…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who… Hebrews 12:1-3
Have you ever felt that being a Christian is sometimes like exercising or preparing for an athletic event?
Is the ongoing of the Christian faith similar to an athlete running a race? It sure seems so. The illustration used by Paul of running a race can be found in many other places in Scripture too. Real impacting Christianity, and being a person of real convicting and growing faith, is like a runner who is training, entering, competing, continuing in, and winning the race set before them. But in our case, the race is not a competition or a performance; rather, it is our faith and life in action. Take a look at Hebrews 12:1-3; notice the keywords in it like witnesses, weights, perseverance, race marked out for us, finisher, endured, opposition, and weary, to name a few. There is a key training component needed to make this happen continually, and that is the learning of our faith and about our Lord, as we do in our Devotions. In this way, we prepare for the practice of our trust and obedience, facing life and exercising faith in the midst of the obstacles and opportunities confronting us everyday.
This race in Hebrews takes place in front of a great crowd of encouragers and supporters who have "been there and done that" and won, saying, we did it! You can too! Yet, being in this race does not happen just by a wish and a sit; it takes training, perseverance, and commitment to put our faith into real, effectual action, just as a world-class runner hangs in there, no matter what. Thus, what we are called to do is keep at the race of faith and life while leaping over the hurdles in front of us like distractions, fear, doubt, hurts, and sin-keeping in the race and not giving up when we feel overwhelmed, stressed, or exhausted. This is what the heroes of the faith in chapter eleven of Hebrews did and what we can do too. A simple word comes from the Coach to us the runners; do not drop out of the race. This is also a call for us to persevere and draw closer to God's heart, not questioning our faith when times are bad. Our devotions help us do this. We will realize that even when we are not "world-class" in the world, or in skill, we are so in Christ! Then we are better able to practice obedience and trust, to move forward, embrace God's call, and learn from His Word, life, and setbacks to be better than we were (Jer. 12:5, Acts 20:24, Rom. 9:3, 1 Cor. 9:24, Gal. 2:2, 5:7, 2 Tim. 4:6-8, Heb. 12:1).Devotions allow us to run.
Devotions help us focus on Christ-who He is and what He did for us. We literally can throw off everything, as in remove anything that may cause us to fail or fall or that would be a burden such as fear or lack of focus stemming from vices that hinder one from his or her training, such as drinking alcohol or apathy, which are both bad for athletics, or fears and past hurts, which are bad for our growing faith. Here in the Hebrews passage, sin is the main enemy, with discouragement and/or fear following close behind. Thus, we are to train hard and also remove what hinders us or causes others and us to be discouraged. A big distraction is thinking we can get it all, deserve it all now, and do not need to work for it-sensuality and immediate gratification. This thinking means, I already have all I need in Christ, therefore I do not need to do devotions or study or read the Bible. The reality is this: yes, when we saved we have it all; but, for the building up of our faith, we must be in motion and work at it to make it happen. To sit as just a spectator accomplishes nothing, and certainly does not honor or glorify our Lord (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Heb. 10:28, 38).
Having a regular time to get in the Word will help us build perseverance. Scripture clearly tells us that real Christianity is more of a long-distance marathon than it is a short sprint. Thus, we have a call to keep on at the efforts and virtue of faith-no matter what. This means maintaining endurance to persist in an idea, purpose, or task despite obstacles. With faith and encouragement from others, we have actual staying power, as in you can do it too! Whether we are in tough times or great times, God may seem far away so we feel that no one cares about our plight or our concerns, But God is still there, caring! He will support us and care for us! Therefore, get to know Him more; read His Word, read "good" Christian books, and stay away from reading junk. We are to be focused on the goal ahead and be able to carry the task and ourselves through both the tough times and the joyous ones (James 5:7-12).
Take comfort that Christ has the race marked out for us. Jesus is both the start and the finish line of the race of life and faith. What can be better than that? The Christian life is allegorized to an athletic competition to show us hope and anticipate what is to come; that in order to win, one must work, train, persevere, and then run against opposition and hurdles. This is why devotions and personal and group study of the Bible are so imperative. We have to know Him to run well. It requires our constant discipline and effort to take what Christ gives and work it out (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Phil. 1:6; 2:16, 23; 2 Tim. 2:5; 4:7-8).
