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Saturday, 29 March 2014

Hebrews 12 verses 1-13 Spiritual Discipline for the Race of Life

Have you ever struggled with your faith? Have you ever felt like giving up? If so, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews has a word for you---don’t! Don’t give up. The road of faith has been compared to a race. The race is not a sprint. It is a marathon. At the end of the race, we will receive the ultimate prize-eternal life in heaven.

The image of a race that the writer of Hebrews used included a stadium filled with the great athletes who had finished their races and who have come to cheer on the new runners. The spectators included Abel, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Enoch, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. They were not perfect, but they depended on God’s strength and power in their lives every day. If we feel that God can’t use us, we must remember that:

Noah was a drunk

Abraham was too old

Isaac was a daydreamer

Jacob was a liar

Leah was ugly

Joseph was abused

Moses was a stutterer

Gideon was afraid

Samson had long hair and was a womanizer

Rahab was a prostitute

Jeremiah and Timothy were too young

David had an affair and was a murderer

Elijah was suicidal

Isaiah preached naked

Jonah ran away from God

Naomi was a widow

Job went bankrupt

Peter denied Christ

The disciples fell asleep while praying

Martha worried about everything

The Samaritan woman was divorced more than once

Zaccheus was too small

Paul was too religious

Timothy had an ulcer

AND

Lazarus was dead!

We do not have any excuses. God can use us to our full potential because we are the messenger and not the message.  

The race will not be easy. We will suffer like Jesus did. The promise of a future reward will give us the strength we need to endure the hardships we will face. It is the same promise that gave Jesus the strength he needed to face the cross.

Jesus ran the race of suffering and servanthood because of the joy he could see in the future. He saw the blessing that his suffering on the cross would bring, so he was able to set aside the consideration of the pain and humiliation he would have to endure. When we see the cross correctly, we see that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. We see that the cross was a milestone on the way to Jesus’ joyful coronation. The writer of Hebrews hoped that we will also be able to withstand our suffering and remain on top with perseverance because we can see the same end result that Jesus did. Jesus knew that he would face hostility, and we will also face hostility and opposition.

The hardships we will face are God’s way of disciplining us. The writer of Hebrews focuses on perseverance in the painful tests of life. Discipline is more than perseverance. It is a common term for raising children through instruction, training and correction. On the road of faith, there will be times where God will teach us and train us and correct us when we disobey him.  As a loving parent, God disciplines us for our own good, just like most of our parents disciplined us for our own good.

God’s discipline will prepare us for this opposition. His discipline is motivated by his love for us. His ultimate discipline is for our own good, because the result of his discipline is holiness, a likeness to God. We must not let life’s difficulties get the best of us. We must endure and get our second wind so as to be renewed to continue the race. During the race, we must not look back. Looking back is dangerous. We must stay focused on our objective if we are going to succeed. That is God’s purpose for us.

Our discipline can include facing persecution just like Jesus did. The writer of Hebrews looked into the future and saw that his audience would likely face persecution, and he wanted to prepare them. This also applies to us today. Many of our Christian brothers and sisters face persecution because of their faith. Many of us face criticism or ridicule because of our faith. The writer of Hebrews encouraged his audience to stand up to persecution like the saints who had gone before them, and he also encourages us to stand up to persecution today. 

In order to run this race, we have to get rid of excess weight. Just like runners in a real race remove their warm-up jackets before a race, we as Christians must remove anything that hinders our race. This excess weight can be anything from too many irons in the fire, too many distractions, or too many things that suck out our vital energy. When we become distracted, we will be in for a surprise. In order to win the race, all of our human and divine energy must be devoted to the race.

One of the distractions we have to get rid of is sin. Just like runners have to wear clothing that is not too tight or binding, we must not have any habits or sins that ensnare us. One thing that ensnares us is sin. Our sin does not have to be the sin of commission such as drunkenness and lust. It can also be the sin of omission such as not serving others or failing to step out in faith. God confronts us with our sin and convicts us of it in order to get us to confess. He knows that if we do not confess it and correct it, our misery will eat away at our souls and we will live life at a very low level in comparison with the life He created for us. Once Christ sets us free from sin’s bondage, we can use our energy to satisfy our hunger for social justice and the necessities of life. 

Jesus designed the race we are to run. He identified with those in need. He claimed that his own life was the essential base for life itself. He accepted social outcasts and ministered to them without being offended by their appearance or behaviour. He set a difficult portion of the race by teaching us to love our enemies. He set his lordship under those he served in order to hold them up to their potential. Servant lordship allows us to discover our God-given identity and offers a place for that identity to be used for doing God’s work in our world.

Of course there will be times when we will become tired and discouraged. When we do, we must stop and remember that what we are experiencing is nothing compared to what Jesus experienced. The Holy Spirit constantly refreshes us. A good way to remember what to do when we are tired and discouraged is to remember the acrostic HALT:

H is for hungry. We must stop and eat when we are hungry.

A is for anger. When we feel angry inside we need to stop and deal with it immediately.

L is for lonely. When we feel lonely, we must stop and deal with it.

T is for tired. When we are tired, we must lay down and get the rest we need.

In other words, we must learn to lay everything aside and renew our fellowship and communion with God. We must “keep our eyes on the prize.” We must keep our eyes fixed on Christ. Just like runners in a marathon have to pace themselves, we must pace ourselves when we run the race of life. Only then can we survive, thrive and win.

 Bibliography

1.      ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package

2.      Evans, L,.H. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 33: Hebrews (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985)

3.      MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)

4.      Dr. Jack Graham, “Feeling Stagnant? Are You Running the Race?” Retrieved from www.jesus.org

5.      Dr. Harold Sala, ”Looking Back” Retrieved from www.guidelines.org

6.      Ann Graham Lotz, “The Core of a Miserable Life.” Retrieved from www.angelministries.org

7.      Jim Burns, “Join the Crowd.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com

8.      Abiding Above Devotional, “Starting Over With God-Part 10”. Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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