My husband and I have been known to joke that if you find us running, wild dogs must be chasing us. Though I jog some, and have completed (by God’s wild grace) several marathons and half-marathons in my lifetime, I would not consider myself an active “runner” today. My days of training for long races are behind me. Or are they?
If you’ve ever set out to accomplish a life goal like running a long race, you’ve learned quickly that much of the battle is not foot work. Though that’s challenging enough, the real battle ensues in our mind! Something flips in some women’s brains when they imagine themselves in running gear (especially if you picture the tightest pants and fanciest shoes). She immediately disqualifies herself from the image – that’s for “other women” but not her. (If you’re a runner, consider some other goal that seems impossible.) Even if she manages to get over that first hurdle (more like a 10 foot wall) of doubt, those first steps can be brutal on her under-active body and over-active thought-life. At first it’s run-of-the-mill discouragement, “You’ve got so far to go, just give up now” or “This isn’t you, you’re the cheerleader but never the one in the game.” Like walking into a cloud of gnats, these thoughts can catch you off guard making you want to swat at something you cannot see. After a while though, the thought flood comes in with even deeper haunts and darker messages. The voices may be loved ones that spoke stinging messages to your heart, or that boy in 4th grade who wouldn’t keep his mouth shut. We’re able to muffle these voices throughout most of our days, but taking courageous steps into new places can set off explosive lies and many of us are taken out before we ever cross the start line.
Yes, long races are more mind-work than foot-work ultimately.
It is fitting then that Paul used this image of a long race to describe the life of a Christian – a person who has chosen to reject self-sufficiency and instead has put their trust in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ to save them from their sins and give them eternal life.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, 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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Hebrews 12:1-4
Paul makes the connection for us between “laying aside encumbrances” and “running with endurance” – do you see it?
No runner likes encumbrances. Even the word sounds troublesome, messy, heavy and tangle-y, doesn’t it? An encumbrance is a burden, hindrance, obstacle, constraint, inconvenience, nuisance, drawback, handicap, load, stress, strain…ok, I’m really not liking this word now. It’s extra weight, and everyone knows that if you want to move forward fast, you don’t want extra weight holding you back.
This “extra weight” or encumbrances for us often come in the form of old lies or messages, or habits that hurt our growth. Even if you start the long race with Christ grasping onto the “encumbrances” of lies, unforgiveness, anger, sinful habits…you won’t be able to endure for long this way. Jesus loves us too much to leave us weighed down with all the baggage of our old flesh as we try and run with Him in marvelous light, mercy and grace! We’ll grow weary in our journey unless we choose to strip off the old encumbering thoughts and ways that are clinging to us with their clever grips. As we do, it’s like weights are lifted and we start to enjoy the lightness of running like a gazelle in God’s grace!
Just recently I chatted with a woman who glowed as she shared her newfound life with Christ and her desire to grow with Him. She described feeling free finally, because she was no longer carrying the shame of her past or the heaviness of her emptiness that she stuffed down with sins. She confessed she was not living a “perfect life” (who of us is?), but she was on a new path and she was running light!
This month we celebrate my 2nd favorite holiday: Thanksgiving! Are you getting prepared for this time of feasting? I’m praying already for God to help me stay close to Him during this holiday season, it can go by so fast and with all the distractions of the season (potential “encumbrances”) I can forget to feast on Him! Not only do I forget to nourish my soul with Jesus, I pick up encumbrances along the way: host a perfect holiday; get the perfect gifts; get everything done in a hurry; visit everyone and their dog-walker; please the world and look good doing it. By New Year’s I’m left wondering why I’m so discouraged - my soul is starved and dehydrated needing the Bread of Life with Living Water, plus I’m dragging around burdens I was never meant to carry.
So as I plod along this November, I’m praying for you all as I pray for myself. I have a new routine this month too. The black and white chair in my bedroom has been deemed my “seat of utter despair and fresh grace.” (I know. Just wait until I get to name a child.) It’s here I start my day – in utter despair of not being able to be good enough for God, but grateful for His fresh grace. If we start here, our encumbrances may give way, and in real thanksgiving, who knows what joyful strides we may run with our King?
From my heart…
Posted on Thu, November 7, 2013
by Heather Yates