You do not know what will happen an hour from now or a year from now. So, are you prepared for whatever life and sin may throw at you? There is the preparation of making good decisions with the resources and opportunities at hand. There is also something even more we can do: fix our eyes on/looking to Jesus. We are to concentrate on Jesus and not wander. He is our goal and Reason. Just like in sports, a good athletic keeps his or her eyes on the ball, on the target; in this same way, we are to persevere toward the goal of Jesus Christ. This also means allowing Christ to empower and inspire us, as He is our main trainer and equipper. He is far greater than any mere encouragement from either outside or inside the church. We are to look to Him as our motivation, not circumstances or obstacles. And we do this by understanding about His call and precepts, and being encouraged by others to see what devotions are all about (Isa. 53: 10-12; Phil. 3:10-14; Heb. 1:3; 2:10).
What do you need to do to not only enter the race and run it, but to keep on running it, even finishing it, and even winning it?
Have you ever wondered what it means in practice to fix your heart, mind, and your all on Christ? It means we respond to Him because He has apprehended our lives. The secret to a triumphant and contented life, as Paul found out, as Hebrews expands upon, is really simple; keep your eyes, thinking, heart, will, and direction on Christ, just as a good athlete keeps his or her eyes on the ball or opponent. Thus, whatever situation we are in-good or bad-we know we are in Christ; we can seek His empowerment and even live in His presence. This is what our lives, feelings, attitudes and even joys are, and it is not metered from what we have nor do not have, or what we want but cannot have. Nor is faith based on what is currently happening in our lives; rather, it is all about "who I am in Christ," so my focus is on Him, bringing Him glory, reverence, and gratitude, through my devotion, regardless of stress and situation. We can do this well, not in just more tyranny of activity, but rather in the crucible of surrender to Him. Our lives are His, to run hard and run deep by our absolute devotion, trust, and obedience to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord over all-including us, our thinking, and our situation.
In our race in life and faith we stumble, get exhausted, fall back, and wonder if it is worth the effort. But like any athletic event, it is not enough to just train and be ready; we have to keep focused during the event and not give in or up. The simple rule of the matter, that makes a great competitor in any endeavor, is to keep our focus. And if we quit or limit our training or consider dropping out of the race for a perceived easier life, and "pew-sit" in the stands just to watch others, we will gain very little and lose out on so much. The race is well worth our struggles and efforts, even when we are last. Through our growing relationship with Christ, faith is kept and built; maturity and character are the prizes, along with a life lived well and that positively affects others for Him. This is what our devotions help accomplish, and this is far better than never entering, or quitting when it gets tiresome or difficult.
Thus, what we need is Christ! We need to work on the practice of our learning and faith development before it can be deployed effectively. Learn about Jesus by leaning on Him, growing in Him! Learn about Christ by being in Him, by serving Him!
Can Christ still use us if we only do some? Well of course He can-and will! But how much more and how much greater an impact will you have in others lives and yourself when you are complete and centered as His disciple. It is like having a car that does not run very well. You can use it, but it is not reliable, it will break down and not be able to take you far. So it is with our spiritual life; it will only take us as far as it is developed. We must take care of it to build it. How much more we will be blessed in the Christian walk to further His kingdom!
Devotions are Key to our Christian walk.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7
Could Paul just have gotten up one day and become an Apostle, with no discipleship or mentoring or focusing on Christ? Could a person who wants to be a runner just decide to enter the Olympics without ever running before? Can you be an "instant" athlete? Have you ever seen a world-class sports competitor or a concert musician just wake up one day and perform without any prior practice or learning-just do it? See my point? Well most anyone can enter a race or play ball of pick up a violin. They may know the rudimental aspects of it, but can they play with passion and with a degree of expertise? The answer is obvious: no. It is the same with our faith. We have it when we receive Christ; we have His Word and countless resources, helps, and experienced people who have gone before us. We will instantly know a lot, but we are limited in what we really can do, and our full capacity and capability are lurking beneath, waiting on us to learn and exercise our faith so we can be built up. We can't just wait, either to be discovered or for the perfect opening; we have to train and be strengthened first!
Knowing our Lord and His precepts is also a process that we do not attain overnight. Just like learning or studying any subject, it takes time. If you try getting a good grade in class without studying the subject, without attending class, without taking notes, without doing your homework, and/or without reading the textbook, how well will you do in that class? What if you do some of the requirements, say you attend the class but take no notes or read the textbook; how well will you do? Even if you are very smart? Let's say you do everything well, attend all the classes, take careful notes, do your homework, but never bother opening the textbook; how well will you do then?
