Has God ever asked something of you that feels really hard, and you look around and feel a little singled out? Do you see other people who seem to have it easier, and you wonder why He's asking so much of you and seemingly letting them get away with less?
God loves us too much to leave us where we are. He always draws us closer to Himself, and in doing so, gently reveals things that need to go or need to be gained in order for us to make that spiritual journey. This is the process of growing in spiritual maturity. It's an intensely personal process; no two journeys are alike. What God asks of one might not be what He is asking of another, and as a result, obedience can sometimes feel lonely.
But we aren't alone. St. Paul encourages us on the spiritual journey with these words:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1).
Who are the witnesses he's talking about?
Let me start by telling you who I'd like the witnesses to be. I'd like them to be every person in close proximity to me geographically. I'd like them to be every person I brush shoulders with. I'd like them to be every person whose opinion really matters to me. I'd like to be continually surrounded by people who witness to the goodness of my choices. “Way to go!” “The sacrifice is worth it!” “You inspire me!” This is what I want to hear.
But all the people here on earth that we know and love aren't the people St. Paul is referring to. The witnesses of Hebrews 12 are the saints that have gone before us. They fought the good fight, they have finished the race, they have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7). They are now in heaven, looking down on us, and cheering us on. They are shouting from heaven, “It's worth it! I know that everything on earth seems all important, but once you get here, every sacrifice will be rewarded and the sufferings will pale in comparison to the joy you've got in store!”
This scripture passage challenges us to embrace our particular race. Not the race your best friend is running. Or the course God set your sister on. It isn't the one your husband is running, either. It's YOUR RACE. It's your particular spiritual journey to heaven, and God has handpicked certain surrenders, certain struggles, certain obstacles that are the exact best means for you to grow more like Him and spend eternity with Him.
Jesus wants us to keep our eyes on Him as we run towards heaven. If we turn our focus to the left or the right, checking out how our race is comparing to someone else's, we're going to trip and fall. And we're going to lose all the joy that is promised when we obey. It's said that obedience equals joy, but when we begrudgingly obey and then compare our hard lot in life to someone else's apparently easy circumstances, that joy will be ever elusive.
In John 21, Jesus had just described Peter's particular race. Jesus shared that Peter was going to be used to shepherd the early church, and that Peter would ultimately be led somewhere he didn't want to go. Then Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Follow me.”
Did Peter jump up and say, “Yes, Lord! I'm going to fix my eyes on you and run the race you have marked for me?” No. Peter gestured to John and said, “What about him, Lord?”
Jesus didn't satisfy Peter's curiosity by filling him in on what John's race was going to look like. He spoke firmly to Peter and said, “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”
Run YOUR race. Don't look to the left or the right. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Run YOUR race.
Will there be times you feel lonely? Yes, there will.
Will some of your surrenders be unique? Yes, they will be.
Will some of the people you love most question whether it's necessary for you to be so “sold out”? Will some even think you have taken things way too far? Yes, that will happen.
But remember when Mary Magdalene brought her precious ointment in the alabaster jar, and sacrificed it as she poured it over the feet of Jesus? Judas sneered and mocked at her sacrifice, saying it was unnecessary and worthless. But Jesus looked into her eyes and said, “No. It will be remembered.”
And the same is true of our sacrifices and surrenders. God sees them. He sees them as a sweet offering to Him. It isn't necessary that everyone around you applaud your decisions. Live for an audience of One. Live for the pleasure of the One who made you and who gives you your every breath.
May blessings pour over you as you run -
This blog post originally appeared on the WWP website in October 2014.