Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)
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.
One of the most beautiful aspects of the Book of Hebrews is the fact that we don’t know who wrote it. While it’s a mystery that has been unsolved for thousands of years, it’s powerful to know that whoever wrote it truly understood the issues that we continue to face around 2,000 years later. It’s also important to note that the Bible wasn’t originally written with chapters and verses dividing it, so when the author started what is now known as chapter 12 with “therefore,” he or she was tying it to the 11th chapter.
Hebrews 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith.” In that chapter, the writer speaks about multiple heroes of the faith who faced adversity but continued forward through their faith. The use of “therefore” means that the author wanted us to recognize their perseverance in order to run the race that is set before us.
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As we prepare to learn more about getting past what’s holding you back, it’s important to note the difference in “weight” and “sin.” While sin is a weight, not every weight is sin. As you’re reading this today, you may be thinking, “I have something holding me back, but it’s not sin.” That’s very likely the case.
However, there is no denying that all of us are faced with things that hold us back. In the same way that a track and field star doesn’t run his or her race with added weights tied to them, we cannot run our spiritual race with the added weight of things that try to hold us back.
It’s been said that you can’t truly break free until you identify the lie that is holding you hostage, and that’s what we’re going to do today. Not only are we going to identify our weights, but we’re going to learn more about embracing freedom so we can run the race.
John 4:39-41 (NIV)
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony. “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
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One of the most powerful weights that people face is the weight of regret. Shame, condemnation, and regret tie back to every bad decision we’ve ever made. For many of us, those regrets are plentiful. The woman at the well who we meet earlier in John 4 certainly had her own list of regrets. Coming out of her fourth failed marriage, she was living with a man who wasn’t her husband on the day she met Jesus at the well.
Instead of belittling her, Christ offered her grace. Instead of recapping all of her failures, He opened the door for her to admit to her shortcomings, not so He could berate her, but so He could forgive her. We can’t be forgiven of the failures that we fail to acknowledge.
By the time Christ was done talking to her, she went from being the “talk of the town” to being the person who led the rest of the town to Christ. A woman with four failed marriages and a sinful relationship was the first missionary to Samaria.
Don’t let shame hold you back. God doesn’t see you through the lens of what you have done. Instead, He sees you through the lens of what His Son did on the cross for you.
Ephesians 4:26-27 (NIV)
“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
The Bible never says that Christians cannot get angry. Anger is a natural emotion that was hardwired into us at creation. The Bible is filled with examples of God’s people, including His Son, who got angry with a righteous indignation. However, anger also has the potential to hold us back. That is why Paul established that we should not let our anger fester, as it gives the devil a foothold in our lives.
This isn’t because anger itself is bad. Instead, it’s because anger, especially anger that is left unchecked, can lead to so many sinful behaviors. At that point, anger goes from being a “weight” to being a “sin.”
When you are angry with a person or a situation, it becomes easier for sinful behaviors to make themselves known. You may lash out and use hurtful words when talking to a person that you’re angry with. You may become so jaded by the adversity that you’ve faced that bitterness takes root. In some cases of extreme anger, people have been known to become violent.
While you are certainly allowed to get angry about things, it’s important that you don’t allow anger to go unchecked. When you do that, you’re taking on weight that you can’t carry while running your race.
Ecclesiastes 4:4 (NIV)
And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Isn’t it so easy to let jealousy creep in? When you see someone on your social media feed going on your dream vacation, you may envy the fact that they’re there while you’re stuck at home. When your friend buys a big house while you’re still living in a cramped apartment, it’s easy to become jealous. Perhaps you’re driving a “clunker” while your coworker pulls into the parking lot in a brand new car.
Unfortunately, when we are motivated by jealousy, we’re essentially “chasing the wind.” Solomon, a man who had incredible wealth, fame, and success recognized this fact thousands of years ago. Why is jealousy like chasing the wind? Because someone is always going to have more money, a bigger home, or a newer car than you.
We often believe that if we could only get the things that other people have, we would be satisfied. That’s rarely the case. Instead, we pursue material things, often at the expense of our own mental and physical health, only to find out that someone has nicer things than we do. Suddenly, we find ourselves back in the same position, chasing things that we consider bigger and better. It’s a vicious, never-ending cycle.
Instead of jealousy, choose contentment. This doesn’t mean that you don’t work hard and try to have a better life. However, it does mean that you don’t spend all your time and energy trying to outdo your neighbor. When you do that, you will be chasing the wind in a nonstop cycle of misery.
A Closing Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I know that there is a race set before me, and I want to run it well. Help me to lay off the weight and the sins that so easily entangle me and slow me down as I pursue you. Help me to look to the example set by the great cloud of witnesses in Scripture to see the best ways to break free from these hindrances. In Christ’s name, Amen.