This is how most Christians live their Christian walk. Either they ignore all the "work," do just a couple of things, or maybe do it all, but never read the Bible, how good will they be as a disciple? God may not give us grades and gold stars now, but He does have a plan for us with a reward at the end. He also wants to use us in the here and now! There are some key principles to being a committed disciple, such as prayer, personal Bible study (like quite time with the Bible and good Christian literature), attending a good church for fellowship and discipleship, and group Bible study; these are aspects of our devotions. And when we do just some, none, or leave out just one, we will become weak, and falter in our walk with our Lord, thus, missing out on the opportunities He has for us in service, growth, maturity, character, contentment, faith development, being used to affect others, personal enrichment, and of course, glorying our Lord.
If you do not attend a good church or do any personal devotions, and then expect to be used and even blessed by God, you will find disappointment. If you are just doing 2 of the 5 key principles of being a disciple, but you are not communicating with God, you will find yourself "running on empty," headed for discouragement. If you spend all of your time in fellowship and do little to no learning or on your knees in prayer, and do not read His Word, you will falter. You cannot be a mature Christian unless you have all five of these principles working. Without being in God's Word, you will not mature in the faith and/or grow in His knowledge. Without prayer, you will not be communicating with Him. Without fellowship, you will not be honed or accountable or used to impact others. Without being in a good church, you will not have the avenues for Christian education, learning, accountability, discipleship, or a place to serve. You must do all five: personal Bible study, prayer, church fellowship, discipleship, and group Bible study to be a mature disciple that God will use greatly. Your devotional life hones it all.
What are we doing instead of Devotions?
One of the main problems created when some Christians "go bad" in their motives and behaviors is that they forget who they are. This is how and why pastors fall, marriages fail, and churches split or close. Too many people who go to church have not a clue of what it is about. Perhaps they once did when the excitement of their new birth in Christ was fresh and they were growing. But now the noise, stress, and busyness of life take over the time slot that was originally reserved for God. Perhaps, our time and excitement of church become clouded, preventing us from remembering what it is supposed to be about. So we forget whose we are and what we are called to do. Our focus on Christ becomes blurred as we add other things to it, like our circumstances, desires, hurts, and/or pains, or can even be stopped by our anger, bitterness, and/or fears.
Thus, week by week we hurry ourselves around, dragging the family to go to church, living through the tyranny of the daily grind of life, then sitting in our pews, trying to recover from the exhaustion, hoping our struggle is not in vain. Thus, we give little effort to understanding what the words mean when we sing a hymn, what the pastor is talking about at the pulpit, or the beauty of the liturgy and the power and conviction of the words from the Word. We are just playing a part in a play without allowing the character to become who we are. Without allowing the purpose of what is going on, the meaning of the service, and the application we are called to respond to get in us, the church and the Christian life become just a routine and not the life impact that Christ created for us to emanate.
Another problem we have today is that most people (what I think includes most Christians), do not know the reasons and importance of theology and the role of Scripture, including growing in faith. People cannot discern who God is (theology), when or how God works (discipleship), what He has to tell us, or what we should know until He tells us (spiritual growth). The Lord tells us who He is and reveals His will to us through the authority of His Word (John 5:39; 2 Timothy 3:16 and Hebrews 4:12). These Scriptures testify to the importance and role and power of the Bible, that the Bible is the supreme authority of faith, practice, and duty for all Christians. There is no higher authority, either ecclesiastical or personal, that can take the place of God's Word. A conservative, strong position on biblical inspiration is imperative to the effective Bible teacher. Without this view of authority, we elevate ourselves above God and we become the means of faith and practice rather than the Creator of the universe. The Bible is "wholly true." The Scriptures themselves testify this by the test of time, and even by testimony, science, and higher criticism. Not having the authority of Scripture is like having a view of Christianity without Christ.Looking beyond Ourselves
There are times when I am doing my devotions that I journal, that is, keep a diary of what is going on in my life. I sometimes look back on that and gain new insight on what I was going through that I did not have back then. I have become more adept at interpreting God's leading and plan for me as I further experience life and receive what He has done. By looking back on what we have been through and seeing the hand of God there, we can have greater comfort and encouragement for what we are going through now or what lies ahead. As I gain new insight into my personality and the Lord's working into my issues and problems, I realize what shadows they are compared to my Lord's holiness and greatness.
