3.28.23 | Let Us Run: Hebrews 12:1-3


*In-person at 12 Bassett St, Providence RI

Prayer Guide:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12: 1-3

The author of Hebrews, after having set his or her audience metaphorically in the stadium, and exhorted them to strip themselves of the sin that entangles and the extra weights that hinder, commands them in the first person plural imperative (hortatory) tense: “let us run.” 

If any of you have ever been to a race, or better yet…been IN a race – you know that there is perhaps no situation as nerve wracking as those moments just before the gun goes off. After the warmups and the stretching and the carbo loading are over. After you have used the portapotty for the fifth time. Everything is pointing forward to that moment, when the runners line up and the gun is raised to the sky. “On your marks, set, BANG.”

How ridiculous would it be, then, after the gun has sounded, for a runner to just sit there. Or go find a cafe and order a coffee and a donut and scroll through their newsfeed. It is almost absurd to imagine it, especially if you’ve ever trained for and signed up for a race.

And yet in the spiritual world, we do exactly this!

The gun has gone off! There is only one thing we can do, we must do…only one thing that makes sense to do: run. We are not here to drink coffee and eat donuts. We’re not here to mill around. We are in a race – the course is marked out for us. Jesus awaits us at the finish line. The communion of saints is watching and cheering from the stands. RUN! Run the race. 

So many of us think…someday, once I graduate, I’ll start running after Jesus. Once I build up enough savings in my emergency fund. Once I have the job I want. Once I meet Mr. Right or Miss. Right. Once I am married with kids and they are grown up. Once I get all my life ducks in a row, according to my own timing and comfort level. Once I am living the Dream. THEN I’ll give it all to Jesus and run after him. 

We are only promised today, friends. We only have one time to work with. NOW. We only have one day in which to follow Jesus…and that is TODAY. We need to start running after Jesus. It is why God put us on earth. 

And…it will not be easy. The author tells us to run “with endurance.” The Greek word hypomeno means to “bear up under,” it means to stay under a weight. To carry a weight. As we run…it will not be a cake walk. The word for race is agona, where we get our English word agony or agonize. It refers to a struggle, a contest…as all races are. 

So many of us are surprised or shocked when, in the course of running after Jesus, we hit challenges, setbacks, and even heartbreaks. Loved ones get sick, even die. Friends betray us. It is harder than we thought it would be. Some of us began running after Jesus with the idea that revival would break out tomorrow and our friends and families would come to Jesus. And we’d never experience heartache, pain, suffering, sickness, loss, grief, or any of that. That we’d never have the wind knocked out of us. 

It is at this time that our task is just to keep running. To not lose heart. Part of how we do that is remembering that suffering is normal. It is to be expected. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers,” James writes, “when you experience trials of many kinds.” TRIALS are not an IF, trials are always a WHEN. 

Jesus himself endured the cross in his race, and its shame, before he sat down at the right hand of God. Part of how we run with endurance is that we expect suffering and hardship in the agona, the race we run. We consider Jesus’ own sufferings and trials…and this helps US not to lose heart, not to give up. And we remember that in addition to the crowd of witnesses surrounding us cheering us on. Jesus himself awaits us at the finish line. 

For Reflection/Prayer

  • Is there something holding you back from running after Jesus with all you’ve got? Is there something you’re waiting for? How about for the church or your spiritual community – what is holding people back from chasing after Jesus? Pray for the awareness of the urgency of NOW, of TODAY. 
  • What are the trials and sufferings that have shocked or surprised you in your “race” of following Jesus? How have these knocked the wind out of you or caused you to lose hope or lose heart? How about the wider church community – what are the things that have caused other Jesus followers to “lose heart,” or “give up”? Pray for those who have deconstructed their faith. Who have become embittered or given up on God…or are just burnt out and exhausted. Pray they’d catch a fresh vision of Jesus calling them to himself. 

