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Running the Race


2012 is Olympics year in the United Kingdom. In the Olympics we have all the excitement and challenge of athletics. Sporting images are used often in the New Testament to speak of the challenge, discipline and achievement of living life with Christ.

This set of Lent studies is based on Hebrews 11.1-12.4. At the end of that passage there is an inspiring image of Christians running the race. As we do so we are surrounded by a crowd of witnesses cheering us on. Some of their stories are told in Hebrews 11 and so we will be looking at how they can be examples and inspire us in living the life of faith, just like our sporting heroes. This race is run looking to Jesus waiting at the finishing line. He himself has run the race and been victorious. The studies raise questions about what it means to believe; how we face up to difficulties and doubts; and the challenges of obedience to God.

1. The Walk of Faith (Hebrews 11.1-7)

2. The Leap of Faith (Hebrews 11.8-22)

3. The Fight of Faith (Hebrews 11.23-31)

4. The Team Effort (Hebrews 11.32-40)

5. The Champion (12.1-4)

EACH STUDY has the following sections:

On one page so that you can photocopy just this page for group members:

The warm up

A list of passages for reading beforehand, which fill in the background to the stories referred to in Hebrews. They could be part of a pattern of daily Bible reading for Lent. It would be a great help if everyone read them. The leader of the group will definitely need to do so.

The starting line

A warm-up discussion starter to get everyone talking. Usually there’s a sport related idea and an alternative.

The race

The main suggestions for discussion for each week.

Over the line

A question to sum up and round off discussion.

Then for group leaders:

The extra mile

More questions which can be used instead of or in addition to the questions given under ‘The race’.

The briefing

Background notes to help you understand the passage.

Celebrating and reflecting

Prayer should always be part of the group’s time together. Some ideas that can be used throughout the series can be found following the studies. This section suggests ways of using those and other ideas.

SESSION 1 – THE WALK OF FAITH (Abel, Enoch, Noah)
The warm up

In the week before this study read the following passages from Genesis. Think about what they convey about faith, the promises of God and obedience to him.

1. Genesis 4.1-16

2. Genesis 5.18-24

3. Genesis 6.1-8

4. Genesis 6.9-22

5. Genesis 7.1-24

6. Genesis 8.1-22

7. Genesis 9.1-17

The starting line

Who are your sporting heroes, whether particular individuals or those who take part in a particular sport? Did anyone choose a walker? (Very unlikely!!) The passage we are studying over the next few weeks culminates in the picture of the Christian life as a race. Hebrews 11 describes some of the Old Testament characters who have run the race of faith. This week’s section, however, talks about people who walked with God. Walking is not a high profile sport. It’s an individual exercise and demands endurance. Which other sports require that sort of endurance? What are the challenges of an individual sport like walking? How do you motivate yourself? Are there any initial clues there about what it might mean to ‘walk with God’?


Share in twos or threes what you enjoy about going for a walk – do you prefer to walk alone or with someone? Are there echoes of that in your relationship with God?

The race

Read Hebrews 11.1-7

1. The White Queen in Alice in Wonderland talked of believing ‘as many as six impossible things before breakfast’. How do you see faith? How is faith described in this passage?
Faith in a God who created everything out of nothing is attacked by some as unscientific. Why do you think such faith is reasonable? How does faith in God as creator make sense of the world we live in? Why is faith in God important?
2. Abel’s offering (verse 4) was accepted by God because of his faith, while his brother Cain, whose offering was not accepted, is described as harbouring evil in his heart (see Genesis 4.7). How does faith inspire our worship, giving and the dedication of our lives to God?
3. Enoch is described as someone who ‘walked with God’ (Genesis 5.22) – what might people have noticed about his life that would make them say that? How did Enoch’s faith shape his living and dying? What things help you to ‘walk with God’?
4. Genesis 6.9 describes Noah as ‘a righteous man, blameless in his generation’, who ‘walked with God’. How does his life demonstrate that? How did Noah exercise his faith? How does faith in God help us keep going in the face of difficult circumstances which threaten to overwhelm us?
Over the line

What key things have we learnt this week about faith and our relationship to God?

The extra mile

1. What can we learn from verses 1-3 and 6 about faith? Consider such things as

- What is the nature of faith?

- What is at the heart of faith?

- What is the outcome of faith?

