The true spirit of prayer is no other than God’s own Spirit dwelling in the hearts of the saints. And as this spirit comes from God, so doth it naturally tend to God in holy breathings and pantings. It naturally leads to God, to converse with him by prayer. –Jonathan Edwards
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-3
All translations of the Bible struggle to connect the Greek and Hebrew to exact English equivalents. Translators often spend hours going back and forth over the meaning of an original word. They do this because it is important to understand what the writer of the original text intended to say. This passage, when explored in light of the original Greek, yields much insight into our God’s intentions.
The writer of this passage enjoins us to “Lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely. “Every weight” refers to anything that would slow us down or hold us back from a full fixation on Christ Jesus. Not just the heavy ones or the obvious ones. Every weight. The word in the Gr. translated here as “weight” means a bulky encumbrance. The illustration the writer uses is the running of a race. Think of those US Marines who run in marathons in full combat dress. Some will even wear packs as they run in their BDUs and combat boots. Talk about a bulky encumbrance!
What weighs us down that we could lay aside? The context for this idea of weight is not sin – sin is the next point in this instruction. The weights the writer is referring to are life choices we make that keep us from a fixation upon Jesus, that holds us back from a daily preoccupation with our Him. This refers to things that are not necessarily morally wrong. If doing anything in this life hold us back from a preoccupation with our Savior, we are like those Marines. The encumbrances we choose to carry are like the BDUs and combat boots we choose to wear in our pursuit of our God.
The writer tells us to lay aside the sin that clings so closely. This word, “clings” is from a Greek word that means to be “well-encircled wholly around.” In other words, to be encircled so that it hampers progress. This is why many translations use “easily entangles” here. Sin left unaddressed will hamper our progress. When I lived in Canada, every season we had to take machetes out into the rain forest to clear paths to the various locations we needed for the summer. If you did not do this, every time someone tried to walk that trail the brush would entangle them on all sides and slow them down.
These instructions were written so that we can “… run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith….” We lay these encumbrances and sins aside to do two important things. First, we are run the race that is now before us, to run it well and without failing. Running this race under the control of the Holy Spirit who lives in us is critical to our new covenant living.
And second, we are to look to Jesus as our central focal point in life, as the author and perfecter or finisher of our faith. Hebrews 12:2 includes the words, “looking to Jesus.” This choice of wording literally means “to look away from all else to see to fix one’s gaze upon something,” in this specific context, “upon Jesus. This idea looking away from all else to focus our attention on Jesus is of great importance to us in our daily living.
If we have chosen to be true disciples of Jesus, the Spirit of Christ lives in us all the time. Yet we often forget that our God abides with us and in us. We revert to the old covenant habit of praying to a God “out there” and asking Him to “be with us” as we do this or that. We must lay aside that encumbrance and look away from old covenant thinking regarding the presence of our God.
Looking away from lesser things to be focused upon our God is key to our spiritual progress. It is key to an effective and powerful prayer life as well. It lifts our praying out of simply telling God what we want and telling Him how to do it. Our prayers become God-focused instead of human-focused. We began thinking in terms of conversational communion with our God as the purpose of our praying, with the results being more intimacy, love, and communion.
Our God is to be our closest friend. He is our Father, and a better and more loving Father than we are capable of imagining. Does our praying indicate that we love our God with all our being and desire to have intimacy with Him? Or do we see Him more as a dispenser of what we think we need?
“It is necessary to rouse the heart to pray, otherwise it will become quite dry. The attributes of prayer must be: love of God, sincerity, and simplicity.” –John of Kronstadt