How to Walk by Faith - 2
February 12-13, 2022
The writer here to the Hebrews uses the analogy of running a race as a picture of walking in faith. It's a very good and powerful analogy because there's something inspiring about a race. One of my kids run track, for example. I myself have never been a runner, but my kids run track, and I so loved watching their races. There was something so inspiring, especially that moment when they round that last corner, and they just pour it on everything they got, and everyone is cheering for them. It's so emotional for me. It's like I want to start crying. It's so powerful to see all our effort as they're going for the finish. It's a really good analogy.
He writes here to give them that analogy because they're running with great obstacles, many things are against them, and here's why. The book is called Hebrews because it's written to Jewish believers in Jesus Christ, but they're being pressured by the Jews to go back to Judaism, and yet, you've held onto Jesus as the Messiah, and yet, they're being pressured to go back. He reminds them, in chapter 11, of these heroes of faith, men and women with inspiring stories that we know so very well, who've accomplished great feats because of their faith. Their faith defined their lives. Now, that's a very important thing to consider. What is it that defines your life? By what is it defined?
I think that many people have found their lives defined by great troubles, things that they've encountered in their lives. For example, many of you know my story, when I grow up, my father was an alcoholic. It was a very difficult way to be raised. Now, later in life, many of you know the finish, he came to faith when he was older, but in those growing up years, it was tremendously traumatic, particularly because of the way he treated our mother. That will fire up a young man, and it troubled me greatly.
I came to faith when I was 11, and I began to have a real encounter with the Lord in 19 years, and I begin to realize, "I will not let this thing define me. I will not be known as a child of an alcoholic all my life. God is doing work in my life." The poverty that we had, I didn't know anyone that was poorer than us, and I determined again, "This thing will not define my life." Some years ago, when our daughter was murdered, I realized then I cannot allow this to define my life. My faith will define my life. I will walk in my faith. See, this is a very important thing, the walking of faith.
We have this insight that he gives us in Hebrews 12 because there are keys to faith. There are keys to endurance. There are insights for staying the course, for fighting the good fight of faith, for being victorious as we run, as we live our lives, that's what he gives us in these verses. We need faith that endures in this turbulent and troubled world that we live in today. We need to fight the good fight. We need to finish the core set before us, and we need more than just to endure. We need to be victorious. The world needs people defined by faith. Amen.
Let's read it, we're in Hebrews 12, we're just going to read three verses beginning in verse 1, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, weights, and burdens, and let us lay aside the sin, which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and the perfector of faith."
In other words, your faith began in Him, and it will be completed in Him, "Who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart yourself." These are great verses when it comes to understanding how to live by and how to walk by faith. I want us to look at them, and apply them to our lives, starting with this understanding. Ask God to heal the burdens. He said, "Lay aside every encumbrance."
I. Ask God to Heal the Burdens
Now, the word there means weights, things that drag you down, things that carry heavily upon you. The analogy of running a race is a very good one. Paul used it in several places. In another place, he says, "You are running well, who cut in on you?" That's the idea. "Who hindered you see?" It means to live by faith on the journey set before you, it's a picture of victory because of faith. Trust Him with those burdens. We were all born in the human condition, and the human condition is fraught with fears, insecurities, weakness, doubts. God wants more than that. Don't walk by those things. I have an answer to your insecurity. I have an answer for fear. Let God heal the wounds.
Let God heal the burdens, that you're not encumbered by them, that you're not weighed down by them. If you will lay them down, you will run the race well. He uses, for example, in Hebrews 11, these examples of men and women of tremendous faith. Notice verse one, where he says, "Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us run the race set before us."
What is this cloud of witnesses surrounding us? There have been a number, I think, of perspectives on it. It's met with considerable confusion. Some have suggested that this cloud of witnesses are those who have gone before us, those who have died, our loved ones who've gone before us, they are now in heaven, observing our lives. I suggest to you that if those who've gone before us are observing our lives, they're not experiencing heavenly joy.
