For my devotional time this morning I was reading Hebrews 12, you know the chapter that starts out, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses..." (Heb 12:1). What powerful imagery, how moving. It makes you feel like you can hang in there with this great throng that has preceded you in the faith. It is the second half of the verse that I was meditating on this morning. "... let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us" (Heb 12:1b).
Several thoughts came to mind. First of all, "the race that is set before us." My son, Christian, was a distance runner from middle school through college. He did best of all at the mile. He did very well at longer distances like cross country races or road races. He did ok at slightly shorter distances, but the mile was where he shined. That was his race. When he ran the race set before him, that he was best built for, he succeeded.
What about us? Do we look at others' walks of faith and try to be like them? Do we wish we had their lives? There is a race set before each of us. That is the race we need to run. It can be difficult.
Think about perseverance. If it was easy, would we have to persevere? We are in the race for the long haul. It is more like running a marathon than sprinting for the short dashes.
Looking at the context.
If we look at the next verse, we are to look to Jesus. Makes sense. But there in the middle of that verse is something that pertains to perseverance: suffering. Jesus had to "endure the cross" (Heb 12:2). Later in the chapter the author speaks of discipline and its place in our growth.
I had a teacher for Romans at Elim Bible Institute, who used to tell us that when there is a "therefore," we need to find out what it's "there for." It's a doozy this time. The "therefore" of verse 1 takes us back to Hebrews 11, the heroes of the faith, you know the chapter that says "by faith" this one and that one did whatever. But the very last part of that chapter that precedes our "therefore" goes like this:
Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— 38of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. 39Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
So...that's what the "therefore" was "there for." Because it's a race to be run with perseverance, there's no promise of its ease. We must look to God and his grace to enable us to run the race he has set before us.