What does your race look like just now? Maybe you are running freely, moving smoothly along the path, light footed and full of energy. Maybe you are the marathon runner, just hitting ‘the wall’, struggling to breathe, not certain you can keep going. Perhaps you are injured, not even running, barely walking, mind in turmoil, maybe it’s time to give up.
The realistic challenge of the Christian life
The writer to the Hebrews encourages us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb 12:1). He wants us to live our lives by faith in Christ. And yet he knows that is not easy. We will be hindered by life and entangled in sin. We will need perseverance. Even those of us who are currently running freely know that instinctively. Ahead there will be a hill to climb or a valley to cross and, when that happens, we may well “grow weary and lose heart” (v3).
Fixing our eyes on Jesus
So the writer gives us a solution: we are to run by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (v2). We are to “consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (v3). Our Lord Jesus ran the race before us. He endured the cross, scorned its shame, finished the job of securing salvation and sat down at the right hand of God. He experienced such opposition – is it any surprise that we do too? There is much encouragement in these verses for the weary Christian but there is a question too…
What does it look like to fix my eyes on Jesus? How do I do that day by day?
Those who know about these things will tell you that if you decide to run a marathon you need a training plan. A day by day plan of exercises and runs that, over time, build stamina and fitness. And it takes time. Many will hire a trainer. Others will look to friends who have previously completed a marathon as inspiration.
When we are asking the question, ‘how do I fix my eyes on Jesus daily to help me run the Christian life with perseverance?’ looking at the lives of those who have already completed the race might be a helpful place to start. Paul writes that the Thessalonians became “imitators of us and of the Lord” as he lived among them (1 Thess 1:6). And as he writes to Timothy, he is reminded of the “sincere faith which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice” (2 Tim 1:5). We know most about those we have been ‘up close and personal’ with, and are able to see more clearly the sincere faith in their lives.
The life of a grandmother
For me, the obvious place to start is with my own grandmother. Born in 1906, she lived a long life with many ups and downs. A farming wife who could remember the first plane flying over her Cambridgeshire village, she never left the country until, as a widow aged 80, she took herself off to visit friends in the USA. A hospitable woman, she baked cakes for the ‘old ladies church group’ into her 90s and knitted jumpers whilst playing Scrabble with one of her many grandchildren. Like us all, she lived through many deep personal difficulties. She was a follower of Jesus from her early childhood. Her whole life was marked by her faith in him. How did she fix her eyes on Jesus?
Jesus was her saviour
At her thanksgiving service my grandmother planned for us to read Psalm 32:1, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” She knew that the end of the race was certain. Jesus had run the race first and endured the cross. Each and every day, whatever her sins and failings, she belonged to Jesus. She never lost her sense of joy and thankfulness at that certainty. Her daily prayers reflected this reality. Each and every day started with the knowledge that the race was won by Jesus for her already.
Jesus as sovereign
She knew that Jesus was seated at the right hand of the Father and that ultimately every knee will bow before him, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:9-10). This meant that even when everything felt out of control she had certainty that he was in charge. She could pray the Lord’s Prayer daily, asking for his will to be done in each and every situation, confident in his ruling power.
Jesus at her side
Psalm 23 hung above her bed. The Lord was her shepherd. He was the one who was with her through the race. He was her most intimate relationship. He was the last person she spoke to before sleep each night and the first person she spoke to in the morning. This sustaining relationship gave her strength – even to endure the sufferings of immobility and blindness in her final years. It helped her to not grow weary or lose heart. She knew that he would walk with her through the final valley into death. And on the other side she would finally see him face to face. In every challenge she faced in her life, she knew she didn’t face it alone but with her loving saviour by her side.
Running my race with perseverance
How then does her example of faith in Jesus help me to run with perseverance, keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus?
Jesus is my saviour as well. As I pray, I can turn in repentance daily, for the sin that so easily entangles me, for my tendency to turn to other things rather than him. My prayers can be full of joy in my salvation, that the end of my race is certain. And I need to do this daily, as she did – making prayer a priority.
Jesus is still sovereign! He is sat at God’s right hand. As I toss and turn at night or ruminate in the day, I know that Jesus is in control. I can pray in each moment that his will be done. And when I find life hard and the worrying thoughts keep coming, I can pray that he would transform those thoughts, asking him to help me focus more on him and less on me.
Jesus is my shepherd and he is at my side too. Shepherds protect their sheep, know their sheep, stay with their sheep. He knows what I need to run my race. So often, when I get weary and lose heart, I forget that Jesus is with me. Every minute of every day, I can speak to him, bringing him all my secret worries and concerns. I need reminding of this daily, and so the 23rd Psalm now hangs above my bed.
How is your race just now?
Why not let the writer to the Hebrews encourage you to persevere, keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus too? Keep looking around at those who have run the race before you or who are running alongside you. Find encouragements from them to practically fix your eyes on Christ. And maybe we can all consider how we are practically fixing our eyes on Jesus. Let us humbly pray that we may be an encouragement to those running alongside and coming behind. We all need help to run the race with perseverance, and not grow weary nor lose heart (Heb 12:1-3).