2. Think of people you know who demonstrate a real faith in God. How do they show their faith?
3. The story of Cain and Abel is the first story in the Bible about family conflict, one taken up by many writers since. What are some of the things that cause divisions in families?
4. Both Abel and Noah are described as being accounted as ‘righteous’ because of their faith. What is the relationship between faith and acceptance by God? (You might like to look at the passages mentioned in ‘The briefing’.)
5. ‘From sudden death, good Lord deliver us,’ prays the Church of England’s Litany. ‘Death will be an awfully big adventure,’ says Peter Pan. What do you think makes a ‘good’ death? How does Enoch’s experience picture death as the end of a journey with God? How should Christians face dying?
6. ‘You must be mad!’ - people must have said that to Noah, as they do to Christians today. What circumstances can you think of today where faith in God goes counter to the accepted wisdom of those around us? How can we face up to mockery and opposition with Noah’s resolve? How did Noah’s behaviour show up the sin and failure of others?
7. Noah acted in faith to save his family, we are told; while Genesis 5.22 says it was after his son’s birth that Enoch walked with God. What are the challenges of showing a right concern for our families and their well-being?

The briefing

The passages listed for reading this week give the background to the verses in Hebrews. Leaders need to have read them beforehand.

Hebrews 11 is all about the ways in which faith is demonstrated. Verses 1-3 and verse 6 give us some definitions of faith but it is much easier to understand the nature of faith when we look at the example of those who have faith. That’s what the writer does in this chapter – he speaks of the great crowd of witnesses which surround us and spur us on as we live the life of faith (12.1-2).This chapter follows on from verses where he speaks of facing persecution (10.32-39) and many of the examples given are of people who stood firm in their faith despite difficulties of various sorts.

In verses 1-3 faith is described as something which enables us to have a conviction and assurance about things we can’t see. It enables us to look forward to what God will do in the future. It is faith which gains God’s approval or makes us ‘righteous’, accepted by him. Faith means believing that God is the creator (verse 3) that he exists (verse 6) and that he rewards those who seek him. Those who seek to know God do come to know him. They find forgiveness for the past, strength for the present and the hope of eternal life for the future.
We are given examples of faith, working our way through the Bible from the beginning - until the writer gives up because there are just too many (11.32)! So we begin with Abel. He and his brother Cain brought offerings to God. As a farmer Cain’s was from the fruit of his ground, Abel as a shepherd brought the firstlings from his flock. Genesis does not spell out why God accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. Some suggest it was because Abel’s was the offering of an animal sacrifice. That doesn’t seem to be the reason, however. More likely is the way that God points out to Cain the sin lurking in his heart (Genesis 4.7), while Abel had come with faith and had brought the best he could as an offering. For the writer to the Hebrews it is Abel’s faith that marks him out.

It is in the description of Enoch (Genesis 5.22) that we first find the beautiful description of someone ‘walking with God’, which suggests an intimate day by day experience of fellowship with God. Enoch’s walk with God was so close that one day he just walked into eternity with God. He did not experience death in the usual way, but his experience echoes the way that for the Christian the sting of death has been drawn, death need not be feared and we can get on with living for God. (1 Corinthians 15.50-58).

Noah too ‘found favour with God’ and ‘walked with God’ (Genesis 6.8-9). This is seen in the way he simply got on with doing what God told him to do – even if it did seem a little ridiculous! His way of life contrasted with those around (Genesis 6.1-8) and so Hebrews 11.7 says he ‘condemned the world’ by showing up their failure to believe in God or to obey him. He is described as being ‘righteous’ (Genesis 6.9 and 7.1). Hebrews links that righteousness to his faith in the way Paul does in his letters (see Romans 4.11, 10.6 and Philippians 3.9).

Celebrating and reflecting

Use some of the ideas from the Worship resource pages to celebrate the faith of the patriarchs we have learnt about today.

Read or say Psalms which celebrate God the creator such as Psalms 8, 19, 136.1-9 (everyone can join in the response from the 2nd half of each verse of this Psalm) or a version of the Benedicite (Common Worship pages 778-779).
Give thanks for the reality of a relationship with God demonstrated in the lives of those who ‘walk with God’. Mention by name people you know who have shown what it means to ‘walk with God’.
You could include prayer for families, for the dying, for those who oppose the Christian faith and way of life.

SESSION 2 - THE LEAP OF FAITH (Abraham and his descendants)
The warm up

In the week before this study read the following passages from Genesis. Think about what they convey about faith, the promises of God and obedience to him?

