1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race that is set before us with endurance, ridding ourselves of every impediment and of the sin that so easily entangles, 2 fixing our eyes on the founder and finisher of the faith, Jesus. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame, and then he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2, my translation
As each new year begins, I find my mind is directed once again to this text—just as it was at the beginning of the previous year. I find myself wondering, “How well have I focused on Jesus in the year gone by, and what will it mean to focus on Jesus in the year to come?”
It is not breaking news that we live in a world full of distractions. The twenty-four-hour news cycle, the endless demands of work and family, and the plethora of options for entertainment are just some of the phenomena that constantly clamor for our attention.
What may be a little surprising is how distraction seems to lurk around every corner of our own minds. Passions and pleasures are at war with worries and expectations to determine what will gain the lion’s share of our attention. And whatever wins the war to dominate our minds will also shape the course of our lives.
Perhaps that is what makes Hebrews 12:1-2 so arresting. The writer of this ancient sermon seems painfully aware not only of our struggle but of its consequences for our lives. He spent the previous eleven chapters of the sermon trying to convince his audience that Jesus really is worthy of their attention, allegiance, and affection. In Hebrews 12:1, he urges them to run the race of faith “with endurance.” He urges them to keep their focus on Jesus and to lay aside anything that gets in the way of their devotion to him.
This seems like unambiguously good advice, and it is. But that does not mean it is always welcome advice or that it is easy advice to implement. You see, one of the presuppositions of the text is that we do not get to set the course for our race. Someone else does that. And the course He sets has little to do with our innate desire to maximize our happiness and minimize our pain.
And yet, we are still called to trust Him. Even though running His race reveals all the ways we would rather have what the world and our flesh offer us, we are still called to put those things aside, to embrace the challenge of living faithfully, and to accept whatever suffering and whatever shame comes our way. We are called to give up the illusion that we can control our life and create our future. We are called to receive the glorious and humbling truth that Jesus is enough.
What about you? Will you take on the challenge of fixing your eyes on Jesus? Will you examine your life, your mind, and even your ministry to see what might be distracting you from that singular focus? And when you are struggling, will you turn to those past and present who have committed themselves to a similar way of life and be encouraged by their example?