A. Lay aside every encumbrance
They're experiencing some real sadness in watching the troubles of our lives. No, I don't believe that at all. What is this cloud of witnesses? I think it's the witness, the testimony of these heroes of chapter 11, since you have such a great example, a cloud of witnesses, who've done it, who've walked in it. They're surrounding us. They stand as witness to us, that faith can be victorious, that it can affect the whole of a person's life, and that great things, great accomplishments are possible when your life is defined by your faith. He says, "Lay aside every encumbrance." Every encumbrance, lay aside.
Many people carry these burdens that keep them from living as God would desire them to live. They carry burdens that God never meant for you to carry, and it interferes with the living by faith. Using the analogy of running a race, it's a very good one because no one would ever think of trying to run a race while carrying weights in their hands. It would hold you back tremendously or carrying a burden of a backpack, very difficult. Interestingly, the analogy of running a race was so appropriate that Paul used because the Greek games were such a huge thing at the time. They were tremendously important to the culture, the Greek culture.
They had all kinds of races, like we do, the long-distance race, the sprint. One of the races that they had was almost comedic because one of the races is where they would have the runners put on all the full armor of a soldier and then try to run the race. It is almost comedic because they're all clinging and clamoring and trying to make it to the finish line, and everyone was cheering because this thing is impossible. They're carrying so much weight that it's impossible to run well. It's a very appropriate analogy. Some people, they just drag these weights, they carry these weights with them everywhere they go. It's very hard to make it very far dragging weights like these.
Reminds me of several years ago, I was in Tanzania, in Africa, and we were doing a pastor's conference there, and we had a break at one point, so we went out to the shores of Lake Victoria, which is a very beautiful part of the world. On the shores there, there was these rocks, and I thought, "These are amazingly beautiful granite rocks." I thought, "Oh, these would look great in my landscaping." A little memento from Africa. I got several of these really nice rocks and I decided, "I'm going to take them home and put them in my landscaping." I put them in my baggage and started dragging them.
You should have seen the looks on the faces of the security when they opened my bags. "You're carrying rocks throughout the airport?" Well, after dragging them through the airport for a while, I thought, I was crazy myself. Let's just put it this way. They never made it to my landscaping. That's too much burden. See, when you don't trust God with something, when you try to carry such burdens yourself, you're not living by the faith that would be victorious because you're encumbered, you're weighed down.
I would like to put my finger on some specific things that weigh people down and hinder them from walking in the faith victoriously. One of the heaviest things that people carry is bitterness and unforgiveness. It hinders. It's the opposite of faith. Now, I say this with tremendous compassion because I understand it. I've done it. I carry tremendous bitterness. When I was a young man, I mentioned my father, those were very, very difficult years, particularly in my teen years, as I'm growing larger and growing in greater strength, there's something arising in me.
The way he treated my mother made me absolutely furious. I remember one day, I remember the scene very well in my mind, I was out hoeing corn. We had a farm, and I was hoeing corn. I could see up the row, up the hill was my dad sitting in the car, drinking his beer like he had always done, he'd just sip on it all day long. I'm out there hoeing corn, and I'm just mad. I'm just angry, and I'm just whacking at these weeds. My older sister sees this. She comes out, and she says, "What are you so mad? Why so angry?" I pointed my finger up there and I said, "One day, I'm going to settle this. One day, I'm going to finish this."
She says, "You will do no such thing. You have to let go of this. You can't keep carrying this all your life. It will ruin you." I'll tell you what, that was a good word. I started to come to a place of praying, "God, show me this. There has to be a better way. I can't carry this. I can't carry this on my life. There's got to be a better way." I had one of these moments, and perhaps you've had one of those revelation moments where God just speaks to your heart.
It was my 21st birthday, I remember it very well. When I was just having it out, "God, I'm 21, and I'm seeing my whole life ahead of me, I can't carry this all my life." I felt this word of the Lord, "I'll be your father now. I'll be a father to you. I'll be a father like no earthly father could be. I'll walk with you. I'll never leave you. I'll never forsake you. I'll put my hand on your life. I'll put my favor on you." Well, it changed me. I believed it. I took it to my heart, and I started praying for my dad. In fact, I even wrote a song. Back in those days, I was a lot more emo. I wrote a song.
