For those of us who follow sports, some are true fanatics – whether we compete head to head with our opponents actively participating in a game or choose to sit on the sidelines as spectators cheering at the top of our lungs for our favorite team. We take our jerseys, our rivalries, our fantasy teams, etc. really seriously. Sometimes, it can even change and transform even the quietest and shyest people!
However, sports do not just entertain and excite. More importantly, sports have the ability to teach us valuable lessons– lessons of teamwork, perseverance, integrity, respect, humility, etc. that enable us to navigate through the trials and triumphs of life’s journeys.
In the Scriptures, authors sometimes used the athletic metaphor to communicate the truths and lessons of the Gospel. For example, Paul understood the power of the athletic metaphor. He knew that the Romans acknowledged sports as a good source of entertainment and the Greeks saw athletics as a means of increasing personal enrichment, reasoning that a healthy body was linked with a healthy mind. Thus, Paul often used examples from sports such as running and boxing to illustrate the life of a follower of Jesus Christ.
In Hebrews 12:1-3, we see the athletic metaphor employed remind us that life is a race worth running and giving our all:
Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV
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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
God has in mind the blueprints of our lives; In His great sovereignty, God mapped them out since the beginning of time. We are His masterpieces, and our lives have been shaped by the Master Artist to do good works, which He had planned for each of us long ago (Ephesians 2:10).
Knowing this, remember – God has entrusted you with a race marked out especially for you. It is a calling that only you can fulfill. It is a path that only you can walk on.
As we run the race, keep in mind these essential guidelines:
1. REMEMBER your cloud of witnesses.
As you prepare for a race, your coach keeps you on the right track. He instructs you how to run with proper form and how you can conserve and utilize energy. More importantly, your coach pushes you to go beyond limits and inspires you to keep going!
Hebrews 11, otherwise known as the “Hall of Faith,” gives us countless stories of men and women of God. They are our “coaches” whose lives bear testimony to the possibilities of a life of faith.
However, our “cloud of witnesses” is not just limited to the heroes of the faith in the Scriptures … they also refer to the people in our lives today – our mentors, our parents, our teachers, our pastors – whose lives of wisdom and love can encourage us to keep running!
2. THROW OFF that which hinders & the sin that tangles you up.
During the ancient Olympic games, athletes often competed nude. This was done in line with the overall purposes of the festival, which was to celebrate, in part, the achievements of the human body. Perhaps doing this served another purpose — when they athletes ran, they ran without anything weighing them down.
In the same way, let us run this race letting go of any baggage that might slow us or drag us down– whether it be our fears, emotional baggage, secret sin, bad company – so that we can run this race as fast as we can.
3. RUN with perseverance.
When we’re tired, it is easier to give up or give in rather than give it our all. Victory is often determined by how we handle setbacks. Will you give up? Give in? Or give it your all?
4. FIX YOUR EYES on Jesus.
It’s hard to run a race with your eyes wandering and looking around. If our eyes do not fix their gaze upon that which they are pursuing, we easily lose focus.
With the busyness of life, it is so easy for our gaze to be preoccupied with the things of this world that we forget to look up and seek His face.
Don’t forget to look up and remember that He who endured the cross is at work in us!
In the same way that sports – whether it be running, boxing, playing basketball – involves overcoming struggles, we are reminded that life too is a struggle. Perhaps this is why the world of sports remains a great metaphor for life’s highest mountaintops and lowest valleys. However, in this struggle, we are not alone. As you run:
REMEMBER your clouds of witnesses.
THROW off that which hinders & the sin that tangles you up.
RUN with perseverance.
FIX YOUR EYES on Jesus.
It’s time to prepare for the race of your life!