Have you ever been tempted to slow up because you don’t like the course you’re on?
You’ve got cancer or some other disease and everyone else seems to be the picture of health and wellness.
You’re unemployed and everyone else seems to be getting a job or busy at work.
You’re working like a dog and everyone else seems to have more time and days off.
You hate your job and everyone else seems to like their job.
You’re failing at your job and everyone else seems to be succeeding.
You’re struggling financially and everyone else seems to be getting along just fine.
You’re single and everyone else seems to be married or getting married.
You’re unhappily married and everyone else seems to be enviously single or enviously married.
You can’t get pregnant and wombs everywhere seem to be bursting with life.
Your kids seem to give you nothing but grief, while happy homes everywhere mock your pain.
You're aging not gracefully but painfully, and everyone else appears younger and carefree.
You look around and bitterness and resentment begin to rise. And you slow up. And your hands drop to your sides. And your knees hurt and feel weak. And the path seems always uphill and rough. And you’re tired. And you want to quit. And it seems fruitless to fight (after all, any fight you’ve waged in the past has only resulted in this!). Maybe some relief will come by giving up the fight. Maybe you’ll find some rest at the edge of the path as you brood over/wallow in your disappointment and frustration and self-pity. And you coast. And you wander. And you stop even being bothered by it.
The book of Hebrews was written for you.
There is a race set before you. It’s not the same race that is set before the next guy. You weren’t called to run his race. Don’t worry about him (see John 21:21-22). You have a race set before you. And you were meant to run it. Not sit on the side of it. Not give up on it.
Hebrews 12:1-2 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, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
In the preceding context, the writer gives us a list of people who have already crossed the finish line. They are part of the great cloud of witnesses that are set all around us. They made it. And they are cheering us on as we run toward the finish.
Some of them seemed to cross as victors:
Hebrews 11:32-35a And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets--who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection.
Some seemed to cross as victims, tacked to a circumstantial cross by their seemingly victorious enemies:
Hebrews 11:35b-38 Some (through faith!) were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated--of whom the world was not worthy-- wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
So, which of these two categories would you like set before you? I’m guessing you’d like the former set before you. But God may choose to set the latter before you. Does the latter necessarily mean you don’t have enough faith to be victorious? No. Does it necessarily mean God is not pleased with you? No.
Hebrews 11:39-40 And all these (the conquerors and the conquered; the victors and the victims), though commended through their faith (they were pleasing to God by faith, not because they won or succeeded; their acceptability with God was not necessarily evident in earthly success, but in the fact that they kept trusting – through thick and thin), did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.
Instead of fixing your eyes on the difficultly of the race set before you; instead of looking around at everyone else who seems to have it better than you, fix your eyes on Jesus. He had a race set before him that makes even the most difficult race look like a cake walk. He endured it for the joy set before him. He blazed the trail by faith, for the sake of your faith. He’s the pioneer and the perfecter.
The real reward and the real victory and the real joy is not victory on this earth. It’s not earthly success. If, in the race set before you, you experience success and victory, keep looking to Jesus and know that you only win by his grace and for his glory. If, in the race set before you, you experience failure and defeat, keep looking to Jesus and know that these trials can’t take the true victory and reward from you. God doesn’t love only the successful conquerors. In fact, it's often the pain of defeat and trials that are filled with his loving fatherly training.
Hebrews 12:5-11 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. … For [our earthly fathers] disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Have you ever been tempted to slow up because you don’t like the course you’re on? Do you see how the book of Hebrews is for you? Hear and heed...
Hebrews 2:1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away…
Hebrews 12:12-16 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive (Run after!) for peace with everyone, and (Run after!) the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it (with your eyes fixed on Jesus) that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.