Reflections for Lent
by Guest Blogger Jacky Wilson
Scripture reference Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV): "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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” The Race of faith! Our Scripture from Hebrews 12:1-3 says - we are in a race, but not a race in the sense of racing to work or to the shops to get that item we forgot to complete the meal, or racing home to cook that dinner.
The race we are running is the race of faith that began the moment we asked Jesus into our lives, whom the author of Hebrews calls both “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. So the race we are running has:
✓a starting line, where Jesus is present (coaching us for the race ahead / firing the starting gun) as the pioneer of our faith
✓and a finish line, where Jesus is waiting for us (cheering us on) as the perfecter of our faith. ✓And on top of all that there is a prize that will help us be serious in running our race in order to finish it well.
So like any athlete, we will need to be disciplined, to stay focused and to make sacrifices in order to finish the race in the way Jesus intends us to.
Obstacles on the way
As we all know too well, life itself will provide us with plenty of obstacles along the way, distracting us with all that the world wants to offer us - things that seem more appealing and alluring.
And then there’s sin - the sin in our lives holding us back, entangling us as if somebody had tied the shoelaces of our running shoes together when we weren’t looking, it's sin that comes to entice us with the promise of something more gratifying or rewarding, but in the end it’s real aim is to disqualify us completely and take us out of the race.
In the meantime, perhaps some of us will not have even realised we are actually in a race, wondering why everything is so tiring and why we haven’t progressed in our faith as we would have hoped to; others will be running at a good pace, calm, focused and in for the distance.
Encouragement on the way: the cloud of witnesses
The writer of Hebrews in 12:1 tells us that “… since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses …" What does that mean? - Have you ever wondered who this great cloud of witnesses might be? People today assume, I think, generally speaking that in this cloud are those who have died who we all know: family, friends, and acquaintances, and they are watching us from above ... but this is not what the Bible tells us. The "great cloud of witnesses" mentioned here are actually those first introduced to us in Chapter 11 of Hebrews. The ones who have run the race before us, living lives of faith and dependence on God, until they crossed the promised finish line.
Runners like Moses, Joseph, and David, Sarah, Rahab, Esther and Mary - those who triumphed in reaching their goal through their focused faith and trust in God. Their faith was shown in what they did, not only in what they said: Noah built the ark; Abraham dwelt in a tent; Rahab hid the Israelite spies; Sarah gave birth in her old age. Not one these heroes was perfect, all had their flaws and weaknesses (read their stories in the Bible) because all were just like you and me.
Why were they mentioned in Scripture? Because they all put their trust in God and watched Him do amazing things - in God’s eyes they’re all champions! Yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. We are running that same race now, in whatever way God has called us to serve Him, so let us stay faithful as they stayed faithful!
Run the race of faith like Jesus! The scripture says Jesus went to the cross for you and for me, despite the shame and humiliation he chose to run His race, He kept His eyes on the prize.
“WHY?” the Word says “for the joy set before Him” He saw the prize!
His prize - He completed His mission to save us sinners and to accomplish the will of His Father, and He is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
In James 1:2-4, we as followers of Jesus in the race are encouraged to stay the course: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
Look to Jesus … and win the prize! Let us make Jesus our only prize, our aim, our life. Colossians 1:18 says that He is to have first place in everything. We are to set our eyes on Jesus always - confident in the knowledge that there’s no better trainer who could have prepared us, no better coach who could be egging us on, and no better champion gone before us and waiting for us at the finish line, than Jesus himself.
1 Corinthians 10:13 exhorts us as we go the distance:
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
” So with the help of the Holy Spirit let us stand on this truth - God does not abandon us because we have weaknesses. He works through our weaknesses because He knows we are a work in progress.
In other words, the longer the race goes, the better we get!
“Wow, what a prize!”
And let us pray that we will not grow weary, we know we run this race as individuals but along the way let us encourage those who are struggling, both those starting the race and those tiring midway, remembering always to fortify, comfort and build up in Christ.
So this Lent, as we reflect on what Jesus endured for each and every one of us individually on the cross let us keep reminding ourselves of the prize, and that Jesus is both the Author and Finisher of our faith. In Him we live and move and have our being and, as one more great reminder of who He is: He will not start something He will not finish.