Concentrating on Christ and what He has done will lift us up better and more completely than anything else we could ever do. The focus of journaling has taught me to look beyond myself and concentrate on Christ. The other end of journaling or devotions is a problem that people, including Christians, experience; in their zeal to keep faithful to their spiritual chronicle, it becomes an end to itself. The effort becomes self absorbed; people tend to only see themselves and their problems, and not the Lord and what He has for them to learn and do. So, be careful when you exercise your devotions. Keep focused on why you are doing it, which is to grow closer to the Lord and not just for yourself.
We are called to keep our focus on Him and not on us. We look at God's Word as a mirror to ourselves, to our soul, not to see us, but to see God working in us. When we only see ourselves, we see sin, brokenness, failure, self-seeking inclinations, and wrong attitudes. We must see God's interests and not our own; then our devotions and journaling become tools of maturing in the faith. Christ will become more real in us; as our problems become less, He becomes more (John 3:30).
The same thing can happen when we read the Word. We can become so consumed with our interests, we do not see the calling and response we are to give. Thus, we grow bitter, thinking that this devotion stuff is not for me, so we turn it off. We replace it with so much activity that God is pushed out of our lives-except on Sunday mornings. But even then, we are rushed and stressed and do not feel the worship or hear the lesson. We only hear ourselves-our problems of getting the kids ready, or the stress at work or school. The results of a mature life will respond from the impact of our devotional life, and by applying what Christ has done.
To overcome our spiritual deadness, we need to respond to our Lord through His text with a surrendered will and a mind cleared of anxious thoughts. When we are focused on our fears, hopes, dreams, needs, or emotions, we leave no room to learn what God has for us. We will not be able to think deeply enough into the Bible so a transformation of our nature and will occurs, what philosophers call our "existential core." There can be no serious behavior or personality changes unless the core of who we are changes. And Christ is the only one who does that right!
This transformation is found in Romans 12, in Hebrews 11 and 12, and in many other places too, yet it cannot happen when we are in the way. God does as He pleases, but He usually does not override our will. He waits for us to be surrendered and poured out to Him. So, do not take the chance and allow your stubbornness to get in the way of God working in you (Gal. 2:20-21; 5:16-26; Phil. 3:1-14)!
What does it mean for your faith that you have clear, uninhibited access to the presence of God at anytime?
Well, you do! The bottom line is this: devotions are very important and if you want to grow in the faith and be better used by God and be more joyful in life, you need to do them, plain and simple! In this way, as Hebrews 11 tells us, we will not grow weary or be fainthearted, that is, we can press on and receive our strength from Christ (Prov. 3:11-12).
Take comfort: this is easy and do-able! We are not alone in this journey of faith; we have a great multitude of those who have gone before us upon whose shoulders we stand. Great men and women of the faith have one key component in common: they all do devotions. They read the Bible, pray, study, fellowship, and are discipled; and they are consistent with it. Their focus is on Christ. They know that Christ can be trusted. We can have a thriving faith in Him regardless of what we have been through in the past or will face in the future. Since others have trusted in Christ and thrived in heinous conditions with jubilation, then so can we. We are able to throw off whatever hinders and slows us down, and have our sins removed so we can not only enter the race and run it, but keep running it, finish it, and even win it! Our focus is the key; and to keep our focus we need to be devoted. Devotions are the prime tools to making this happen. This is really simple to do; we keep our focus on the prize and reason, on our purpose and who goes before us-Christ as Lord-as all that we have and are, our faith, and our lives depend on Him. As we read the Bible, pray, study, fellowship, and are being discipled, then we can mediate on His precepts and practice His Presence by our simple trust and obedience just as Jesus personally showed us. He proved Himself by being willing to die for us; so we can live for Him. This gives us great joy and purpose. Just think about all that Christ did and endured for you. Now think about how you will live in response. Get to know Him more! Your gratitude will be your fuel, so you do not become weary or give up life or the fight against sin and the letdowns of life. Do your devotions and do so joyfully, for the benefits are tremendous!
So, let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us!
People in the Bible doing devotions: Genesis 19:27; 28:18; 24:63; Exodus 34:4; Jeremiah 15:16; Job 1:5; Psalm 5:3; Matthew 4:4; Mark 1:35
© 2008, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D., Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.org/