The Race Set Before Us; Fighting the “if onlys”

I read a very familiar passage during my time in the Word recently.

“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” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

The race that is set before us that we are called to endure is the race of faith. And although all believers are called to pursue endurance in this race, we often experience varying details as individuals.

The passive form of that verb (that is set before us) should remind us of God’s sovereignty in the small and differing details of the race set before each of us as we all, as believers, head in the same direction. It’s when we start focusing on the details of others’ races that we lose sight of how to endure with our own.

One sign for my own heart that I’ve begun to look at the race of others is when I begin to say if only statements, particularly as a reason for why I can’t endure my own race.

If only my child would sleep better…

If only we made/had more money…

If only I had more time in the day…

If only we could find the right doctor, the right answers…

If only my spouse did a, b or c…

If only I had children who weren’t so strong-willed…

If only I could tame my temper…

If only I could find the perfect balance of x, y and z…

If only, if only, if only

It can be never ending, can’t it?

When I examine where these statements come from, the root often resides in comparison, which reveals the sin of selfishness and pride. I’m looking too much at myself and not to Jesus.

God is kind to give us an example of how Christ addresses this struggle with Peter in the gospel of John.

“Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them […] When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:20-22).

Jesus instructs Peter not to be concerned with John’s race, but to focus on following Jesus. When I begin comparing my race to others, usually I’m slipping into justifying why they seem to have something together or the ability to do something better than me. Why won’t it work for me? So I start coming up with these if only statements, making myself believe the lie that a change in circumstances would change my endurance level, when in reality I’m just attempting to justify my lack of contentment, and creating false reasons why I am the victim and cannot be responsible to run the race God has given me.

Again, a return to scripture reveals what we should pursue instead of comparison and looking around at the details of others’ races.

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).

Looking to Jesus. Why is this so important?

The passage tells us that he’s “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” (Hebrews 12:2).

In Christ we have the perfect example to follow. We see our Lord who suffered well, enduring the horrors of the cross, all with joy. He alone models for us and thus enables us to run the race set before us, regardless of what the details look like! We need to spend less time comparing and thinking of if onlys, and instead look to Jesus. His example and his presence prove sufficient for every race.

He founded my faith and he promises to perfect it. He is seated at the right hand of the throne of God because the race he set out to accomplish is finished. His work on the cross is done. And I can trust that he will complete the work he desires for my life.

The idea of endurance reminds me that it won’t be easy. In fact, scripture says the Christ-follower should expect life to involve suffering.

But Christ endured suffering with joy, and I can look to him who will never leave me or forsake me. What a beautiful promise that is!

Let’s aggressively turn our backs on the if onlys. Let’s label them for what they are (selfishness), tell them where to go, and let’s turn back to Jesus. We’ll find plenty to be faithful with right in our very hands, and a lot less time to compare to those around us.

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