This is the text of a talk I gave at a women’s day retreat in March of 2011.
As they say, back in the day, well back a great many days during high school, I ran track, mainly sprints and the long jump.
There was a particular day at a track meet when I hadn’t had a particularly great qualifying round, in fact, I barely made it into the final race.
I was thankful. But my performance meant that I had a really bad lane, in the eyes of all the runners. I would occupy the inside lane. From this lane, I could see everyone that had run faster than me and who had better lane real estate.
I looked to my right and I saw a familiar runner in the dead center lane. I remembered her well as she tossed back her hair and stretched her legs to assume her starting position.
Those tanned legs that must have been the result of a vacation in Hawaii with family.
Yes she had the best lane on all accounts and long legs too…I had always wanted long slender legs that ran like a gazelle but my legs were…well, they were just plain short and stubby. This fact meant that every gliding stride she took, I took two choppy ones.
How fair was that?
I happen to notice the starter staring at me which snapped me back into attention.
I put my feet on each starting block and awaited the sound of the gun and we were off.
I ran hard because I could see everyone in front of me…the people in the coveted middle lanes could run at an easy relaxed clip but not me or that poor girl in the far outside lane.
I had a bird’s eye view and she could see no one. So maybe my lane wasn’t the worst but it was still pretty bad.
I ran my heart out and as we all came around the final corner, due to the nature of a staggered track,
I was now in the lead and others were now chasing me.
Oh that poor girl on the outside, as I passed her by I could see she was straining, trying to hold on,
I could tell from her grimace that she was soon to be swallowed up by the other runners.
I kept running and all I could hear was the sound of feet equipped with spikes and breathing and maybe even some grunting,
it was difficult to tell.
I kept running and I felt wind across my cheek and someone was passing me…tanned legs and all.
I had reached the finish line but I had lost.
Now is this story true. Well, yes in parts.
I do know the winner of that race was always tanned but if you think about it so am I.
I don’t know if she vacationed in Hawaii or Mexico or somewhere exotic.
Her tan could have been courtesy of a tanning bed.
I don’t really know, I only imagined that I knew.
I do know that we were rivals for many years.
Sometimes I was the victor and other times she ran a victory lap.
We both ran for a prize that neither one of us could hold at the same time.
I also know that as my senior year approached, I decided to give track a rest.
I laid down my sprinting for a better race.
Is it possible to run a better race?
Let’s turn to the book of Hebrews, chapter 12.
You see I think the first three verses of Hebrews chapter 12 tell us how to run a better race than the one that I ran so many years ago.
The race I ran that day was all about winning for myself and about a winning a trophy that would soon become dusty and tarnished.
These verses are a training manual of sorts for running the race of faith equipped with:
a cheering section,
a couple of commands and
an all important focal point.
Let’s start with the cheering section.
During that race so many years ago, I doubt that I heard anything but the sound of footsteps and breath…my own and others.
Oh I knew the crowd was there but I don’t think I heard them.
And if I did, perhaps I thought they were cheering for someone other than me.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that there are those that have gone before us.
They were just like us just from another time.
They ran a race too.
They stayed in their lane.
They finished the race.
They kept the faith.
Can you hear them cheering?
Are their voices only a whisper?
We can turn up their volume by being in the Word…their identities don’t have to be a mystery to us.
We can be reminded of what they faced in their lanes and it can be the Gatorade to propel us in our lanes.
Don’t forget to listen for the cheers of the faithful surrounding us. They are counting on us to finish strong …
The last verse of chapter 11 of Hebrews says this as found in The Message:
Not one of these people,
even though their lives of faith were exemplary,
got their hands on what was promised.
God had a better plan for us;
that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole,
their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.
The past, the present,
colliding with future glory.
Remember we are not in this race of faith alone.
We are all in this together.
We are all lined up shoulder to shoulder, side by side.
The staggered lanes have been factored out of this faith equation.
Our lanes are not assigned according to our worth or abilities.
Because this race is not a sprint, it is a marathon.
We are not competing with each other, we are running together.
We don’t worry if someone’s pace is faster or slower than our own.
My lane is my lane and your lane is yours.
Do you like your lane?
