A couple of months ago news services blitzed social media with an image of a heavily clothed young man running down the street. Not someone racing to catch a bus on a chilly winter day. Not a shoplifter layered with stolen goods trying to outrun store security.
This was Leroy Stolzfus, dressed in traditional Amish attire -- with a race number pinned to his shirt.
Amazement notwithstanding that the 22-year old Amish man was able to complete the 26.2 mile course in work shoes, long pants, long-sleeved shirt and suspenders, he did so by logging a noteworthy 3 hours and 5 minutes time, shaving 5 minutes off his previous PR!
It makes you wonder what his final time would be if he laid aside the cumbersome running clothes and laced on springy shoes made practically of air. He says the clothes don’t hold him back, but I can’t imagine how they aren’t slowing him down, impeding him in his race.
Photo by Daniel Zampogna, PennLive
This is just the picture we need to help us flesh out 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.
I would say that, for any runner, there has to be a good reason that propels him forward, that calls him to the finish line. Overwhelmingly rigorous self-discipline characterizes the lifestyle of anyone preparing for a race, a determination not to slack off on the physical training, mentally plotting the steps that will culminate in a successful run and a satisfactory finish. For many, there is exhilaration in the act of running itself and little thought to what happens at the end. They push the pain and discomfort to the periphery of their awareness so that they can complete the course.
For the Christian running the spiritual race, as described in Hebrews, there is a glorious prize awaiting at the finish line: Jesus. All the training and the self-denial and rigor of time-consuming practice is worth it. All the exertion, the ache in the muscles, and the constriction of the lungs is forgotten as the glory of heaven comes into view, as the runner casts his eyes toward the end of the race, “looking to Jesus.” This is, as Arthur Pink describes it in his Exposition of Hebrews*, “a whole-hearted endeavor, the calling into action of every spiritual faculty possessed by the new man."
How attractive is the goal of Christ to you? How hungry are you for the banquet that honors Him and celebrates His glory? Enough to lay aside every weight and sin?
It’s no surprise that the writer exhorts us to shake off sin. This is a race like the one Leroy Stolzfus was running, and the Divine Race Trainer is sharing his secrets with us: The way to make the best course, the best speed, the straightest path, is to rid yourself of sin. It won’t be easy; it will cling to you, beset you, refuse to be dismissed so easily. Sin will whisper in your ear and try to convince you that these hindrances are merely weaknesses, that you’re entitled to them because you’ve worked so hard at obedience, that everybody makes mistakes and nobody can be perfect.
Do not be deceived nor be led to lower God’s holy and righteous commands to the level of mere blemishes, or goofs, or failures. Sin wars against the soul (1 Peter 2:11), and the flesh and mind provide a ready battlefield when we minimize its deadliness and danger. Running with sin clinging to us, slowing us down at every step, is a sure way to lose a race, and the question could be raised as to whether such an encumbered runner really wants to complete the course at all. We should soberly consider the frequent warnings in Hebrews to “take care” (3:12), “let us fear” (4:1), and to do so “today” (4:7).
The thing that’s not expected is how urgently we are exhorted to “lay aside every weight.” If a weight is not a sin, why is it so crucial to lay it aside, and what exactly does this refer to? Things that I feel are slowing me down in my race? Things that would make my race easier if they were eliminated?
Recently I was reminded of this process of de-weighting ourselves spiritually when I noticed that my niece was posting pictures of her car and her TV on social media, looking for buyers. When I asked her what her plans were, she said that she had bought both when she was flush with income from a good job, but that now her employment situation had changed, she felt she needed to pass them on. Her new position was a good job, too, but “good” in a different way, one in ministry that fed her soul, brought her closer to the Lord, and helped her stay on the race of life. She found the car payments and the cable subscriptions were hindrances to her attention to her mission work, and so she laid them aside.
There is nothing evil or wicked about Holly’s car, or her TV. Neither is there anything sinful about many of the things which weigh us down in our spiritual lives -- sports, hobbies, entertainment, accomplishments, family, friends. The list could go on, but as devoted as we are to our lists and checking them off, this is a misplaced confidence in external matters. It is not in the elimination of the TV but in the elimination of an idol that Holly's heart is more focused on the race. The weights being spoken of here in Hebrews are in the heart, things that we are, as Pink says, “at liberty to cast aside, but which instead we choose to retain.”
