Advent Thoughts on Running the Race

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So, I have another reflection from my Advent devotional; this time on Hebrews 12:1-3:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

So, in the reflection from a few days ago, N.T. Wright elaborates on several aspects of this passage in Hebrews, drawing on the image of the Christian pilgrimage as a long distance race, using his own experience of a race he ran as a boy. As a runner myself, the examples he describes really resonate with me, because I know them all so well.

The first point he notes is how “the great cloud of witnesses” relates not only to the spectators watching the race, but the whole field of athletes all running together.  Wright argues that the difference in the images however, is that in a race, the runners are competing against one another, whereas “in the journeying of God’s people what matters most to each runner is that all the others make it safely home as well.”  Actually, I disagree a bit with Wright on this point; maybe it is true for the elite runners, but in my experience, those of us “fun runners” are not so much competing against others but feel ourselves part of a great camaraderie, and we both cheer for each other and check on each other if someone seems to be hurting.  That’s one of the main reasons I sign up for races–the only person I’m actually “racing” is myself; otherwise, I just enjoy meeting other runners and watching them run, and running together with a big group on a long course with lots of people watching and cheering us on.  It’s a great feeling, actually.

After making this comparison, Wright turns to what must we do to run the race with efficiency and success–he has three suggestions that continue the athletic imagery. First, he says that we must get rid of any heavy weights that are slowing us down.  He describes some of the “heavy baggage” Christians carry: sins that “constrict our movement,” like greed, selfishness, and envy.  We get caught up in trivial matters that we can’t let go, and end up bogged down and unable to trust God for our future–and ultimately, unable to move forward.

The second point is that the race is not a sprint, it’s a long haul, and you need patience.  This one struck me in particular this time of year.  In general, I mostly feel like I am sprinting around, trying to do multiple things at once, which is both exhausting and unsatisfying–and ultimately, untenable.  [And this time of year is the worst for that!] I need to slow down if I want to keep going.

The third point he makes is that it is necessary to keep your eyes, “or at least your imagination (when you’re too far away to see!),” fixed on the finish line.  That’s another problem I have; I get caught up [and really frustrated] with the details, the minutia, and I lose sight of the big picture, of the things that are really important.

This next week, while I am on my morning runs, I am going to contemplate more intently what it might look like to “run with perseverance”–not necessarily on the battlefield, but in my day-to-day life with Christ, and with others.

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