The road is narrow. The path is long. The way is rough. Yet God has called each one of us to run the race of the Christian life. Our every step in this great race is taken in the presence of deadly enemies, our every stride opposed by the world, the flesh, and the devil. The devil’s fiery darts always threaten to harm us, the heart’s evil longings to distract us, the world’s glittering enticements to persuade us to drop out. Even while we keep our eyes fixed on the prize, we grow weary with the running, we groan through the plodding.
If life is already so difficult, the path already so rough, why do we so often add to our trouble? Why, instead of laying aside every weight, do we gather more weights to ourselves? Why, instead of making every step as light as possible, do we make our steps heavier? Why do we throw fresh burdens upon our backs?
We make our way more difficult when we give ourselves over to sin. Every sin is a weight, every vice a heavy load to our souls. Sin burdens the mind, clouds the judgment, afflicts the conscience. Our calling is to put off the old and put on the new, to reject all that belongs to the former self and to embrace all that belongs to the self that is being remade in the image of Jesus Christ. Our calling is to lay aside every sin that otherwise clings so closely and otherwise hinders our pace. Only then can we run with endurance the race that is set before us, only then can we keep pace. Our steps grow lighter when we repent of every sin, when we cast off every transgression, when we remove every hindrance. Holiness in our lives brings lightness to our steps.
We also make our way more difficult when we look back instead of forward. Behind us is our former selves and ahead of us our renewed selves. Behind us is depravity and ahead of us is holiness. Behind us is our prior evil master and ahead of us our new loving Father. Lot’s wife looked back to her former life and became a pillar of salt; Orpah looked back to her former people and walked away from the people of God; Demas looked back to the world’s enticements and abandoned Paul. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” warned the Lord. The gospel always directs our gaze forward. Ruth followed God’s calling all the way to the line of the Messiah; the Prodigal Son repented and ran straight to the arms of his Father; Paul forgot all his accomplishments and pressed on toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus; the author of Hebrews pondered the great cloud of witnesses and looked to Jesus, the author and perfecter of his faith. The prize lies not behind and not beside, but only ever ahead.
And then we make our way more difficult when we run alone instead of in the presence of others. A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity—the kind of adversity that may overwhelm us and threaten to turn us aside. A threefold cord is not easily broken, and sometimes we need friends to drape our tired arms over their shoulders and to carry us along for a while. When our bodies are racked with sobs and we don’t know if we can take another step, it’s then that we need friends who will weep with those who weep, who will bear our burdens on our behalf, who will lighten our load and allow us to press on. It was when David was at his lowest that Jonathan shone his brightest by coming to him and strengthening his soul in God. This race is too long, too difficult, and too tiring to ever run alone.
Finally, we make our way more difficult when we give our hearts and minds to what is discouraging instead of encouraging. Though we are called to carefully ponder whatever is honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable, our minds often focus instead on what is corrupt, wrong, polluted, hideous, and reprehensible. Instead of focusing on what is excellent and worthy of praise, we focus on what is evil and worthy only of condemnation. We are so often drawn to bad news more than good, to evidences of depravity more than evidences of grace. Why then should we be surprised that our feet grow heavy, that our pace begins to falter? What else could happen when we load our minds with all that is awful and forsake all that is good, when we choose to ponder in our hearts those things that are too shameful to speak with our mouths? Careful little eyes what you see, careful little ears what you hear, careful little fingers what you click.
God has called each of his people to run a race, a race that for the great majority of us will be a marathon more than a sprint. This is no small calling, no brief task, no little labor. We run best when we run light, free from the burdens of sin, free from the distractions of the past, free from the dangers of solitude, free from the weight of discouragement. We must run though enemies surround us and threaten us. We must run though bombarded by sorrows, losses, discouragements. We must run though others give up, drop out, and fall away. We must run though many will attempt to persuade us to try a smoother, wider, easier way. We must run with endurance, run to win the prize, run until we have finished the race, run until we have received the victor’s crown.