Are you apt to look around like I was?
Does someone’s lane look easier than yours?
Does it look more exciting?
Perhaps more blessed?
Are you gazing from your lane like Eve to a lane that looks more attractive although off limit?
Does your lane have potholes and hurdles strewn about?
Does your run feel more like a crawl?
Are you just plain weary of the lane you are traveling?
I know that I never thought that my lane would include a few scattered land mines.
But God has allowed my lane to often contain a puddle of tears or two.
We each must stay in our own lane and further we must make it our aim to get rid of ANYTHING that will impede our progress.
Verse 2 says:
Let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.
The amplified version describes it like this:
Let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance or unnecessary weight and
that sin which so readily, deftly and cleverly clings and entangle us.
As sin is described, it isn’t an easy thing to get rid of, but we can in Jesus.
I thought to myself one morning as I was blow drying my hair,
“Why didn’t I get my hair done?”
My hair possesses many different natures.
I have the old nature…which is incredibly curly.
I have the new straight nature that has been bought and paid for but I also have grey hair that I prefer to color.
Initially my old nature hair grows in slowly and it isn’t a big deal
but if I wait too long it becomes stronger and it fights the other hair.
In fact, my hairdresser always says,
“Helen why did you wait so long?”
Sin can be slow-growing at first and then take control of our lives.
We need to keep short accounts.
If sin is taken care of quickly, it is easy to deal with but if we left intact, it can be difficult to handle.
Is sin blocking the way of running your race effectively?
Is there something that you need to be done with once and for all?
Earlier in the book of Hebrews,
Jesus has sympathy for our weakness and He understands them well as He was tested in every way yet resisted sin.
By getting rid of our sin, we essentially step over it and never revisit that part of our race again.
Is there unnecessary weight that you were not meant to carry?
Jesus has told us that he wants to carry our burdens for us.
We each have our own lane, but we share the common struggles with sin and burdens.
We need one another.
We need to walk with each other when we show the visible signs of limping.
We need to pray for one another and be present especially when we see what someone else’s lane entails.
This marathon is going to take effort, perseverance and endurance.
I love what C.H. Spurgeon said:
By perseverance the snail reached the ark.
It is all about forward motion no matter how small.
Jesus is waiting is at the finish line but it is going to take each step to meet Him.
Jesus is the Author and the Finisher of our faith.
He is the supreme example of running a race to completion with a solitary vision.
His lane included betrayal, denials, persecution, abandonment, a tortuous death, separation from His Father
but ended in triumph over death and victory over sin for all of us, allowing us to be wrapped in eternal life.
He was able to disregard what His lane contained and the shame associated with it because He focused on the joy set before Him.
He knew that once He had run his race, he would see His Father’s face and sit down at his right hand.
Hebrews tells us to think about Jesus’ lane assignment whenever we grow weary and lose heart with our own lane.
We are sandwiched between the faithful of the past and Christ at the finish line of our future.
We set our vision on Jesus who was, is, and is to come.
I walked the Portland Marathon when I turned 30.
I vividly remember the last mile and all the volunteers kept saying that we were almost there…
we were almost finished.
Those last steps were the hardest and at times every walker started to feel like we were being serenading with lies.
Because with each step, we still could not make out the finish line, we couldn’t hear any cheers and we certainly didn’t see any medals.
But truthfully, we were almost there.
We kept walking and looking for the finish line even when it seemed so distant and like a mirage.
Hebrews 13:8 reminds us that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Our finish line doesn’t change because Jesus never changes.
He’s the same and He will remain our absolute vision.
Don’t you love the book of Hebrews?!
So picture this…let’s all run our race.
Let’s stay in our lane.
Let’s get pumped up by the cloud of witnesses that has gone before us, is cheering for us and is waiting patiently for us.
Let’s kick aside every burden and rid ourselves of any sin that tries to entangle us and sprain our ankles.
Let’s adjust our vision so that it lands squarely on Jesus who has paved our way.
Let’s choose joy instead of being discontented.
We were made to run and we were made to go the distance by keeping our eyes on the matchless Prize that is Jesus Christ.
So let’s lace up our shoes together and get to running.