I don’t like to run. I actually hate it. I hate it…with a passion. I overheat easily and my legs get red and itchy. It’s in fact a miserable experience.
So when I read any type of metaphor about running in the Bible, I have to disassociate it with my full-hate relationship of running as a choice of exercise.
And yet, I couldn’t seem to get Abraham out of my mind. Even after I turned the page on his death. I couldn’t shake the repeated phrases of him running to the visitors in Genesis 18 or how he rose early and saddled his donkey to obey God when God seemed to be asking the impossible of him in Genesis 22. Abraham was a tent-dweller, yes, but Abraham was also a runner. The book of Hebrews describes him and the other patriarchs as “the pioneers who blazed the way.”
As I treasure-dug in the Old and New Testaments, I begrudgingly realized that while I may hate running – the followers of God are told to run. Not in the physical sense of lacing up tennis shoes to hit the pavement, but in the mental sense of tying the word of God around you and moving forward in obedience and hope in the hills of our minds.
Run swiftly toward holiness for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.Hebrews 12:14
There is so much packed into this short verse. Paul urges the church to run swiftly towards holiness, the complete opposite direction of worldliness, much like how the angels told Lot to escape for his life from the evilness of the cities soon to be destroyed.
Running is parsed in the Greek as a present active verb, meaning it’s an action we should be continually and actively doing.
The context of holiness in this verse is sanctification of the heart and of life. I went a little deeper into the root word of the Greek and discovered it also means cherish, foster with care, keep warm.
Run towards what keeps our hearts aflame for Christ. Press on towards what helps us cherish him. Pursue what fosters our love for him. And while we run towards him and therefore, holiness, we are running away from what steals the flame from our souls, what hinders our affections for him, and what will inevitably kill us.
Paul warns that those who are not holy will not see the Lord. I looked into the original Greek again. The KJV says without holiness, so I dug deep into the root words again. The root word for without is a space between two places. A root word deeper says: chasm, gaping opening.
Those who are not continually and actively pursuing God and chasing after his heart are chasms away from him, I wrote in my journal. If we aren’t running after him, we are following after the world. When we run towards sin we are creating a gaping chasm so wide and deep that we can’t hear or see God. That’s why Paul says to run towards what keeps our eyes and affections fixed on Jesus. He’s the one the bridges that deep chasm that separates us from God. He wants to take our sin and send it to the gaping chasms of the deepest-deep ends of the earth, never to be seen again.
I kept digging, this time flipping back to the fifth book of the Old Testament.
Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you.Deuteronomy 16:20
I immediately dug into the Hebrew. Just in this verse can be translated as straight paths. So in essence, the passage tells us to follow/run after/pursue the straight paths because the straight path leads to life and an inheritance. In Hebrew, live is defined as sustain life, live properly, be quickened, be revived. The root for live is to breathe.
Running on the straight paths is life-giving. As we set our hearts to running after holiness, he will fill our lung with his breath, his Spirit, his thoughts, his ways. He keeps our minds and souls from being wearied and faint. And as we continue to press forward, one step at a time, we begin to possess the land the Lord gives. Interestingly, in the Hebrew lexicon, to inherit doesn’t just mean take possession of or occupy. It can also mean the driving out of previous tenants and possess in their place.
Ah, ha! I thought as the Holy Spirit made connections in my understanding.
Run after the way of the Lord. Stay on the path to the Tree of Life – it is a straight path to the Father’s heart. Don’t wander and run lost and misguided down dark twisty alleyways. Pursue the narrow road – and as we do he will sustain our paths, put fresh air in our lungs, quicken our feet, and revive our souls one step-at-a-time. He goes before us driving out the enemy and idols of our hearts so he can be the one we inherit – an inheritance that gives us access to all the gifts of God and the greatest gift – God himself.
Because we live in a fallen world, we are tempted from the straight path. Pursuing him seems hard. We don’t want the callouses and blisters of an uphill climb. We’d rather lounge on the side of a cliff and picnic there. Perhaps we’ve ignored the straight path for so long it is overgrown with brush.
How do we run when we don’t feel like running? How do we identity the straight path when we’ve been on the twisty paths so long it has actually made our minds dark and twisty too? How do we get back up again and again when we keep tripping over the rocks we’ve carried with us from the paths of twist?
I turned back to Hebrews 12, the starting point and catalyst for this particular treasure hunt and realized the answer was right there in front of me.
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it.Hebrews 12:1-2, MSG
How do we run when we don’t feel like running?
We fix our eyes on Jesus.
Because when we see him, not the world’s twisted-path idea of him, but when we actually behold him, even those of us who hate to run will run.
Looking is the Greek word aphorao and this is the only time it is used in the Bible. It means separate to see. We have to separate ourselves and destroy our love affair with the world to see Jesus. Aphorao is also a present active participle verb, which means it is a command. We are commanded to actively and presently and continuously turn our eyes away from the world and the twisty trails and dangerous cliffs to fix our eyes and mind on Jesus.
Keep looking to Jesus. Continually fix your eyes on him. Actively see him.
We are in so much danger hap-hazarding our way through life. The twisty trails confuse us and blind our eyes to the sharp drop-offs. Looking to Jesus is the only way we are going to make it through this twisty and dark world without being fully dark and twisty ourselves. Studying him is how we get through this life with hearts still aflame for him, with the ability to even love at all.
Maybe you like to run or maybe you are a member of the I-hate-running-club like myself. Either way we have a run before us like no other. Lace up your running shoes, fellow pioneer. Tie God’s word around you again and again and again, because when we stray from the straight path, which we are bound to do, we will need it as a compass to find our way back.
Fix your eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. He’s the trailblazer before us.
Follow in his path.