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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).
Eyes on the prize.
This is a spiritual principle and a life principle. It goes for both our Christian walk and our daily lives: keep your eyes on the prize.
The author of Hebrews is talking about living by faith for Christ. If we are to live as Christ and with Christ, then we have to look to Christ to know how to live. Just as when you are learning to dance, you watch your instructor closely, so we watch Christ as we learn to live. Because we’re no longer living for ourselves, but for Jesus.
And sacrifice goes hand in hand with it. Look at the things around these two verses. In chapter 11, you have people living by faith for the promise that did not even come in their lifetime, Christ. And for Christ, these people left their homes and their inheritances. Offered their children. Abandoned their adopted families to be abused by their own people. Betrayed their own people to the people of God. They were tortured, imprisoned, flogged, ridiculed, stoned, sawn in two, killed with the sword. They gave up everything they had for the promise that they did not receive while they yet lived.
And just after verses one and two, the reader is told that they haven’t yet resisted sin to the point of shedding their own blood. And the reader reads that one should embrace the discipline of the Lord and not get tired of it.
Keeping your eyes on the prize means sacrifice.
For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I might gain Christ and be found in him (Php 3:8b-9a).
Anything that isn’t progress toward the goal is loss. It’s more than just useless, because it takes time and energy away from progress toward the goal. Resources not spent on reaching the goal are resources wasted.
This is the single-mindedness that you have to have when following Christ. Because you can’t follow Christ and something else. All energy spent pursuing things other than Christ is wasted effort, worse than useless.
This is the imagery that Paul and the author of Hebrews are talking about when they talk about people running a race and disciplining themselves to win. There’s a goal, and they’re set to do whatever it takes to win.
Is this something you’re doing in your own life? Are you keeping your eyes on Christ? Do you regard all effort not spent in pursuing Christ’s leading on your life as wasted? Or are you trying to follow Christ and something else? Are you trying to go two different directions?
Ever feel like you’re not making progress? Like you’re not growing? Nothing will stop your growth more than refusing to follow Christ alone, than trying to pursue other things as well.
So our ultimate spiritual goal is Jesus. We need to be more like him. We need to be more and more conformed to his image every day. How do we do that?
To reach a big goal, you have to set smaller goals that move you toward the bigger one.
A good, basic, smaller goal is to read God’s Word every day. The Bible tells us about Jesus. Even the Old Testament; Jesus permeates the Old Testament thoroughly because the Old Testament was building up to the revelation of Christ. When you read the Old Testament, you have to read it two ways: (1) What would the audience have picked up from it? (2) What was God trying to say about it?
The second one is going to include Jesus. Make sure you include Jesus when you’re reading the Old Testament.
How much of the Bible should you read every day? That’s going to vary a lot, honestly. It varies by how much you can read and still pay attention. And it varies by how attention-grabbing the book is. I’ll be the first to say it: reading genealogies isn’t always very exciting. Genealogies are included for a reason, but that sort of thing isn’t very important to our culture. You have to focus to get out of it what you’re meant to.
Here’s a tip for genealogies: look up who each person is. What did they do? How did they shape the world? What did they leave behind for the next generation? That’s right; you’ve got some homework to do when you read a genealogy.
So make a goal to read the Bible every day. Set a minimum amount you’re going to read every day, something realistic. But I won’t tell you what to set—that’s up to you.
But there are other goals you can set than just reading the Bible. I know, this sounds like heresy to some people, but reading the Bible is just one spiritual discipline available.
What are the spiritual disciplines? Here’s a good place to start: read Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. It’s a little dry, but you’re not supposed to read it all at once. Take a chapter a day.
Start practicing the spiritual disciplines while you read about them. Set goals for them: how often will you practice each particular discipline? How will that grow over time?
Things like the spiritual disciplines are there to help you grow in your walk with Christ. But if they’re not done for Christ, then they’re wasted effort.
Any goal that doesn’t get you toward Christ is a wasted effort.
Keep your eyes on the prize!