We have a wonderfully challenging statement given to us in Hebrews 12:1: "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." How often do we think about this life as being a race? Probably not often enough. However, the Hebrews writer tells us that the race has been set before all of us. And it's not to be viewed as an isolated event; we have a "great cloud of witnesses surrounding us." We should also realize that this race is not a sprint that requires a quick burst of energy; it is rather to be understood as a marathon calling for endurance.
The writer also gives us some insight as to how we can successfully navigate this race. Notice that we are to "lay aside every encumbrance." These would be things that weigh us down, things that impede our progress. In addition, we must be watchful for the "sin which so easily entangles us." We live in a world of evil and must never underestimate that, nor the power of the evil one. It seems that identifying these encumbrances and sins would be basic to removing them from our lives, thus allowing us to endure until the race is completed.
The idea that a Christian is to endure in this physical life is certainly not peculiar to this one passage. For example, the apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 9:24: "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win." When one becomes a Christian, he or she has entered the race that is designed to culminate in heaven. Certainly, we understand that this race of life does require endurance and that we need to be in it for the long haul, so to speak. In fact, Paul realized that he himself needed to exercise due diligence as we see in I Corinthians 9:27: "But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."
Notice also the exhortation found in Philippians 3:12-14: "Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." What a tremendous attitude this is for every Christian to embrace. As long as there is the breath of life within us, we need to press on with endurance for that heavenly prize that awaits.
The end result of our endurance is beautifully summed up in the words of II Timothy 4:7-8: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." If we faithfully endure in this life, fighting the good fight, finishing the course, and keeping the faith, the reward will be far beyond anything we can possibly imagine.