Interestingly, when Leroy Stolzfus was interviewed about how his racing gig began, he candidly admits that he “got ‘involved with some stuff’ he said he shouldn’t have. His brother-in-law suggested he start running instead when he was tempted. He took the suggestion to heart, and went out for a run.”
“I ran between two and three miles, and I thought ‘Wow, this is hard,'” he said. But he stuck with it.
In order to lay aside the sin that was clinging to him, Leroy Stolzfus took on the strenuous and rigorous discipline of running. He got on the course because of the putrid, cloying stench of sin in his life, and I hope that he has been able to persist in steering clear of this temptation. Pink asserts that not only should we shake off all that hinders us, sins and weights alike, but that when we dither about the insignificance of this behavior, or the mildness of that temptation, or the unintended negligence toward that duty, we are trifling with semantics. This “wrong attitude of mind” contributes to the sinfulness which
retards our progress, anything which unfits us for the discharge of our God-ordained duties, anything which dulls the conscience, blunts the edge of our spiritual appetite, or chokes the spirit of prayer. The “cares of this world” weigh down the soul just as effectually as does a greedy grasping after things of earth.*
The rich young ruler was adept at checking off the rules on the list that he kept faithfully and very publicly. But the inclinations of the heart are where the Lord rebuked him in the end. (Matthew 19:16-30) Because we live in a culture that has perfected the art of dissembling, a similar caution must be given. I am all ready to throw off weights that make me feel less like Christlike or that work against my goals of attaining my best life now. I nod my head at the popular meme, “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” and listen to others who live by other popular maxims:
Life is too short to spend time with people who suck the happiness out of you.
When you delete the unnecessary people from your life, good things will start happening for you.
You can’t expect to live a positive life around negative people.
Surely the writer of Hebrews doesn't want me to be burdened in my ministry by putting up with all the negative people in my life, I tell myself. But there is nothing in scripture about divesting myself of duties or people. Weights are things which "mar communion with Christ," and we enter into communion with our Savior when we are content and obey his commands. As tempted as I may be to get rid of unpleasant or difficult circumstances -- or difficult people -- they are often the very thing that I need to progress in holiness.
Opposition in the home from ungodly relatives, trials in connection with . . . daily work, the immediate presence of the wicked in the shop or office, are a real trial (and God intends they should be -- to remind us we are still in a world which lieth in the Wicked one, to exercise our graces, to prove the sufficiency of His strength), but they need not be hindrances or “weights.” Many erroneously suppose they would make much more progress spiritually if only their “circumstances” were altered. This is a serious mistake and a murmuring against God’s providential dealings with us. He shapes our “circumstances” as a helpful discipline to the soul, and only as we learn to rise above “circumstances,” and walk with God in them, are we “running the race that is set before us.” The person is the same no matter what “circumstances” he may be in!*
So, as the Lord puts on my heart a burden to faithfully and cheerfully perform a duty that He has set before me in Scripture, like being accurate in my tax filings because I am told to render unto Caesar all things that are Caesar’s, then there is no circumstance which excuses me. When I am looking ahead to a family gathering and determining not to waste my time with those who provoke or annoy me, I am denying the means the Lord has provided to help me run my race.
What a merciful Trainer He is! His strategies and tips and exercises are sufficient for the day. Sometimes they are grueling, sometimes they are tedious -- and I am never more certain that I am in the race than on those days that I discover “new” weights that previously never hindered me. It means my conscience has become more sensitive to those things which are holding me back from a straighter path, a speedier arrival at the finish line. Sometimes I achieve my PR. Sometimes I look to Jesus and I know with certainty that He is providing me the strength and grace to carry on. No runner quits just because he’s reached a better time or run an improved race. The end comes only with the finish line. Tomorrow’s always another day, another leg along the race.
*A.W. Pink’s An Exposition of Hebrews aided me significantly in developing this post.
Laura Miller aka mrsdkmiller
Looking for a list of articles published around the web?
Looking for posts written in response to 5-Minute Friday prompts? Click here:
Her March Isn't Over
Across the River
When God Pries My Fingers Off My Children
Life's Defining Moments
To the Christian Wife Who Berated Her Husband in Front of My Daughter
Zeal and Grace in France
An Unconventional Love Story
Seeing What's in Front of Our Eyes
Remembering Why I Called You Hannah
Love Your Sister.
Because He Came Home
Go Valiantly! A Prayer for New Homeschooling Moms
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