Jumping Through Hoops, or Running The Race?

by Jeannette Haley

            At this point of finding ourselves in the “starting gate” of another New Year, it’s a good time to reflect on not only our past track record, but on how we need to run the race, one day at a time, in 2006.

We read about the race that the Apostle Paul ran, in scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 9:24: “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.” And, Philippians 3:14, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  These and other scriptures make it clear that the Christian life calls for self-denial and self-discipline. It’s a life that demands our utmost attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit, diligence in Bible study, prayer and discernment, and determination to work out what God wants to work into our lives through obedience. We are not called (as one person put it) to “sit our sanctimonious sit” but to run a race for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

But, unlike a smooth, well-groomed and well-defined athletic race track, the Christian’s race is over unknown, rugged terrain that is fraught with snares, traps and pitfalls. If a Christian is to run his or her race to and across the finish line, he or she must first be willing to die to self daily; that is, deny the flesh, or one’s right to one’s self. (See Matthew 16:24.) In short, a person cannot serve two masters—in this case, self or Jesus. If Jesus is to be Lord at all, He must be Lord of all. Christ is not only the goal, but also the beginning of this incredible race. If we don’t get Him right, then our running is in vain.

Hebrews 12:1 says: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” This verse has been taken out of context by some to propagate false teachings concerning the “great cloud of witnesses,” using this phrase as an excuse to promote communication with the dead, a practice which is strictly forbidden by God. Since witness means martyr, it should be understood that we have the testimony, example and witness of those faithful believers and martyrs who have gone before us, and who faithfully ran the race across the finish line into heaven. Since we are also a “spectacle” to both men and angels (see 1 Corinthians 4:9), we are also being observed by hosts of unseen angelic beings which doubtless include the holy angels of God, as well as the ranks of fallen angels and demonic entities. What should concern us most, however, is the fact that the Lord God is observing how we run this race.

Obviously, weights (burdens or hindrances) will eventually wear us down and prevent us from finishing the race, and sins will bring total destruction. Any Christian can and should understand the meaning of sin if he or she reads the Bible—sins of commission and sins of omission. But, weights can be harder to recognize in one’s life because they usually appear to be normal, necessary or downright good in some instances. Burdens of this nature originate from two sources—either from those things that we require of ourselves because of our standards, or they are acquired from others whom we allow to influence our way of thinking or believing. Thus, burdens are what we allow to be put upon ourselves, while hindrances come at us outwardly.

We must be prepared before

we set out to run the race.

            As in any athletic activity, running requires preparation, both physically and mentally. For the Christian, dietary preparation begins with the “sincere milk of the word” (1Peter 2:2). Notice verse 1 which tells the beginner which weights to lay aside: “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and allevil speakings.” [Emphasis added.]  Malice means ill-will and hatred. Guile means deceitful cunning or duplicity. Hypocrisy means acting out a part, or a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not, or the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion, Envy means painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage. Evil speaking refers to any form of gossip, slander, or malevolent speech against another. We need to take note that all of these weights are to be laid aside by us. In other words, God holds us responsible for eliminating them from our hearts and lives.

This makes it abundantly clear that any person who is carrying any or all of the aforementioned weights has not even left the “starting gate,” let alone running the race set before him or her. Yet, how many people who name the name of Christ exhibit malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy and evil speaking? Sadly, we have encountered more than we care to count. Such persons, who are Christian in name only, lack character and integrity, do much damage to the flock of God, bring a reproach on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and will be held accountable for such attitudes and actions on Judgment Day.

After the milk stage (learning the basics of the faith) follows bread. Jesus said in Matthew 4:4: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” I believe that “every word” means just that—every word! This means reading from Genesis to Revelation. Is every word going to be immediately understood? No. But, every word, every phrase, every person named, every event, every example begins to build a foundation in one’s mind and heart of the nature, character, attributes, ways, and will of God. It provides a good, solid foundation, builds faith, reveals how one is to live, and causes one’s appetite to increase for more than a surface reading of the Word.

After the believer begins to be transformed by the Word through faith and obedience, a hunger and thirst should intensify for the muscle-building diet of the meat, and “strong meat” of the Word. Hebrews 5:12-14 says:“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”[Emphasis added.]

Weights that easily beset us

come in different forms. 

            As stated above, weights are burdens that eventually deplete our strength and our resolve to finish the course. What I call “necessary weights” are those things that derive out of everyday necessities for life in this world. This is what the Bible calls the “cares of this world” and can include such things as the basics for survival—food, clothing, shelter—to job security, income, retirement, and all the million and one other things that our complicated society depends upon.