3.21.23 | Hebrews 12:1-3


*In-person at 12 Bassett St, Providence RI

Prayer Guide:

The author of Hebrews tells us that we are presently “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” Imagine a stadium around us. We are on the track or the field. Around us in the stands, cheering us on, is a mighty throng of witnesses. The Greek word for witness is the same word from which we get our English word martyr. These are not mere passive bystanders, but they are the saints and heroes of the faith who have finished their leg of the race, in many instances enduring great suffering. They are as invested as we are in the purposes of God in our day, and perhaps more so than we are. They are looking intently at us along with the angels. Telling us to run after Jesus. If we squint we begin to see their faces. Abraham, who left Ur to go to a land he didn’t know, who when asked offered his own son Isaac on the altar on Mt. Moriah. We see Daniel, who refused to stop praying and was thrown into the Lion’s Den. We see David who faced down Goliath as the armies of Israel trembled. We see Rahab, who welcomed the spies when the came to Canaan and threw in her lot with the people of God. We see the Apostles, who finished his race and fought the fight and received the crown – and died as martyrs or exiles. 

We see the leaders of past revivals. We see Charles Finney, we see St. Patrick, we see Bishop Festo Kevengere of Uganda. We see William Seymour from Azusa Street. We see Jeremiah Lamphier who launched the businessman’s revival in New York. We see Reverend Stephen Gano of Providence who went from house to house in 1820 in Providence, leading whole families to faith. We may even see our own contemporaries, martyred for their faith in the Middle East. We see the missionaries who died on the mission field, we see Jim and Elizabeth Elliot. All these martyrs and witnesses, they are all watching us. They have passed the baton to us…they know it is our job to finish our leg of the great intergenerational relay race and hand the baton to the next generation. “Run child!” They cry out. “Keep your eyes on Jesus and run!” My mother-in-law Hallie is there too. Maybe some of your relatives are there too. 

And in this moment as we look around, we also see other men and women who are living, running the race as well. We see the students from Asbury University, caught up in the glory and manifest presence of God. We see them giving their lives and futures to the Lord and his call. 

There are two truths about the cloud of witnesses. The first is this, they cannot run our race for us. As much as they cheer for us and pray for us to keep going hard after Jesus, they can’t do it for us. Only we can run the race marked out for us. Only we can live a life that is handed over to Jesus. They have set us an example. They have shown us the way. But it is up to us to run the race of faith in our own lives.

But the second truth is this, these saints can inspire us. They can encourage us. They can lift our eyes up and remind us that it is worth it to keep going. I remember the first time I ran a half-marathon. I did okay until about mile 10, and then I hit a wall. With three miles to go, I could barely put one foot in front of the other. I don’t know how I gutted it out, but I do remember, that just when all my resolve was gone, at mile 12, I caught a second wind. Why? Because I began passing by people I knew, who had showed up to the race to cheer me on. Their cheers didn’t finish the race for me, but they stoked my hunger and longing for the finish line.

Our invitation is to let the cloud of witnesses inspire us with their lives. Jesus is worth everything. He is worth all the pain, all the suffering, all the challenge, all the hardship. He is worth the discipline. He is worth seeking. He is worth chasing. His Kingdom is worth seeking. It is the pearl of great price, worth selling everything for. Jesus is worth the hours of praying. The weeping, the fasting, the contending. He is worth all of it. “We know it is hard sometimes,” the cloud of witnesses shouts, “but he is worth it. Keep running.” Our invitation is to let what has happened in the past and what is happening at places like Asbury inspire us. There is more to Jesus than we have known. There is more to pursue. There is more. 

But then take that inspiration and keep running after Jesus. And to seek his presence and his power and the outpouring of his Spirit and the expansion of our Kingdom in our own time, in our own place, in our own city, church, family, and heart. 

Habbakuk prays:

“Lord, I have heard of your fame. I stand in awe of your deeds. Renew them in our day. In our time, make them known.” 

For Reflection/Prayer:

Where are you finding it difficult to keep your eyes on Jesus? Where are you feeling weary or discouraged? Ask God for the perspective of the saints and angels watching you run from the stands. 

