What does it take for us to successfully run the race of faith?  Is it an ever-mounting list of jobs and responsibilities?  Is it public perception of us?  Think about a race.  Before you can run a race, you need to train for the race.  You cannot just walk out of your living room and start a 5K race and expect to win if you haven’t trained a minute for it!  Training builds muscle, tones the body, strengthens the bones, increases the efficiency of the heart and lungs and builds endurance. Training builds you up and increases both your abilities and your confidence as you push yourself to new limits.  Often times an athlete trains either alone or with just the trainer.  The trainers job is to point out weaknesses and areas that need improvement and push you further than you’ve gone before until FINALLY!....you are ready to run the race.
Hebrews 12:1-2 reads, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin that ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 11 is renowned for being the “Faith Chapter” and it truly outlines the lives and reasons and footsteps of many who have gone ahead but chapter 12 is encouraging us as we run the race.  Note that the author does not talk about the past prophets in a past tense.  He is currently surrounding the believer with this cloud of witnesses.  Imagine yourself surrounded with Sarah, Abraham, Moses, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, David, Samson, and so on.  As you go through a tough time and your training gets tougher and the race gets a little longer, or steeper, or hotter, these folks are witnessing your race and cheering you on from the sidelines!  We are told to lay aside EVERY weight.  How can you run with speed and agility if you are carrying weights?  Won’t that wear you down faster?  Won’t it exhaust you quicker and perhaps make you wince and complain or even change you focus from the race to the burden of the weights?  Hmmmm...interesting.  The reference extends to the sin that ensnares us which carries the same power as the burden of a weight but the picture is different because the sin is ensnaring us which gives a picture of a vine wrapping around the runners feet and legs and which will finally cause that individual to fall and run no more.
So how do you run successfully?  Keep your eyes focused on Jesus.  As the coach, Jesus will guide and give pointers and encouragement along the way.  At times He will rebuke us as we make mistakes, too.   Jesus is noted here as the author and finisher of our faith.  An author comes up with an idea, makes notes, jots down some thoughts, and then begins writing.  The writing is written and rewritten until the final product echos the original thought or idea.  Then, as the son of a carpenter, Christ is the finisher of our faith.  He puts the final touches on and sands out the blemishes, carves the proper curves and nails together the different parts to complete the project.  None of the actions of either the author or finisher are “speaking into perfection” but rather actions of elimination, reinforcement, alteration, etc. so that change brings along the finished product.  Jesus was our example on the cross as He did not focus His eyes or mind on the physical suffering of the cross and the rejection He suffered from both man and His heavenly Father but rather, He focused on the prize.  He saw the eternal life and the crown and the seat at the right hand of God the Father.  He saw what the end result was and knew He had to travel that path the receive the prize.  He is our example.  He is our ultimate trend setter.  Those are the footsteps we are to follow in and whatever trials, judgement and criticism we receive, it will never be to the extent of what our Lord suffered for us.
Go in Faith and run your race with steady footsteps.  Put down your weights and continue with your eyes focused on the perfect example Christ set for us while listening to His encouraging words.