It was for my dad. The song is a prayer. Well, it was almost prophetic, because when he was 75 years old, in the course of a lot of miles, a lot of things, a lot of struggles, he came back. He came to church. I never thought his shadow would ever cross the threshold of a church, but he came to church. I gave an invitation to receive Jesus Christ, and I looked and there he was. I got to baptize him with my own hands. We spent the last years of his life close. God is able to heal. God is able to change. That's my point. Let God heal these burdens. You don't have to carry these burdens all your life. God can heal these burdens.
See, when God says to you, "Don't carry such things," he's not wagging His finger at you. He's saying, "Now, you stop that." He's not doing that. He says, with great compassion, "No, listen, I love you. You're carrying this burden when you need to let me carry this burden. I can heal you. I can heal this thing." That is faith. To trust that He can heal this thing is faith. Let me heal it. Hebrews 12:15, "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God. That no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble." It's a great picture. A root is unseen until it springs up and starts causing trouble. By it, many are defiled. You can't carry this thing all your life. It stops you. It's a burden.
Here's another one. Worry and anxiety, burden that people carry that make life heavy for them. It encumbers them. They can't run the race well when they're carrying worries and anxieties. It's the what-if fears. We were born in that fear, we were born in that anxiety, but God says, "I can heal it. Trust me. By faith, trust me with that thing that you are worried about. By faith, trust me with the thing that you're anxious about." Luke 12:25-26, "Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life spent?" In fact, you may take hours off of it. If you then cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other such things? You'll see it in the greater context, what he's referring to.
In another place, he's using an analogy, the parable of a farmer, who's sewing his seed on the ground. It's a picture of the word of God being sown on different types of hearts. He uses different types of soils. Without giving the longer picture of it, one of those types of soils was a condition of the heart that he mentions in Mark 4:18-19. Others are the ones on whom the seed is sown, the word of God is sown among thorns. There's some briars, thorns in the heart. It's within their soul.
B. Don’t get entangled in sin
These are the ones who've heard the word, but the worries, the cares, the concerns, the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches is adding world focus, things, the desires for other things, they enter in and they choke the word. They hinder it from growing. It chokes the word, and it becomes unfruitful. It's a picture, isn't it, of the worries and cares and the concerns that hinder you? He adds this in Luke chapter 12, "And then lay aside every encumbrance and lay aside the sin, which so easily entangles." Don't get entangled in sin. It's a very powerful, appropriate picture. Don't get entangled in it.
It's like running a cross-country race and coming up on briars along the path. Don't get entangled in those things. Now, here in the Northwest, we have these blackberry briars that can just set out vines of all kinds of links. Blackberry briars in the Northwest can turn into mountains of troubles. If you've ever experienced trying to get rid of them, you know how difficult they are because they send these vines out so thick and so long. I'll tell you why. You try past one of them and they get ahold of your clothes, or they get ahold of you, you've got some trouble on your hands, because it will be painful to extract yourself from such things.
Sin makes people fall. Instead of running the race well, instead of accomplishing the great accomplishments, things by faith, they get entangled in sin, and that becomes the biggest issue of their lives. They can't accomplish anything by faith because they're trying to untangle a mess. Maybe we could see it from this perspective, the longer you walk in the Lord, something grows of the spirit, and life is strengthened. The spirit within is strengthened. The more you walk in the Lord, the more His spirit has poured out in your life, something is great. Something is stronger. Something is increasing. By faith, something is arising within your soul.
The longer you walk, the more that you understand what I'm saying. There is something that's arising you that's very beautiful, that's very powerful, that's arising in you. It becomes such a treasure to you that you want nothing to get in the way of that. Anybody understand what I'm saying? Sin is the opposite of it. Sin drains the soul. Sin reduces a man. Sin weakens a person. Faith strengthens, something is arising. The more you walk in the Lord, the more something arises in you. Sin is the opposite. It will reduce you. God looks at that.
