I am not an athlete and I’ve never competed in any type of sport but with the summer Olympics just around the corner I am thinking a lot about the time I stood in the ancient Olympic stadium in Athens and gazed upon the course my imaginary Dimitri would have run. Although I don’t exactly know what it takes to become an Olympic athlete, I do know about setting goals. Stephen Covey in the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People ranked setting goals as the second most important habit a person can develop (preceded only by being “proactive”). The essence of this principle is not simple goals such as “Today I’d like to get the closet cleaned out” or the garage reorganized. It is not even an altruistic goal such as “I’m going to volunteer at the food pantry” or I’m going to finish all my work on time. The question Covey poses is “What do you want your life to look like when it’s over?” How do you want to be remembered? For the believer there should be only one answer to that question and it’s based on the goal you set your sights on as you run this race we call “Life”.
The author of Hebrews had a race in mind when he penned the first three verses of Hebrews 12. He paints for us a picture of a “great cloud of witnesses” and urges us to put off anything that holds us back in order to run the race with all the strength and stamina we will need to complete it. He gives us the key on how to do this. It is by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” who is the model and ideal of how the race should not only be run, but won. It seems curious that Jesus should be mentioned here; just after that glorious list of faithful believers in chapter 11. Weren’t they inspiration enough? It is quite a list! Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, those who passed through the Red Sea, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jepthah, David, Samuel, the prophets and many unnamed martyrs. It seems to me that any one of them alone would be enough of a standard that I would easily fall short. But they are not the ideal. That status belongs to Jesus alone.
Jesus is designated as the “author” and “perfecter” of faith. These words are not only significant titles, they have very significant meanings. As author, Jesus is the “originator, founder, leader or chief”. While we could say He is the “one who wrote the book” on faith, this word carries even more weight as it also means that Jesus’ life testifies to the benefits of living the life of faith. Heb. 12:2 tells us that after enduring the cross, Jesus “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”, the reward of His complete obedience to the Father’s will. Jesus is also the “perfecter” of faith. A teleiotes (tee-lee-oh-tace) is a “finisher, completer, particularly one who reaches a goal so as to win the prize”. It is used only once in Scripture- here in Heb. 12:2! The grammar of this passage indicates that Jesus is called this in light of the aforementioned list. While many of the faithful greats listed in chapter 11 lived a life of faith that is truly inspirational (and encouraging since many of them had some pretty low moments of faith as well!), Jesus is the supreme model. We are told to fix our eyes upon Him- a metaphor drawn from the foot race of the ancient Olympics- that is to set our eyes on a distant object and look steadfastly and intently toward it without any regard to what lies around us as we run the race. While the others may be good examples, Jesus is better and it’s Him we are to emulate and aspire to. He is the key to winning our race.
I confess I often get side-tracked and consumed with smaller goals and the “stuff” that’s happening on the sidelines of life. When I recognize that I’ve taken my eyes off the goal I ask myself that sobering question, “How do you want to be remembered?” When my race is done, I want people to say, “She ran the race just like Jesus.” What do you want them to say about you?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 7/17/2016