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. (>HEB 12:1–2)
A couple of years ago I did the only athletic accomplishment in my life. I use the word “athletic” loosely. My son Stephen challenged me to run a half marathon, so I began training a couple months in advance. My only goal was to finish the race. I fully expected to come in last. Actually, I came in third from last—followed by a guy with a walker and a mom pushing her baby in a stroller. Just kidding. But the training and the race required endurance. And the last couple miles of the race were brutal for me. I got to the place where I would jog 10 steps then walk 10 steps, then repeat, gasping for air. The course passed through some woods, and finally I came to a clearing where I could see the finish line in the distance. So, I walked for a few minutes, then burst out of the woods and sprinted over the finish line. Stephen and a few others from the church who’d waited for me began to cheer as I pumped my fists in the air like Rocky. Since then, I’m happy to report I have jogged I think a total of two times.
The author of Hebrews compares our Christian life to a race that requires endurance. He uses the metaphor of a race, not a journey. A journey may be leisurely. We can take breaks, pull over to a rest stop, get a hotel room. But a race is all-out effort from start to finish. But how do we do this? By looking to Jesus, and imitating his example.
How did Jesus endure the horrific pain of the cross? By focusing on the JOY set before him—the joy he’d experience when he rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the throne of God. The joy he’d experience when the Father received him and gave him the Name above every names. The joy he’ll have when he celebrates the marriage supper of the lamb with the multitudes of those he redeemed from every tribe and tongue. Jesus didn’t focus on his pain or the injustice he experienced. He didn’t feel sorry for himself. We often tend to focus on our suffering. I’m not saying we should ignore our pain or put on a fake smile and say it doesn’t hurt. But sometimes we focus too much on our pain—why is this happening to me? Why do I have to go through this?
We need to keep resetting our gaze on the joy set before us. My dad used to tell long circuitous stories. You would mention something and it would trigger a memory for him. For example, once I said something about a candy bar. He launched into a story about traveling across the country and meeting this guy who had a truck and on and on and on, and I’d wonder, “Dad, where are you going with this?” until finally he came to the place where the guy discovered a whole truckload of Kit Kat Bars. I got distracted by the details, but Dad kept his eye on the goal.
So, keep setting your heart on the joy of seeing Jesus face to face and gazing on his splendor. The joy of Jesus wiping every tear from your eyes. The joy of Jesus rewarding you for every single act of obedience, every secret good deed you did, every glass of water you gave to a thirsty one, every dollar you ever gave to the poor, every hour you served in children’s ministry. Keep your eyes on the joy of hearing God say well done good and faithful servant. Keep your eyes on the joy of fellowshipping with Jesus at the marriage supper of the lamb. Remember the joy of having an imperishable body that will never get sick or suffer any pain. Keep your eyes on the joy of ruling and reigning with Jesus and the joy you’ll know when you’re reunited to loved ones who believed in Jesus.
Mark Altrogge has been senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, Pennsylvania, since 1982. He has written hundreds of songs for worship, including “I Stand in Awe” and “I’m Forever Grateful.” Mark and his wife, Kristi, have four sons and one daughter. Find out more on his blog, The Blazing Center.