I was recently visiting with a small group of pastors, and the discussion turned to the distractions and hindrances that can keep us from faithfully walking in our calling to follow Christ both personally and vocationally. Temptation, busyness, loss of priority, negative people, difficult circumstances and discouragement are merely a few of the things that can hinder all followers of Christ in obedience to His calling wherever and however He has called us to serve.
The Apostle Paul liked to use athletic metaphors in teaching the Gospel to his readers. One that he used several times was running a race. He told the Galatians they were “running well” but had been “hindered” by listening to false teaching (Gal. 5:7).
We all need to pause and ask ourselves, “What hinders me from ‘running the race’ to follow Christ?” Many times it is one of the things I mentioned above that pulls us off the path of running after Christ. I am reminded of the words of the author of Hebrews, when he wrote about hindrances in the race: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1).
In her best-selling book, Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand tells the amazing story of Louis Zamperini whose bomber was shot down over the Pacific Ocean in WWII. Zamperini survived an agonizing two-year ordeal of being lost at sea on a raft and enduring Japanese concentration camps.
Prior to his military service, Zamperini was a world-class athlete in the 5,000 meter run and competed in the Olympics. In 1938, Louie ran in the NCAA championships against numerous other athletes determined to prevent Zamperini from winning—an Italian-American who unexpectedly rose to prominence in the track and field world.
Of that race, Hillenbrand writes, “Halfway through the race, just as Louie was about to move ahead for the lead, several runners shouldered around him, boxing him in. Louie tried repeatedly to break loose, but he couldn’t get around the other men. Suddenly, the man beside him swerved in and stomped on his foot, impaling Louie’s toe with his spike. A moment later, the man ahead began kicking backward, cutting both of Louie’s shins. A third man elbowed Louie’s chest so hard that he cracked Louie’s rib.”
In our effort to run after Christ and to follow the path He has set out for us, we will encounter hindrances. There are many things that can draw us away from Christ and His calling that can box us in, stomp on our feet and elbow us in the ribs. The Greek word translated “hinder” in Gal. 5:7 literally means “to cut in.” The word was used of runners “cutting in” on others to gain position. We must identify the things in our lives that try to “cut in” on our pursuit of Christ and eliminate them from our lives.
As we commit ourselves to the race that is following Christ, we know the journey will not be easy. Yet, we also know that we can have confidence in Jesus to provide all we need and to give us an eternal reward at the finish line.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).