily or whether we run in the liberty of the Spirit. The biggest challenge is often letting go of self and everything of the flesh. It seems foolish, when we think about it, but so many times we make things harder on ourselves. The sensible thing is to let go and yield to the freedom that comes with relinquishing the old and familiar.
Thank You, Lord, for the immeasurable privilege of having Your Spirit and Your Word to guide us and teach us as we run the race. Forgive us for holding onto things that weigh us down. Show us clearly what hinders us and empower us to yield it in repentance and humility. Help to run with our eyes fixed on Jesus and ears tuned to Your Spirit. Empower us to run for Your glory as we are called to do.