I believe that God is saying that because He's saying to you, "I want you to have the fullness of life. I want you to experience the victory of faith. I want nothing to hinder you. I want nothing to stand in the way. This thing is draining you. It's weakening you." It's particularly true of secret sins. Secret sins drain the soul. You cannot experience the fullness of God when the soul is being drained. "Be filled by the spirit," He says. "Be ye filled and overflowing. My cup overflows." There's the picture of string something arising.
That's what God wants. "I want this for you, I want you to have the fullness. I want you to live the life well lived by faith. I don't want anything to hinder you." I'm convinced that the enemy would very much like to keep you out of God's will? The enemy would very much right to keep you out of God's purpose in your life, and he'll sideline you by entangling you, if you allow it. That's why He says, "Lay aside anything that entangles or encumbers you because I want you to have life, have life to the full." There are many types of sin. Many are obvious, but perhaps the root of them all is the sin of unbelief.
I suggest to you that there's an aspect of unbelief involved with all manner of things. Hebrews 11 is filled with heroes of faith, great men and women in the history of Israel, but there were also failures. Those failures are instructive for us as well. First of all, notice this, we've been reading recently in 1 and 2 Kings and you know that when Israel was divided north and south, that something happened in the north, a great tragedy. A spiritual darkness of tremendous aspect came upon the northern kingdom as they went after the gods of the world and the worldliness thereof.
What did God do in response to this? What did God do as a response to the people who've turned their back on God and walked into the ways of the world? What did God do? He sent the most powerful prophets of the Old Testament, that's what he did. He sent Elijah and Elisha to shake the people, to call them back. I just love that about the Lord. It reveals the heart of the Lord. He doesn't toss them out. He doesn't cast them aside. He pursues them. He sends powerful prophets to call them, to redeem them. I love this about the Lord because you'll do the same thing for you and for me. You enter a time of spiritual darkness, God will start pursuing. I'll tell you what, if God's on the pursuit, you are being pursued.
He will call you, He'll stir you to bring you back because he knows that the root of it is unbelief.
One of the examples of this in 2 Kings, which we just looked at on Wednesday, there was a point in Israel's history in the North where an enemy, besieged the capital of Samaria. Now, if the capital of your country is under besieging, this is a sign of tremendous national weakness. Now, to siege, to put a city under siege is a cruel aspect of war. It's just cruel. People can't come in, people can't go out, they start to hunger and get to a point of tremendous suffering. It's a cruel aspect of war.
This happened. People were dying of hunger. Well, finally the king had had enough. It got to the point, it got so bad that two cups of dove's dung were sold for five shekels of silver. I suggest to you, that's a pretty exorbitant price for dove's dung, five shackles of silver. Finally, the king had enough. Blaming the prophet, might as well blame God, blaming the prophet, he sent someone to dispatch his head. When the man came to the door of Elisha's house, the prophet responded, "Listen to the word of the Lord, thus says Jehovah tomorrow about this time, a measure of fine flour will be sold for one shekel, and two measures of barley will be sold for one shekel and this will happen at the very gate of Samaria."
Well, in a complete lack of faith, the man responded "Behold, if the Lord should make windows in heaven, how could this thing be?" You want to talk about unbelief? Didn't believe a word of it. If God should pour this out from heaven itself, how can this be? The prophet responded, "Behold you will see it. You'll see it with your own eyes, but you will not taste it." Whoa, what a picture of unbelief is that. It keeps people from experiencing, from tasting that good that God wants to do for them. God wants you to experience life and life to the full, to accomplish that, which is in your life.
II. Run the Race Set Before You
Hebrew 10:38, "The just, the righteous, shall live by their faith. If anyone draws back or shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in them." It's very powerful. Now back to Hebrew 12, we see this insight also in these verses, "Run the race set before you." Everyone has their own race. Every generation has had their own troubles. The generation that went through World War I, the war of all wars, that generation had great troubles. The generation that went through the depression, oh, what economic troubles shook the world. World War II, that generation, the Holocaust tragedy, that generation. The kind of culture of the 60s, and the drug movement, and the rebellion of the age.