1. Genesis 12.1-9

2. Genesis 18.1-15

3. Genesis 21.1-7

4. Genesis 22.1-19

5. Genesis 27.1-40

6. Genesis 47.28-48.5 and 48.17-49.2

7. Genesis 50.22-26

The starting line

Which sporting events involve jumping? Sometimes we talk about the ‘leap of faith’ involved in being a Christian. Imagine yourself in the position of someone taking part in one of those sporting events. Are there any ways in which the way those events are tackled which throw light on the idea of ‘the leap of faith’ Christians might make? What dissimilarities can you think of?


Share in twos or threes about the moves you have made from one place to another. Why did you move? Was there any sense of God guiding in those moves?

The race

Read Hebrews 11.8-22

1. Why did Abraham leave his home and set off into the unknown? Consider such things as

- What was he searching for?

- Why did he trust God?

- Was a ‘leap of faith’ required?

Today we often speak of people coming to faith as being like a journey. Does our experience mirror Abraham’s in any way? What motivates and inspires people to come to faith in God?
2. Christians were once upon a time regularly described as being ‘so heavenly-minded they’re of no earthly use’. How did a vision of a heavenly city, beyond even the Promised Land they were looking for, inspire and sustain the patriarchs?
Might it be true that Christians today are so earthly minded they are of no heavenly use? How can a future hope sustain and support us now?
3. ‘Trust and obey’ are two words Christians have often linked. How did the patriarchs trust? How did they obey? How does the story about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac demonstrate his trust and obedience?
What are the links between our trust and our obedience?

4. This passage shows us people doing things which go against much in our contemporary culture. What can we learn about such things as

- letting go of our present security?

- not getting instant satisfaction but waiting patiently for things?

- not being tied down by earthly possessions?

Over the line

What key things have we learnt this week about faith as ‘the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen’ (v.1 NRSV)? (Or ‘being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see’? (v.1 NIV)?)

The extra mile

1. Someone has said ‘impossible’ is not in the Christian vocabulary’. How does the story of the patriarchs demonstrate that? What dreams would you like to see fulfilled?

2. Sarah is described as having faith despite her initial laughter at the idea of her having a child. How can her example of unbelief turning into faith encourage us? When have you found it difficult to believe? What has helped you to believe?
3. How can having a vision to pursue or future goals shape someone’s life? Can you think of some examples from your own lives or those of others?
4. Which is more helpful - faith in God’s promises or faith in a faithful God?
5. The patriarchs trusted despite not seeing the fulfilment of God’s promises. Why do you think that was? How do we cope when things don’t seem to go according to our plans?
6. The image of Christians as ‘aliens and exiles’ in a foreign land is found in other places in the New Testament (see for example 1 Peter 2.11 and Ephesians 2.19). What are the challenges such an image presents to us? What encouragement does the picture give to us?
7. Abraham to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob, Jacob to Joseph – trust in God and his promises is passed on from one generation to another. What are the challenges for us in passing the Christian faith on to future generations?

The briefing

The passages listed for reading this week give the background to the verses in Hebrews. Leaders need to have read them beforehand.

Genesis 12 tells of Abraham leaving his home and family in response to a command, which he obeyed, to go to the land God would show him and to a promise of blessing through his descendants, which he trusted. Though God led Abraham to the land of Canaan it was not until hundreds of years later that his descendants, after their time in Egypt, actually occupied the land. The writer to the Hebrews suggests that Abraham and his descendants were aware of a bigger picture than just occupying the land. They trusted in God whose plans were much bigger. The promise about blessings for all the world through Abraham’s offspring was a promise of the salvation brought to all the world by Jesus. So they had a distant glimpse of the hope of eternal life described here and in places like Revelation 21 and22 as a heavenly city. Their faith was the same as that of Christian believers.