We all know that we are physical beings, and as such, cannot survive without the basics that support life. These things are not wrong in and of themselves. However, Jesus knew that mankind’s tendency is to look beyond the necessities of life for his or her existence. He said: “…take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek 🙂 for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” Matthew 6:31-34. And, again, in Matthew 13:22 He stated: “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” We cannot run the race set before us while carrying the burdens of this world at the same time.

“Normal weights” are those things that plague all humanity. One such weight can be our past. This can include past successes and accomplishments, such as education, accumulation of wealth, fame, or any number of things that men value. On the other hand, the past for some might be hurts, wounds, rejection, or failure. Associations such as family or friends can be a prominent and influential part of our past, producing strong ties that often hinder our walk with the Lord. The Apostle Paul, concerning his past, put it into perspective for the serious Christian in Philippians 3:8: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”

The past can be a terrible weight, which can be impossible to bear. If our past was delightful in many aspects, we have a tendency to relive it in our imagination. If our past was made up of lost opportunities, disappointments and failures, it is easy to beat ourselves over the head and go into depression. If our past involved wrongs and injustices done to us, we can easily give way to anger, unforgiveness, bitterness and self-pity. No one can run a race while looking backwards.

Our past can plague and torture us if we allow it to, or we can face it, allowing the Lord to step on the scene and give us His perspective, accept His forgiveness, receive His healing, embrace His love and, by faith, along with the Apostle Paul, count it all as “dung” and go forward in Christ. We should never fear the truth, because the truth makes us free! (See John 8:32; 14:6.)

            Finally, weights that involve “good things” are the most subtle to discern, as they usually have spiritual or religious implications, meaning that it is possible to run the race in vain. Paul wrote concerning this in Philippians 2:16: “Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.” What was of utmost importance to Paul’s race was always maintaining his grip on the Word of life, or holding up Christ for all to see, and laboring for the Gospel. Running the race meant no deviation from the course set before him by the Lord, no detours, shortcuts, or retracting.

A sure way of discerning when we are

 running off course is to take stock of

what hoops we’re jumping through.

The race set before us by God does not involve jumping through hoops (which are also hindrances.) A hoop is a predetermined obstacle that causes us to conform to something that either we, or someone else, has erected to produce a certain modified behavior for the purpose of either controlling us, or causing us to have a false sense of accomplishment. You might call it “indoctrination.” For example, most Christians are taught from day one that they must “go to church” (or become a member of one), in order to be saved. This may not be stated in so many words, but the implications are clear. Of course, this teaching is nowhere to be found in Scripture. Yes, we need to come together for communion, to worship, fellowship, learn, share, and so forth, but once a person is born again, he or she becomes part of Christ’s body, the Church. The true Church is not a building, nor is it any particular denomination.

Jumping through the “church hoop” can (depending upon the emphasis of such) greatly hinder the Christian’s race, or derail him or her altogether. Unless the particular body that the Christian runner becomes involved with properly disciples and equips him or her for the ministry (service), he or she can become bogged down in a quagmire of do’s and don’ts, legalism, religious platitudes, religious duties (that involve serving the pastor and the church, rather than Christ), paying tithes in order to build bigger buildings, and meeting other religious requirements that would shock even the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

Another form of hoop that we can find ourselves jumping through originates from our standards, concepts, or images that we try to live up to or maintain, which all spring from pride. These things seem so “normal” or “right” to us that they can easily become burdens that cause frustration, anger, depression, and defeat. If we add to these standards (that we put upon ourselves) the standards of others, especially religious leaders, we can end up acquiring a false sense of spiritual attainment, or worse yet, open ourselves up to a religious spirit. In either case, the end result is delusion about our true spiritual state. A deluded runner is like a person who is wearing the right uniform (looks the part outwardly) and talks the talk (sounds religious), but who is running in the opposite direction.

Are you running the race, with patience, for the “prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus?” Or, have you stumbled and fallen under weights or sins? Perhaps you began running the race, but now you find yourself jumping through a series of hoops that the Lord never intended for you to jump through. If you have fallen under the burden, won’t you come to Jesus today and cast “all your care upon him; for he careth for you” 1 Peter 4:7,and let Him pick you up? If you are tired of jumping through hoops, won’t you come to Jesus who is calling,“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” Matthew 11:28-30? He’s waiting for you!