1 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. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12 (NIV)
Last week I talked about doing what matters: “God has prepared things for us to do today. Things that are worth while. Things that matter. Things that impact eternity, and things that impact our lives and the lives of our ‘neighbors’.” Our time on this Earth is transitory. When we’re in the middle of it, it doesn’t usually seem short. I’m convinced, though, that we don’t have more time than we need to accomplish what God has set out to accomplish in our lives: our transformation to full maturity, to the likeness of Christ. On the way there he gives us lots to do, as a part of that transformation process, as well as opportunities to be a part of what truly matters in the grand scope of eternity. He does the work of transformation, but it also requires our participation by pursuing him and what he has for us.
This week I was reading the last few chapters of Hebrews. I got there while I was thinking about temptation. “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin,” Hebrews 12:4 tells us. Indeed, I haven’t. This passage talks about how the Father disciplines us in order to train us as his children, as part of our transformation. This discipline isn’t punitive or retribution. We are already forgiven, and justice has already been served in our case by Christ paying the price for our sin. The discipline we undergo as God’s children is for our instruction. It is training. Even discipline when we sin is for our transformation.
The passage got me thinking more about the things that hinder us from the race. It isn’t just a matter of avoiding sin. Its a matter of running toward the goal set before us, the goal of knowing God, serving him, and becoming more like Christ. The things that hinder us aren’t just sin. We are also hindered by distraction. You can’t run a race if you are watching the crowd or the runner behind you. You can’t run a race if your trying to do something else at the same time, like playing on your Nintendo DS, or calling someone on the phone. If you’re running a race, you lay aside all the things that keep you from effectively running the race, and you run.
Forgetting what lies behind, push forward to what lies ahead, and press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:14). Run to win, with certainty and purpose (1 Corinthians 8:24, 26). Run with endurance (Hebrews 12:1) and avoid being disqualified (1 Corinthians 8:25, Galatians 5:7) by sin or by pursuing religiosity instead of relationship with God. Running the race is an active pursuit of the goal. Passivity and lack of focus does not win the race.
That’s all well and good, but how do I do this in my every day life?
First, consider where you spend your time. As much as it seems like we have all the time in the world, in reality time is short. God doesn’t give us time in this life to sit around and waste. He’s given us the time we need to mature, and to serve. If we let him, he will use our whole lives for growth, intimacy with him, and blessing others by participating in his touch on their lives.
Where you invest your time directly shows your real priorities. If I don’t spend time with my kids, they rightly think I am not interested in them. If I don’t spend time with my wife, she will eventually conclude that I don’t love her. If I don’t spend time with God, I don’t love him.
I’m not just talking about reading your Bible and doing various spiritual disciplines, although there’s nothing wrong with those things. I’m talking about spending time actively pursuing your relationship with your heavenly Father like you would pursue a relationship with someone you love here on Earth. You don’t just want to know about someone you love. You want to know them. Reading your Bible is a part of that, but reading his Word in pursuit of intimacy with God is a different thing than academic study or casually reading a novel. Learning and doctrine, and even being an authority on some Bible topic are not the same thing as relationship.
This is a big deal for Americans: consider how much time you spend on TV, or games, or hobby activities, or sports, or your career, or whatever else, and compare that to the time you spend intentionally nurturing your relationship with God. What does this reflect about your priorities? What does it show about what you love most? I’m not saying these things are intrinsically bad. None of them are bad. But if they are your priority, if your actions show that these things are your first love rather than God, you have a problem.
Once you have found a good balance in your pursuit of intimate relationship with God, then actively pursue doing other things that matter. Look around you. Pay attention to the people God puts in your path. God has prepared things for you to do today. People to love, to encourage, to heal, to feed, to forgive. If you pay attention, you’ll find these opportunities pretty much every day. If you pay attention, you’ll find God working, and you’ll see his invitation to join in what he is doing. Pay attention, listen, and act.
The time is short. Whether its ninety years or ninety seconds, the time is not enough to waste it. Don’t saunter through life aimlessly, as if we don’t have a purpose or meaning for our lives. Run!