Many years ago, I wanted to get a T-shirt from a local run. This annual race near my home town was 7 miles long, and was pretty well-known, so I thought that it would be cool to show everyone that I had been able to complete it. I probably could have registered and then just kept the T-shirt, but I figured that it would still be a good idea to actually participate and complete the race. While I was in much better shape than than I am now, some training was required.
So, I would periodically drive up to the local high school, and run around the track. It was a simple, quarter-mile oval track, made up of cinders with a grassy infield and border. I would put in a number of laps, usually jogging around the outside of the track.
One day, a friend’s dad had seen me at the track, and chided me for keeping my head down the whole time. Not having been formally trained, I usually just looked down at the ground in front of my feet when I was running. It gave me time to think, and I didn’t have to worry about tripping over something. However, there was no sense of a goal or seeing the big picture – just taking one step at a time as I went around in circles.
Have a look at this proverb:
Look straight ahead,
and fix your eyes on what lies before you.
Proverbs 4:25 NLT
Perhaps I would have done well to memorize this verse before taking on a self-directed training regimen, all those years ago. I don’t think that the wisdom of this verse is limited to running, though. As we go through life, it is all too easy to remain focused on things that aren’t our goal.
Sometimes, we look down. These days, people (including me) are more likely to be looking down at their smartphones, rather than the ground, but the net result is often the same. When we aren’t aware of what is happening around us, we miss out on opportunities to take action. Being too focused on our own selves creates a risk of us not noticing those who we could serve, nor seeing the plight of those who need us to show God’s love to them.
Sometimes, we look back. We dwell on past mistakes…or past successes. Whether living lives of regret, or basking in past glories, we don’t move forward. Our fixation on what has gone on before prevents us from treading new ground, where we could be filling our future with new experiences. When we don’t look forward, we risk putting a cap on our ability to continue contributing to the Kingdom of God. Sure, God can use those who aren’t actively working for Him (even those who are opposed to Him), but wouldn’t we rather be an active participant, on His side?
Sometimes, we look to the side. We get distracted from our purpose. Listening to voices around us that don’t come from God, we might fill our schedule with ostensibly good things, but miss out on the specific role that God has prepared for us to fill. Even dwelling on the success (or failure) of others in God’s family skews our view of what God has in mind for us.
So, while we can learn from the past, as well as from those around us and even through introspection, the most important point to focus on is forward – right where God is leading us. The weather might be cloudy, and we might not be able to see more than a few steps in front of us, but let us focus on Jesus as we run the race.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT