I was looking for some pictures to illustrate a picture I had in my head of people climbing a mountain. Being that we live in a place with no mountains in sight and its been a while since we were actually hiking in the mountains this was the best I could come up with. This is actually a location in SK. The highest elevated land in the province, Cypress Hills Provincial Park. We camped there last summer.
Lately verses in the Bible that refer to the idea of running a race in our spiritual lives have been coming to mind. Some trying and discouraging circumstances surrounding me right now are requiring an extra measure of focus and perseverance.
"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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. The author and perfecter of our faith" Hebrews 12: 1- 2
To put the passage into context the author of the book of Hebrews had just finished reviewing the men and woman of faith who had gone before them and was encouraging the Hebrew believers to persevere in times of trials and great difficulties. The "cloud of witnesses" are not spectators to this race but inspiring examples of those who have finished the course and are cheering us on from the finish line. In that cloud of witnesses I see great hero's of the faith , Abraham standing next to Hudson Taylor, and loved ones who have gone on before me who lived a life of faith.
In this race, this course set before me, I sometimes stumble, I trip and fall, I get weary. I approach a hill and wonder how I will ever have the strength to keep running. Sometimes I run with ease and exhilaration, enjoying the rhythmic pounding of my heart and feet. I often enjoy the passing scenery as I look forward to the triumphant finish.
Other times my lungs burn and the pain in the side of my stomach is hard to ignore...all I want to do is sit down and rest, just for a while...just coast and not go anywhere that might make me uncomfortable.
As I contemplate going on, I look around at those who have left the race, those people who have set up lawn chairs and campfires off to the side. They reminisce about the good old days in the race, they discuss why hymn books are preferable to powerpoint projectors and discuss the problems with runners today.
I run past a few who are sitting in the middle of the path looking disillusioned and discouraged. I see that they need someone to pick them up, come along side and run with them for a while.
I grieve for those who have turned around and have started walking back down way they came.
I see the people who have decided to observe from the sidelines, their racing numbers pinned to their shirts. They are entered in the race but just haven't moved in a long time, they are comfortable watching...as long as it is entertaining.
I watch in awe and respect as an elderly lady sprints up the final incline toward the finish line. (let me pause and remind you that this is a spiritual race I'm talking about, able healthy bodies ,while undeniably useful, are not a requirement for this race)
At some points in the race I have been the one to fall to the ground in despair. It was then that my father came and lifted me on his shoulders and carried me up the path that was too steep for me.
What I look forward to is not simply a trophy or a participation ribbon. We hike up this mountain path one foot in front of the other in order to get to what is waiting for us at the top, at the finish line. The breathtaking view from the top. I must focus on the task at hand, not become sidetracked or tripped up by distractions that would lure me from the race or make me believe we run in vain. At the top of this mountain is something that will make me forget every side stitch and sore muscle along the way.
"..you have come to Mount Zion to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant..." Hebrews 12: 22-24
Imagine a finish line that includes thousands upon thousands of angels throwing a party. Imagine what "the city of the living God" will look like, now that would be a skyline worth seeing. Imagine being congratulated and patted on the back by "the spirits of righteous men" gone before us. Our father God stands in anticipation of our arrival and greets us with open arms and exclaims "Well done good and faithful servant!" . Our mediator Jesus runs along side us cheering us over the finish line. I've ran and finished a lot of races in my life but no finish line exhilaration will ever compare to a finish line like that!
Paul writes in the book of Acts "However I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. "
"Tenacity is more than endurance, it is endurance combined with the absolute certainty that what we are looking for is going to transpire." Oswald Chambers
A life lived in faith requires tenacity, perseverance and focus.
I know one way or another, I will finish the race, how I finish it is another question. I could finish the race in a leisurely controlled manner, aware that I must not appear foolish or in a rush, careful not to break a sweat a long the way, but that is not how a true athlete runs a race. I don't want the polite sympathy clap as I walk over the finish line. I want to be an athlete that runs strong, one that spends every last reserve of energy, that sprints across the finish line. I want to know I gave it everything I had, used every resource available to me, invested my time and energy wisely. That is how I want to run the race....with spiritual tenacity.