On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first human to ever run a mile recorded in under four minutes. That world record only lasted six weeks, when an Australian named John Landy, beat his record by more than a second. The rivalry heated up as the Empire Games were scheduled for August that same year, and Bannister and Landy were set to square off in one of the most anticipated races in history. The two runners had very different styles. Landy loved to set the pace, starting off fast and usually leading his races from start to finish. Bannister liked to run behind most of the race and take over the lead in the final lap. True to those stereotypes, Landy led for most of the race with Bannister behind him by quite a distance going into the final lap. When Bannister made his move, the crowd went to their feet cheering wildly. Landy got nervous and, in a moment of panic, broke racing’s number one rule, “Don’t look back.” As Landy looked over his left shoulder, Bannister went zooming by on the right to win the race that would forever be remembered as the “miracle mile.”
We are in a far more important, eternal race, but all too often we get off course by the distractions of life, or worse, sidelined by our preferred sins. Ours is a difficult race. But we receive inspiration from Hebrews 11 which reminds us of our predecessors who suffered greatly but endured in their race. We can please the Savior and run a great race if we follow the advice of Hebrews 12:1-2.
First, we must look to the faithful who ran before us (1a). Many interpret this verse to mean that the saints in heaven are watching us from glory’s grandstands cheering us on as we “run” our Christian life. The Bible tells us God observes what is going on here on earth and sovereignly directs, but it never tells us that departed saints can see us. If they could they’d see a lot of sin and failure, which doesn’t seem in keeping with what we know about the atmosphere of Heaven. This verse tells us to consider them, not the other way around. We are to contemplate God’s spiritual athletes in Hebrews 11 and throughout the Bible, as well as countless saints who faced daunting obstacles and finished well to the glory of God. Great examples can propel us to live well.
We probably spend too much time watching the heroes of this world, whether athletes, actors, or politicians, and allowing them to shape our worldview! Hebrews encourages us to imitate the faithful whose love for Christ motivated them to live for Him. Who’s your hero? Who do you listen to, read, or watch the most? Let’s consciously shift our gaze to those who have lived for God and have received His commendation.
Secondly, We must lose the excess weight that drags us down (1b). Every new year comes with the hope of losing weight–it is the number one resolution in America. But I’m not talking about losing excess pounds but the weight or encumbrances of sins. In the Greek and Roman games, runners ran with their races with only a loincloth or naked. Excess weight slows us down and excess garments can even entangle us. In the popular TV series, “The Biggest Loser,” contestants compete for big money by losing big pounds. Sometimes later in the season, they run a race fitted with bodysuits that bring their weight back to where they were when they first started. They can’t believe they carried all that weight around for so long. The Holy Spirit is saying through the writer of Hebrews, “Strip down.” “Lose those needless things!” Certainly, that means sin, but also the excesses in life that are not necessarily sinful, but distract us in the race for eternal rewards. Is there a sin that entangles you? Covetousness, lust, criticism, laziness, hatred, pride, bitterness? Mortify that sin, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to leave our baggage at the foot of the cross so we can run the race that God has for us.
Lastly, we must lock our eyes on the prize that is before us (2). Landy’s mistake should remind us that when we take our eyes off the goal of hearing “Well done good and faithful servant,” it will cost us! We are told to literally lift our eyes from the distracting things around us and fix our gaze on Christ. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the architect of this race; He ran it perfectly and seeks to aid us in the running of our race.
No one runs a race without some expectation of reward. Neither did Jesus! He endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him, ignoring the shame and dismissing the pain to please the Father and complete His will, bringing glory to God. So, should it be with us? We run for a prize; we seek to bring glory to God. Don’t get distracted; fix your eyes on the supreme example of the One who started, endured and finished well – Jesus.