Monday, June 14, 2010

Running Together

This winter I joined a racing team. Once a week we would do laps at an indoor track in preparation for a series of road races during the spring and summer months. A few weeks ago, I competed in my first road race since joining the team. I was amazed at the amount of people cheering me on as I approached the finish line.

Since then, the opening verse of Hebrews 12 has been on my mind.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1 NIV

The opening verse of chapter 12 is a continuation of what the writer pens in the previous chapter. Chapter 11 starts out with a definition of faith, then the writer lists a variety of people throughout the Old Testament who demonstrated great faith and commitment to God. Among those listed are Abraham, Moses, Rahab the prostitute, Samson, David, Samuel and the prophets. The list and the stories go on.

Trusting in the unknown is a tough thing to do, and all those listed in Hebrews 11 are people whose faith in God leads them into dangerous situations. Abraham gave up everything he had and followed God’s voice into an unknown land. Then he trusted that God would give him a son to pass on his inheritance; something that didn’t happen until Abraham passed his hundredth birthday. When Moses freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, he did so by leading God’s people in a revolt against his adopted father.

The Hebrew writer continues demonstrating the power of faith in God by telling the readers that faith conquers kingdoms, raises the dead, offers strength to those in need, and defeated whole armies (Heb 11:33-35). Great faith also leads to difficult times. Faith in God, the author says, cost many their lives as they fell victims to torture via jail time, being whipped with stones and public execution.

At this point Hebrews 12 opens with a word picture of running a marathon. Those listed in the previous chapter make up our “could of witness.” Those who have already finished a life of faith are cheering us on to follow in their footsteps. By providing us with examples of people who have completed a life of faithful commitment to God we the readers are encouraged to continue as the apostle Paul says “…toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called (us) heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:14)

Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” By doing so, we will successfully finish the life of faith that has been marked out for us. There is no clear indication as to what weighs us down in our race. But theologian Ray Stedman suggests what that excess weight may be. He says: “As Moses laid aside the prerogatives of royalty for the sake of his God-given mission, so we must throw off whatever may hinder faith even though it may be right for others… Each runner must honestly judge what hinders faith for him or her and resolutely lay it aside, even though others seem to be unhindered by the same thing.”

I don’t know what could be weighing you down in your relationship with God, but I do know that whatever slows us down differs for every person. For some it’s an addiction to alcohol. For others it could be an ongoing struggle to maintain sexually pure until after marriage. Anger, over eating, laziness, busyness, self mutilation, pride, racism, struggling with body image are all examples of the things that weigh us down and distract us from a commitment to God. The possibilities are endless. Struggling with sin can be a daunting task, sometimes draining our energy and needing all our focus.

Toward the end of my road race, I was tired and sore but still had a steep hill to climb. A few times it was too much. I had to stop to catch my breath and gain some strength. While I was stopped, people passed me, “don’t give up!! You’re almost there!! You can do it!!” were some of the ways my fellow racers gave me the strength I needed to keep going. Before I new it I was at the top of the hill. From that point the race was easy to finish.

The same principle can be applied to our relationship with the Lord.

Living with sin can be like carrying too much weight slowing us down, preventing us from accomplishing all the plans God has for us. Getting rid of the weight that slows us down isn’t always an easy task. That’s why these verses are an encouragement. It reminds us we don’t face the world alone. We have a community of believers to turn to for encouragement and support. One of the ways we get that encouragement and support is by sharing our lives with each other and asking for it.

The book of James tells us to confess our sins to each other (James 5:16). Gal 6:1-2 says: “… if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” If you have been running the race on your own, and find there are a few things that you constantly stumble on (like maintaining sexual purity for example), let me encourage you to find an accountability partner.

Ideally this will be someone of the same sex you trust. The old adage honesty is the best policy applies here. An accountability relationship only works if the two of you can always be 100% honest with each other. The more vulnerable you can be with this person the better. When looking for an accountability partner try and find someone who has been through the same trial you are facing. As some one who has “been there,” they maybe able to offer tips and advice to help you avoid tempting situations.

With these things in mind, let me close by asking what is weighing you down in your relationship with God?

Do you have an accountability partner? Can you think of someone you can trust to be completely vulnerable with? If not, begin by asking God to put people in your life with whom you can be accountable. If you would like to, you can use the sample prayer below.

Lord Jesus thank you for loving me, despite the stumbling block I have in my life. Please help me find someone I can be accountable to so I can be a better servant for you and finally be able to put {name your stumbling block} behind me. Thank you Jesus in your name I pray, Amen!

Blessings to you as begin the journey toward accountability my friend!

If this message touched you in any way please leave a comment sharing your story.

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