How Can We "Lay Aside Every Weight" and Run the Race with Endurance?

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How Can We "Lay Aside Every Weight" and Run the Race with Endurance?

In 1845, John Franklin sailed from England to the Arctic. On their two sailing ships they had a 1,200 volume library, fine china, crystal, and sterling silverware for each officer with their initials engraved in the handles. To make room for all this stuff they figured a 12-day supply of coal was likely enough to power their auxiliary steam engines.

When the ship became trapped in the frozen plains of ice — and John Franklin himself had died — the crew decided to trek across the frozen tundra in smaller groups. None survived. One of the saddest tales was of two officers who were found pulling a large sled. The sled was filled with table silver.

Can you hear them now being so incredibly exhausted, blaming God for their trouble, and eventually just giving up hope?

This is a picture of what the believers were facing in Hebrews 12. And a fitting illustration of where we often find ourselves today. We are absolutely exhausted, beat up, worn down, about to give up and we’re even a little upset at God because he isn’t giving us the strength to get through this. But the problem isn’t that God isn’t giving us strength to obey, the problem is that God doesn’t give strength to disobey him. He doesn’t give you the strength to lug around a sled filled with table silver.

That’s what the author of Hebrews is saying in Hebrews 12:1. Throw all the junk off your sled! Or as he says it: “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…”

What Does It Mean to Lay Aside Every Weight?

The imagery here is vivid. We’re to picture an Olympic runner getting ready for a race. It might help us if we understand that the early Olympics likely couldn’t have aired on NBC. They athletes would strip down quite a bit further than we’d be comfortable with. The author of Hebrews gives an almost comical picture here. Rather than being stripped bare, he has them picture a runner getting ready for the race by putting on a heavy garment, a few weights around their ankles, a 20-pound necklace, and a host of other unnecessary accessories. 

As we laugh at the fool thinking he can finish the race, much less win the race, the author compares this to our own attempts to follow Christ while shackled by the weight of sin. The picture is of sin entangling itself around the runner, making it impossible to move unimpeded. That is what sin does to us. 

The author of Hebrews is not specific about a specific sin. The reality is that any and all sin is entangling. As John Owen once said, “Sin aims always at the utmost; every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin in that kind.” All sin wants to trip you up. 

It may also be implied in this verse that there are things which are not technically sin, but still, they are weighing us down. Is there something you can’t give up? Is there something that takes too much of your thought or your resources? What is holding you back from running freely? When the Spirit identifies these to our hearts, we do well to cast them off. 

What Does It Mean to Run the Race with Endurance?

Simply put, to run the race with endurance means to persevere to the end. It means to finish the race. You don’t have to finish first. It doesn’t matter if you finish last. What matters is that you finish. 

This is connected with what we read in Hebrews 11. That great hall of faith, those labeled the cloud of witnesses, are an example of those who finished the race. But they are heralded as those who, when they crossed the finish line, didn’t even get the crown they had hoped for – they were merely passing the baton to us. They are now in the audience cheering us on. But it’s our turn, and we have to finish the race.

‌Those the author of Hebrews was writing to were threatening to quit. They didn’t want to endure the suffering which was coming to them. They were shying away from associating with those who had been persecuted already. And they were beginning to neglect meeting together. 

If you suddenly feel like backing into a bush, that is the picture of what his audience was doing. They were in danger of abandoning Christ, of going back to how things were before they came to Jesus. But if they do this, the author argues, there will be no sacrifice left for them. Jesus is the only way. You abandon this race and there is no other way to receive the crown. This is the race for you to run. 

Therefore, they are called upon to cast aside every weight and get to running. But how? How do we do this? 

How Can We Lay Aside Every Weight?

Thankfully, the author of Hebrews doesn’t leave us in the dark as to how we lay aside every weight. In verse 2 we have a participle that gives us an answer. When we see a participle, it usually helps us see the manner in which an action is carried out. “Cast aside…run with endurance…,” it says. How? By “looking to Jesus…” That is how the argument flows here. 

Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith. He is the A to Z of the Christian life. He is the one at the starting line and at the finish line (and the coach running alongside us throughout the race). 

Picture the scene. They are exhausted. Already out of breath. They don’t feel like they can take another step and this preacher of Hebrews has the audacity to imply that they are starting a race?! They are about to give up. They don’t feel like the race is worth it anymore. Why keep holding on? Why keep going? Why keep fighting? “I don’t have anything left, and he wants me to run more,” they think. 

You want to know how you’ll cast aside that weight and be invigorated to grab the baton and start running again? You want to know how you’ll keep running to the end?

Look to Jesus. Fix your eyes there and on the hope set before you.

“Picture Jesus”, he says. He’s abandoned by all of His friends. Judas betrayed Him, He heard the rooster crow, He felt betrayed by God, He was utterly spent – and He kept going. He finished the race. 

‌How did Jesus endure this? How’d He keep going in this most severe of trials? How’d He endure the Cross? Hebrews 12:2 gives us the answer: “Who for the joy set before him.” He had his eyes on the finish line. He had his heart set on hope. He knew, even better than Moses, that at God’s right hand are pleasures evermore. And so rather than holding onto his relationship with the disciples, he endured their abandonment. Rather than keeping his mother’s heart from rending, He kept going to make all things new. Rather than being tripped up by the shame or making the shame be His story, he despised the shame. He counted it as little compared to the joy that awaited him.

This is what the author of Hebrews is telling his audience to do. To focus their eyes on Christ and follow him in this way. To see the future pleasure as weighing far more than the fleeting pleasures.

This isn’t rocket science. You know this. If you’ve ever run track, you know this. The worst thing you can do is look around you. Keep your eyes focused on that finished line. Picture crossing that line and just keep going. And this is connected to the “casting aside of sin and stuff that weighs us down.” Because when our eyes are fixed on Christ, we realize what really matters. With our eyes set on eternity it has a way of prioritizing. It causes sin to lose its luster.

Look to Christ

I think most of the advice we are given from a text like this has a tendency to undercut our hope and swerve us into the very discouragement which was besetting the Hebrews. We tend to take a verse like “cast aside every weight” as a call to self-analyze, to look at everything in our life that is keeping us from running free. And then to forsake those things for the sake of Christ.

That’s fine counsel. It’s necessary. It’s very much a part of living the Christian life and even part of what the author of Hebrews is saying here. There is a casting aside. But in my estimation, we have a tendency to ignore the means of casting aside these weights. Looking to Christ is what helps us to see what weight needs to be dropped. It is through looking at Christ that we even have the motivation to do this.

I appreciate what Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” As you’re looking at what needs to be cast aside, be sure that you are then fixing your gaze upon Christ. Fix our eyes there — not upon ourselves. That, paradoxically, is how we drop the weight. Focus on the weight and you’ll only be further in chains. Fix your eyes on Christ and you’ll run with freedom to the end. 


Photo credit: ©Getty Images/seksan Mongkhonkhamsao

Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.