Every culture has their own race, own troubles. This is our race. We live in a time, pandemic, all kinds of troubles around the world. Nations are rising, world order changing. This is our race. Others have gone before us showing that they have walked in faith and endured through it, showing us that it can be done despite obstacles and difficulties. Here's my point. Others will follow after us. They will see our lives. Will we be an example of faith? Will we be an example of those who walked victoriously through the obstacles and the difficulties and the troubles of life?
I have spoken often about the prophetic aspect in the fact that troubles will arise in the world, as we draw nearer the end of days. As we draw nearer the end of the age, troubles will arise. Well, I was speaking at this one time in a class I was teaching on eschatology. It was an interactive class, and someone raised their hand with a very interesting question. I made that same point, and then the question was this, "If everything comes crashing down, will you move to New Zealand?" I never thought of that. That's an interesting question. If everything comes crashing down, would I move to New Zealand?
A. Run the race with endurance
I said, "Well, I love New Zealand I think it's a beautiful part of the world I would love to go visit New Zealand, but if everything comes crashing down, no, I'm staying right here because leaders don't run from trouble, they face their troubles. They face them with faith. That's when leaders are needed most." This is very important. No, don't run from troubles. You face them and you face them with faith because that's when they're needed most. Here's another interesting example. Many of you perhaps are not old enough to remember Y2K.
Anybody remember Y2K? It was a real thing, it was a real concern. In case you don't know what it's about, 1999 the talk of the day was that when it turns 2000, January 1, 2000, all the computers in the world are going to go berserk thinking it's the year 1900. They're, "What in the world is going to happen. All systems are going to shut down and well, all men of trouble are-- It's going to be chaos." I had an acquaintance of mine, I say an acquaintance, I didn't know him well, but I know this, that in response to Y2K, or rather in preparation for Y2K, in the fall of 1999, he and his family moved to the hinterlands of Idaho. Never to be seen again.
They're probably still in the hinterlands of Idaho wondering if the world's collapsed around them. No, this is not the answer. To walk in faith is to arise. That's why He says in Hebrew 12, "Run the race with endurance." See, long-distance running requires endurance. It's a powerful picture because this is a lifelong marathon. It requires steady, persistent faith, steady, steady, persistent faith. Sometimes, running is painful. Running the race well requires what the Bible calls long-suffering to walk steadfastly. James 1:12, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial." That's by faith, you're persevering.
Now in a race, only one wins the prize, but in a marathon, it's a victory just to have run it. Just to have run it, just to have finished it is an accomplishment itself. Very few people do it. It's a very difficult thing. 26.2 miles, running the old way, without stopping, very few people do it. It's a powerful illustration. Just to finish the thing is a victory. Very few people do it. In fact, show of hands, how many people have actually run a marathon? Very few people have done it. Interestingly, the eight o'clock service had more.
They get up early, they exercise, they're like-- Now, I only raised my hand just to show you how to raise your hand, I've never done it.
The longest race I ever ran, well, back in the days when I was in the restaurant business, we were sponsoring a race. Somebody suggested, "Hey, we're sponsoring the race, somebody had to run in it. Why not you run it, Rich?" Of course, once I said that, "Oh sure." I had never run that far in my life. We're talking 15K, that's 9.6 miles. I didn't even prepare for it. About three days before I realized, "Whoa, this is coming up. I got to start getting ready."
Three days before, I went out on this long run. I came to the race, I could barely walk, I'm so sore.
Let's just say I didn't finish first. There was a lot of old women passing me on the way.
It's a powerful picture. One of my wife's friends was running her first marathon. She'd never done it. It was one of her life goals. As you rounded the last corner, finish line in sight, her elderly father was in the crowd. When he saw her come around that last quarter, he's like, "She's doing it. She's doing it. She's going to do this." He was so sturdy. Just something happened in him that he went through the crowd went under the tape, went out there in his dress shoes, and started running alongside of her to finish together. Of course, she's like crying now. It's such a beautiful thing.
