Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:1-2)
Life is filled with challenges. As we read God’s word, we read of the difficulties encountered by the many biblical characters whose faith frames the narratives of our lives. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is full of stories of the struggles and adversities of God’s chosen people. Every victory is preceded by tales of challenges that were overcome through faith and perseverance. Despite personal hardships, God was faithful to strengthen, guide, and sustain them through every difficulty and trial. Life is no different for us today. As we end the year 2022, we can all say that we have overcome by trusting in the faithfulness of God and believing that his grace is sufficient for every circumstance.
As we look forward to this new year, we can look forward with the confidence that the same God who was with the faithful witnesses in the Bible is with us as we embark on the beginning of this new year. We can be sure that his faithfulness and love are unending. Because he promised to be with us, we know we can face whatever challenges may arise. We are “more than conquerors” because of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:37).
Hebrews Chapter 11 forms the backdrop for the focus text for this devotional. The chapter begins by defining faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (v. 1 NIV). It continues by chronicling the bold acts of faith taken by those who believed in God’s promises. The amazing thing is this chapter does not paint these characters as super saints who were exempt from life’s challenges; instead, it candidly presents the obstacles they encountered. Abel was murdered by his brother (v.4), Abraham was a sojourner in the land that was his by promise (v. 9) and later was “tried” when God told him to sacrifice his son (v. 17). Moses had to renounce a life of nobility to fulfill his calling (v. 24-29), and the list goes on. Yet, they all had one thing in common: unshakeable faith in God.
In chapter 12, the author calls our attention to these renowned people of faith as motivation to persevere. Given God’s faithfulness to his people in the past, we should be encouraged to continue in the faith, despite any obstacles we may face. However, we must be willing to examine our lives and remove any hindrances. We are told to “lay aside” everything that pulls us off course. We are easily burdened by weights and entangled by sin, often unaware of the entrapments. Consequently, we must be intentional about our walk with God. Scripture admonishes us to “guard our hearts with all diligence” (Prov. 4:23 ). This implies a responsibility to pursue a pattern of life consistent with our identity in Christ.
We all have an individual race to run. We are not all on the same course. It requires patience to accept that some people are sprinters while others are in a marathon. If we compare our circumstances to what others are experiencing, we may become impatient, lose heart, or maybe quit running altogether. How do we avoid such an end? We do so by focusing on Jesus. Jesus is the “author and finisher of our faith” (12:2a). He knows the course he has mapped out for us and has equipped us to finish the race victoriously. Instead of being distracted by our circumstances, we must focus on our Savior. Jesus’ life proves that our focus determines our outcome. Jesus could endure the shame of the cross because he fixed his eyes on the reward that awaited him in Glory.
Similarly, if we shift our focus, we will enjoy the rewards of obedience. It does not matter what we go through; what matters is how we go through it. When we find ourselves being weighed down by the cares of this life, becoming entangled in sinful attitudes and actions, or thinking that someone else has it better than us, remember all that Jesus endured for our sakes. Although he suffered humiliation and excruciating pain, he focused on what was ahead. He remained faithful to his calling and never allowed himself to become impatient with God’s timing.
As we enter 2023, let us look to Jesus for strength to remain focused on the finish and to overcome distractions and entanglements in the year ahead.