Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Dear God, “the sin that so easily entangles.” What is that sin? Probably the easiest way to name it is to go to the “acts of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19-21a:
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”
That’s a pretty good list. These are, indeed the things that entangle us. I would add lethargy and self-indulgence to it as well. I don’t know that Paul intended this to be a complete list, just one that everyone could relate to.
So how do we “throw off” these things? Part of it is good old self-discipline, but it’s not about disciplining ourselves not to do these things as much as it is disciplining ourselves to pursue you. When I discipline myself to pursue you then I get the fruits of the Spirit that Paul goes on to mention in Galatians 5:22-23a:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The idea isn’t that I can discipline myself into these things, but that I “[fix my] eyes on Jesus” and “run with perseverance.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) That brings me to the question, what does fixing my eyes on Jesus look like in my everyday life?
About a month ago, I put a question out to friends on social media: What things do you do to pursue your relationship with God? Here are some of the answers I got back:
- I like to study with my first cup of coffee in the morning. I make my coffee then sit at our old antique family table with my Bible study book. First, I put in my earplugs. I do this because I am easily distracted. Putting those plugs in my ears seems to take me to a different place. I begin with a sip of coffee and a prayer. In this prayer, I ask God to open my eyes as I study his word and be open to hearing his voice. I usually add in there that I pray that I would act on what he is teaching me through his word. I take this time to ask for special requests–i.e. persons that have asked for prayers. After praying and listening to him, I am ready to begin my study. I usually have a study book. I make sure I look up all the scriptures in my Bible and read them. I prefer to read a scripture out of the Bible instead of just reading it out of a book. It somehow makes me feel closer to God. I usually study anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. I end my study with a prayer of thanksgiving for his word and for his grace.
- Weekend Mass–our family prefers Saturday, 5p at St Francis in Stonewall. But we attend Sunday Mass, too. We’ll try to catch the Life Teen Mass at St Mary’s more often since my son is in high school and that’s his cohort. And I enjoy the contemporary Christian songs their choir performs.
Daily Mass: St Francis has noon Mass on Wednesdays. I attend first Wed of month because the priest has anointing of the sick and we also have a luncheon.
When I’m in Comfort at noon time I catch Mass there but that’s infrequent –4 times over past year.
I attend the school Mass at St Mary’s about once a month. And I catch the Tuesday noon Mass at St Mary’s about once a month.
Bible studies: the one I started today is Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire (free videos emailed to me). This morning was an hour video about St Francis of Assisi. I think each day will be different…. I’ll find out.
And we’ve done 2 recent Bible studies at St Francis through Formed.org. 6 week studies. Recent one was about St Paul’s letters to the Philippians.
And… I’m trying to read the Bible more. After all these years of being a faithful Catholic I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I haven’t read the Bible cover to cover. I’m working on it.
- This is what I have been improving on to pursue a closer relationship w Christ: I am early riser so I use this quiet time for prayer in our parlor to thank God for another day of life and multiple blessings and then out the door for a 3 mile run, sometimes recite verses from memory or simply enjoy beauty and majesty of His creation and remind myself how incredible that God would take time to create me and know me even before I was formed in my mothers womb. After returning, my wife and enjoy reading our bible and share scripture readings while drinking our coffee. I think God delights in us when we reach out to him by quiet time, prayer, scripture reading or simply acknowledging him.
- Not listing all the obvious answers, for me music and spending time in His creation help keep me connected. Small group Bible studies best help me grow, which is different for me than staying connected.
- I have not been much of a person to get up and go to church these last few years. But God has put me in the path of Al-Anon. I believe my purpose is being filled by supporting that group and the fellowship. It is a very spiritual program. I have learned to meditate.
- Prayer Walks…..both listening for His nudging and lifting up petitions.
- I get up around 5:30 in the morning, get some coffee and sit in a chair in my living room. I read God’s word, sometimes I use a devotional, sometimes I don’t. Right now I’m doing a read through the Bible plan, but God has led me to a more intensive study of Romans 12. I pray, on my knees, beginning with the Lord’s prayer, and then for God to guide my day, then for my family (husband, children and grandchildren) and then for others as God leads. Sometimes I journal but not consistently and my journaling takes on various forms. For example, right now as I read through Kings and Chronicles I’m keeping a list of the Kings of Israel and Judah to keep it all straight in my mind. Aside from this very specific time. I try to listen for God’s voice and pray throughout the day. I try to read Christ focused books (both fiction and non fiction), listen to podcasts, listen to sermons. P.S. I’m not perfect at any of it.
- I actually “wrestle” with God and talk to him very matter of factly…of course about why [my son] was taken from me. I’m honest with him about my current emotional state…He knows anyway, so why not say it out loud…example “God I’m right now I’m more excited about getting to see [my son] again than you or Jesus…I know that’s not right, but I also know you are big enough and love me enough to work with me…help me feel differently and work through this feeling!”
- I feel close to God when I work in my garden, because it is a vehicle for spiritual and emotional connection.. you are already on your knees… and you push a seed into the earth, add water, and wait, and in time the miracle unveils itself. It might not be as dramatic as being witness to the creation of the universe, but it is as close as most of us will ever get to witnessing a miracle firsthand when the green shoot unfolds out of the seed and pushes through the earth. The whole process – from seed to fruition to dying-off and then renewal in the spring, is a metaphor for human life death and resurrection. It makes me feel close to God. Oh, and also, sometimes I drink too much and lie on my back in the driveway and yell at him.
As for me, these nearly daily prayer journals are a big part of my fixing my eyes on Jesus and running to finish. I also pray with my wife almost every day. While I attend church, it’s one that ministers more to my wife than it does to me, so I don’t get as much out of that. But I think it is good for our marriage that we worship you together. I have found myself longing for a certain kind of challenging preaching, so I listen to Andy Stanley’s sermons through my podcast app while I’m exercising, driving, or getting ready in the morning. I have a Christian friend with whom I speak nearly every Friday morning and we talk about our lives. And my wife and I are in a couples group through our church that meets once a month.
Yet, with all of that, I still find myself sometimes in the middle of sin that entangles. And there you always are with grace for me. You love me. You forgive me. In fact, you are the one who is able to throw off that sin that easily entangles me and helps me to run to finish this great race.
Father, help me to be the embodiment of your child. Help me to be more and more like Jesus and the example he set for me. Help me to love richly in your presence, regardless of my physical circumstances. And use my life to bring your will and kingdom to Earth, as it is in Heaven.
In Jesus’s name I pray,