Verse 11 raises some questions. Is Sarah an example of faith, which led to the birth of Isaac? That’s what some versions of the Greek text suggest. Genesis, however, tells of Sarah’s unbelieving laughter at the news she would have a son. So other Greek texts, perhaps trying to make sense of this, suggest it was Abraham who had the faith. Modern translations often include one version in the main text and the other in a foot-note. Sarah’s unbelief must have turned to faith in the process of carrying Isaac, as Genesis 21.6 suggests. Elsewhere in the New Testament Sarah is held up as an example of a godly woman. (See 1 Peter 3.5-6.)
God’s call to Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice is bound to raise questions – human sacrifice was not uncommon in the religions of other peoples, but Hebrew religion rejected it. Why did God ask this of Abraham and why did he obey? Hebrews speaks of it as a test of Abraham’s faith and obedience. Abraham trusted God’s promise that he would have heirs through Isaac, even if that meant God raising Isaac back to life. In Genesis 22.5 we read that as Abraham sets out with Isaac he does indeed say to those with him that, ‘We will come back to you,’ and in 22.8 he says that God would provide the lamb, which he did! Abraham trusted and obeyed, even when it seemed an almost impossible thing to do.
The reference to the blessings Isaac and Jacob bestowed on their descendants and Joseph’s instructions to take his body to be buried in the Promised Land, even if that was many years later, speak of their trust in God’s promises.

Celebrating and reflecting

Use some of the ideas from the Worship resource pages to celebrate the faith of the patriarchs we have learnt about today. Thanksgiving for their hope and ours would be appropriate. The Canticles Benedictus (page 797 in Common Worship), which refers to God keeping the promises made to Abraham, or A Song of the New Jerusalem (Common Worship page 788) with its vision of the heavenly city could be read or said together.

In your prayers you could include those who struggle to believe in the face of challenging circumstances and unfulfilled dreams; those experiencing childlessness; those needing the strength derived from a future hope as they face illness or death.

SESSION 3 - THE FIGHT OF FAITH (Moses and the Israelites)
The warm up

In the week before this study read the following passages from Exodus and Joshua. Think about what they convey about faith, the promises of God and obedience to him.

1. Exodus 1.8-2.10

2. Exodus 2.1-3.12

3. Exodus 3.13-4.20

4. Exodus 12.1-42

5. Exodus 14.1-31

6. Joshua 6.1-21

7. Joshua 2.1-24 and 6.22-25

The starting line

Boxing, wrestling, martial arts all involve the endurance of conflict and pain. What motivates people to engage in such sports? What do they demand of participants? The Christian life isn’t always easy, are there lessons we can learn from these sports about ‘the fight of faith’?


Share in twos or threes about a challenging time in your life which God helped you through.

The race

Read Hebrews 11.23-31

1. The story of Moses is one of faith from beginning to end. What were the challenging circumstances surrounding his birth and early months? How did his parents respond to those challenges? How were they demonstrating faith in what they did? Can you think of circumstances today which present similar challenges for people? How can faith help in such situations?

2. Verses 24-27 speak of the circumstances which led Moses to leave Egypt for Midian (Exodus 2.11-2). What enabled Moses to take a stand for what was right and to side with the Jews in their oppression? What examples can you come up with of Christians trying to face up to injustice and oppression in today’s world? What motivates them?

What can we learn about facing up to the challenge of living in a materialistic culture from the way Moses turned his back on the ‘pleasures of sin’ and the ‘treasures of Egypt? What shaped his thinking? How can such ideas shape our thinking?
3. The big task God set Moses was to ‘set my people free’ and verses 28-29 describe the events of the Exodus, the escape from Egypt, which were ever after at the heart of Jewish faith as the time when God saved his people. How was faith demonstrated in the way the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt? How can we exercise faith in a saving God as we respond to the call to undertake difficult challenges and choices in life?
4. How does the ‘battle’ of Jericho show that God’s way of doing things is not always the ‘normal’ way? What part did faith play in the fall of Jericho? What examples can you think of that show problems being solved by God in unexpected (and even exciting) ways as people have trusted him with them?
Over the line

What have we learnt this week about faith facing difficulties and challenges?

The extra mile

1. The Letter of James speaks of God giving wisdom to all who ask for it in faith (James 1.5-8). What can we learn from the stories referred to in this passage about how God’s wisdom is given to people as they face difficulties?

2. Hebrews links the suffering of the Israelites to the suffering of Christ (verse 26). God’s people in every age face opposition and persecution, how can the sense of solidarity with Christ in suffering and victory sustain Christians facing such trials?
3. The Jews still celebrate the events of the Exodus at Passover as the key to them being God’s people. How do we celebrate what Jesus has achieved for us? How does that celebration reinforce what it means to be God’s people?

4. This passage shows the exercise of individual faith but also a corporate, national faith shown by the people of Israel – how are the two related? When might Christians demonstrate a corporate faith?

