So we must let go of every wound that has pierced us and the sin we so easily fall into. Then we will be able to run life’s marathon race with passion and determination, for the path has been already marked out before us. Hebrews 12:1 (NLT)
Prepare for it in the Living – The Verses Series – Part 4
In my pastoring days, I would preach on this verse from time to time, and I'd usually include lots of references to running and Olympians and marathons. Which was ironic, since I can't run to save myself (I swear I'd be one of the first to go in a zombie apocalypse).
But I've since discovered that there's more to this verse than a poorly placed athletic metaphor.
In the first century Jewish world, athletic games were held in arenas – the same ones they killed Jews and Christians alike in – especially in Rome. It seems shallow to compare a life of faith to a running race, something that the foreign occupiers of their land – those who had killed their wives and husbands and mothers and fathers and children; those who taxed them up to 90% of their income; those who stole their land and raped their daughters.
The passage seems to hint at some kind physical exertion, but there’s more to it than that; a subtle interpretation that brings depth to the picture and has nothing to do with the games of Rome.
The Greek word used for “run” in this passage more closely means to “exert oneself to the limit of one's powers in an attempt to go forward. The place of contest; to struggle or to fight.” So while, the act of running is an exertion of energy, what the author wants to communicate is not about racing, but the act of putting everything you have into moving forward. More like a pilgrimage or journey.
That was something that Jewish people were familiar with.
When you put this idea within the context of Hebrews 11 and the rest of 12, alongside the hero-feats and enduring faiths of believers past, the concept of struggle brings greater clarity to the passage as a whole.
And it means more to me.
Life is not a race. It’s not a competition to see who wins, or who gets the most, or who cleans up all the prize money and trophies. You can’t train for life before you engage it: you prepare for it in the living, on the way.
There are few times where I felt fit and light, ready to run through my life like an Olympian (kind of). But more often than not, there are struggles and contests going on all around me and (mostly) within me. One of the greatest temptations in life is to ignore the conflict, pretend it's not there; to disengage from our heartache, responsibility, mistakes, failures, and even successes.
This verse is about showing up to your life – your path/pilgrimage/journey – and give it all we’ve got. Not so that we can “win” or “come first” but to participant in this beautiful, crazy, divine, living experience we’ve been miraculously given.
In his book, “The Magnificent Defeat”, Frederick Buchner wrote:
“Faith is the word that describes the direction our feet start moving when we find we are loved. Faith is stepping out into the unknown with nothing to guide us but a hand just beyond our grasp.”
We don’t engage in this strange journey we call life so that we can beat others, and win the race, and live up to impossible expectations. We engage in it because that’s what happens when you know you are loved. You can’t help but move your feet, your life, and your heart down whichever road The Divine calls you down.
The question is, are we willing to daily shed our fears, rejections, failures, and even at times, our success, for the love that has always been and will always be ours?