Whose faith has inspired you? Whose life is worth imitating? Begin asking God to do what He did in their life in your life. Ask God for an impartation of their faith and their faithfulness.

What are the stories from the past or the present that inspire or have inspired holy longing and holy discontent in you? Consider these stories. Ask God to do it again, in your life, in your city, in your church, in your family, in your own heart.

3.14.23 | Hebrews 12:1-4


(online only due to rain/snow)

Prayer Guide:

The anonymous author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, after walking his or her readers through the “hall of faith,” the lives of the Old Testaments saints, moves into a final exhortation. The imagery of this passage is that of an athletic contest, perhaps more specifically, a relay race. The readers (and we) are on the field of contest, surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses,” the Old Testament saints who faithfully ran their leg of the race and are now seated in the stands. The readers (and we) have the baton in our hands and it is our turn to run the race. 

It is important to know that the stakes of our lives are high. Our life of faith can (and should) be thought of with the same intensity as an athletic contest. We are not at a party, on vacation, on an ocean cruise, or napping. We are in a spiritual contest, a struggle, on the field of play. And we are surrounded by saints and angels who are cheering us on and intently focused on watching us run after Jesus. We have a race to run, friends, just as Jesus did. And just as the heroes and forefathers and mothers before us did. And we have the next generation waiting to receive the baton from us. It is critical that we run our leg of the spiritual race. Which means we need to rid ourselves of anything that is weighing us down or slowing us down. In the ancient world, as in today’s world, athletes would strip down in preparation for a race. Think of swimmers taking off their windbreaker, or sprinters taking off their sweatpants before their event. If we want to run with endurance, we need to remove any excess weight, any encumbrances. 

The author highlights two things in particular that need to come off. First, we must remove “whatever hinders,” or “anything that encumbers.” The Greek word is ongkos, referring to a weight or an encumbrance. Just as it would be ridiculous to run a marathon wearing a backpack, many of us struggle in the Christian life because there are so many things we are holding onto that slow us down. What excess weights are you carrying? Attachments to or concerns for worldly things, resentments, pain and hurt from the past, lies we’ve agreed with? A calendar full of obligations and duties that are not actually what God is calling us to do? Ask the Holy Spirit – what is slowing you down, what is weighing you down as you try to run the race marked out for you? These encumbrances and weights are not necessarily sin…but they are not helping us either. Paul says, “Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is profitable. Everything is permissible, but I will not be mastered by anything.” What are the things in your life, perhaps even good things, that are competing with Jesus for your affection and attention and focus. It’s time to put these things off, like the sweatpants you don’t need to wear for the marathon or the windbreaker you don’t need to wear for the swim heat. The author tells us not just to slough off some of the things that hinder, but everything that hinders. All of it. If it is questionable, Evan Roberts, told the people of Wales in the early days of the Welsh Revival, get rid of it. God honors consecration. 

“Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is profitable. Everything is permissible, but I will not be mastered by anything.”

1 Corinthians 6:12

Similarly, the author tells us we need to put off the “sin that so easily entangles.” The Greek euristatos almost suggests that sin has a mind of its own and a skillful way of tripping us up. A surefire way to avoid revival and renewal is to allow sin to continue to wrap its tentacles around us. For many of us, there are patterns of besetting sin that will keep us from being able to run after Jesus. God wants us to be set free to run after him – but for that we have to confess our sins and renounce them. 

For Reflection and Prayer:

What is acting as spiritual “dead weight” in your life? Perhaps it is not necessarily sin or even bad, but it is taking up space and time and energy and focus that rightly belongs to God. What would it mean for you to lay this aside so that you can run after Jesus? Consider the church as well…how might God be leading you to repent on behalf of others and to pray for their dead weight to be laid aside? 

What are the sins in your life that are entangling you or tripping you up? Can you confess these to the LORD and perhaps to others today? 

How about for the wider church, whether Sanctuary or the Church in New England? What sin patterns are tripping up your brothers and sisters? What needs to be confessed en masse by the church? Can you stand in the gap and repent and pray on behalf of your brothers and sisters in Christ?