Run the Race: with Endurance
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
So far we have seen that running the Christian race well means two things. First, it means finding out motivation. Our motivation is the "cloud of witnesses" that surrounds us--those who have gone on before us in the Christian faith and can be our pacesetters. In other words, we need examples to motivate us to run well. Second, we need to cast off any weights that would slow us down. According to Hebrews, this encumbering weight is sin. We need to examine our lives and find what sin would wish to slow us down, trip us up, or in any other way keep us from excelling in our sanctification. Today we consider a third aspect of running well: endurance.
The writer says that once we have find our motivation and cast off our weights, we need to "run with endurance the race set before us." Endurance implies that the Christian life is better compared to a marathon than a sprint. It is something that takes work, commitment, fortitude. It can't be completed with no preparation or practice--otherwise we will burn out in no time at all. Think about it: you would not run a marathon (that is, if you were to run a marathon) without any preparation. You do not just show up the day of the race and expect to do well. Rather, you sign up months ahead, sometimes a year. You learn what kind of course it is, if it will hill or flat, hot or cold, and so on.
So too in the Christian life we must prepare ourselves for what lies ahead. This is what it means to "count the cost" of following Christ. There's a price to be paid. It won't be easy. Discipleship requires endurance. Following Jesus will mean trial and tribulations, but we can't allow those hindrances to cause us to give up. And indeed, if we are expecting them and prepared for them, by the Spirit's power we won't give up. So Peter and John both exhort us: "do not be surprised" or "do not be caught off guard" at the race we must run (1 Peter 4:12, 1 John 3:13). When we seen the course that is set before us, we will not be surprised. We will be ready to run, come what may.
In Luke 9 one eager would-be disciple approaches Jesus and proclaims, "I will follow you wherever you go!" But then Jesus explained to him the nature of the course before him: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus was telling him this is the kind of life he would be signing up for if he wanted to follow the Son of Man. In other words, Jesus was explaining it wasn't an easy stroll, nor a quick sprint. It was a grueling marathon that would take endurance. The implication in the passage is that upon hearing this, the man gives up on Christ. He wasn't ready to run with endurance.
Are you prepared for the race set before you? It will be a long one--indeed, a life-long one. It will take endurance. But the good news is that the endurance comes from God Himself. What God calls us to He strengthens us for. Paul reminds us of this in Colossians. He says that we as Christians are "being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy" (1:11) Similarly, Paul says later on that this alone is what keeps him going in ministry. He can't do it on his own, but he can do it "with all his energy that he powerfully works within me" (1:29).