1 Corinthians 9:24-25, "Run in such a way that you may obtain the prize." This thing, this race that you're running is worth the prize. Then he adds, "Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things." To run well, you must exercise self-control. Now, they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we, imperishable. It's so worth the race to run. It's a great verse because it causes us to consider, what are you running for? What goal are you pursuing? What prize do you hope to obtain? Many people have their sights set on things that are perishable, the desires, the things they treasure, are of the earth.
I remember reading a quote from Calvin Miller in one of his books, where he said, "The world is poor because its fortune is buried in heaven but all its treasure maps are of the earth." It's such a great quote. Jesus said, Matthew 16:26, "What will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and forfeited his soul?" What would a man give in exchange for a soul? Do you not know the value of your soul? The most important aspect of a person is their soul. To have life in the soul requires something eternal, requires more than what this earth has to offer, requires more. I want that which God has for me. These old bodies of ours, they're just temporary tents to dwell in. They're not the most important part of us.
We're leaving these old things behind. The older you get, and the more pains and groans you accumulate, the more you appreciate that fact. We're leaving these old things behind. It's just temporary. These are not the things of life. This is not the stuff of life, but so many people, that's their pursuit. Now, the soul, that's where life is found, the soul. Only things which are eternal are valuable to the soul. Matthew 6:19-20, "Do not lay for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal. Lay for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy, where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there, your heart is."
B. Fixing your eyes on Jesus
Where's your treasure? The earth is poor because its fortune is buried in heaven but its treasure maps are of your earth. Faith is to walk believing that it's such a worthy prize. That's why he says, "Run with your race with endurance, fixing your eyes on Jesus." Fixing your eyes on Jesus, who said, God set the course accomplishing the purpose for which He was sent. There's an interesting thing in verse 2, "Who, for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." He accomplished. He ran with endurance. He finished. It was done. It says, "For the joy set before him." It's a great phrase. What was that joy? [music plays]
So much joy that he was willing to endure hostility of sinners against him. What was that joy? It was that, "In knowing that in tasting death for everyone, that He would become the captain of our salvation, and lead many sons to glory." That was the joy. God sent his son to go and seek sinners and to save sinners, bring them home. That's the joy because he did it. He went and found sinners, and He's still doing it today. Go find sinners, bring many sons to glory, bring many prodigals home. He's the author and the finisher. In Him, faith is born, and in Him, it will be completed. It will be fulfilled.
I want to finish by reading the lyrics of a worship song that we have sung over the years, but it captures this truth so beautifully. It's How Deep the Father's Love for Us. "How deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure that he should give his only son to make a wretch His treasure, how great the pain of searing loss, the father turns his face away, as wounds which mar the chosen ones, bring many sons to glory. Behold the man upon the cross, my sin upon his shoulders. Ashamed I hear my mocking voice, call out among the scoffers. It was my sin that held him there, until it was accomplished. His dying breath has brought me life, I know it is finished.
I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom, but I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give an answer, but this I know with all my heart, His wounds have paid my ransom." Father, thank you for such words that encourage faith because we've come to understand that's where life is found, to walk with you, to walk by faith to have the victory over the things that encumber, weigh us down. Church, how many would say to the Lord today, "I choose to walk by faith?"
God, I set aside every encumbrance, I set aside every burden. These things which have weighed me down for so long, I've been carrying these things for so long, God I lay them down. I want to walk with you. I want to walk free. I want to walk with these burdens at the foot of the cross, to walk in freedom. Lord, I pray that now, we would truly trust you in the course of this life. Church, how many would say that to the Lord today, "I choose you, I choose to walk by faith. I choose to walk into victory that comes through Jesus Christ. That's what I want. That's the greatest joy in my life. That's the very desire that I have. God, I choose to walk by faith in you"?
Would you just declare that to the Lord by raising your hand to him? It's a declaration of faith. It's a declaration by which you say, "God, I just want to say it because it's so precious to me." Father, thank you for everyone who stirred of the Lord, moved of God, we honor you. Thank you so much for loving us so steadfastly that you never quit on us, that you pursue us relentlessly, and that you'll call us to that which is greater and better in our lives. We love you for it. In Jesus' powerful name and everyone said