5. How do the stories in this passage show how faith can overcome fears?
6. How did Rahab show her faith in God? Look at some of the references to Rahab in the Bible -what do they say about God’s welcome for all sorts of people? (Joshua 2.1-21; Joshua 6.22-25; Matthew 1.5; James 2.25.)
7. Thinking about the stories in this passage, complete the sentence ‘Faith requires…..’ with as many words as you can.

The briefing

The passages listed for reading this week give the background to the verses in Hebrews. Leaders need to have read them beforehand.
This week’s passage focuses on the stories about Moses and the people of Israel being setting free from the slavery they were enduring in Egypt and entering Canaan, the Promised Land. It is a passage which speaks of people facing opposition and difficult circumstances. They respond with faith which trusts God to address those situations. That faith leads to some unusual actions. Moses’ parents hid him for three months but then put him in a basket in the river, trusting that he would be looked after. Moses took the side of God’s people but after he had killed the Egyptian slavemaster takes the course of inaction and spends years in the land of Midian. Hebrews skips over all the signs Moses gave to Pharaoh except the last – the death of the first-born in Egypt, from which the Israelites escaped by marking their houses with the blood of a lamb. The Israelites caught between the Egyptian army and the sea find that God opens a way through that sea. Later they capture Jericho by marching round it blowing trumpets! All these show that faith in God often results in some surprising and sudden answers to prayer and that God’s way of dealing with opposition is not to answer force with force.

The final example of is that of Rahab the prostitute who welcomed the Israelite spies to Jericho and helped them escape. She showed her faith by acknowledging that their God really was God. Her faith was rewarded by her and her family escaping when Jericho fell. She was included in the list of the ancestors of Christ. (See Matthew 1.5.)

The writer to the Hebrews sees the Israelites as sharing similar experiences and demonstrating the same quality of faith as Christians. God’s people always face opposition from those who stand against God. Christ was the supreme example of that but Christians, both before and since, have shared in similar suffering. It is faith in an unseen God, in his power to deliver and in a future hope that sustains all God’s people in Old Testament times, New Testament times and on to the present.

Celebrating and reflecting

Use some of the ideas from the Worship resource pages to celebrate the faith of Moses and the Israelites.

This week you could say/read the canticle ‘The Song of Moses and Miriam’ (Common Worship page 790) or one of the Psalms which celebrate the Exodus story, such as Psalms 105.23-end; 135; 136.10-end (everyone can join in the response from the 2nd half of each verse of this Psalm).
Pray for those suffering oppression, slavery or persecution; for parents whose children’s lives are endangered; for rulers to rule justly. Pray for, or use material from, organisations that fight injustice and persecution.

SESSION 4 - THE TEAM EFFORT (Moses and the Israelites)
The warm up

In the week before this study read the following passages which tell the stories of some of the heroes of faith mentioned or alluded to in this week’s passage. Some of them are fairly long and so you may want to just ‘skim-read’ them to remind yourself of the stories they tell. There is much more in the Old Testament about some of them, like Samuel, David and Daniel, so you might like to read a little more about them. Think about their characters and personalities and the different ways in which they demonstrated their faith.

1. Gideon – Judges 6 and 7

2. Barak – Judges 4 and 5

3. Samson – Judges 13-16

4. Jephthah – Judges 11 and12

5. David – 1 Samuel 16 and 17; 2 Samuel 7 and 8

6. Samuel – 1 Samuel 3.1-4.1; 7.3-17 and 12.1-25

7. Daniel and his companions – Daniel 3 and 6

The starting line

Many sports are played in teams. What inspiration and encouragement can players gain from being in a team? What is needed if a team is to work well? Are there are any quick parallels you can draw about the Christian life?


Share in twos or threes about a time when the support and encouragement of others helped you achieve something or to get through a difficult time.

The race

Read Hebrews 11.32-40

1. What key things do you remember about each of the people mentioned in verse 32? Can you think of things any of them have in common? How were they examples of people who had faith in God?
Share in twos and threes which of the characters appeals to you most – how do they inspire you?
2. Look at verses 32-38. Can any of the group identify any of the stories alluded to here? (Don’t try to identify them all – as the writer says there are too many to mention!!) What can we learn about the achievements of people who had faith in God?
The writer is encouraging us to believe that what God did once he can do again – how does that encourage or inspire you or do you think times are different now?
3. Verse 35 talks about resurrection. How does faith in a risen Christ and the hope of the resurrection of the dead colour our approach to life now? What are the situations in which resurrection hope can make a real difference?
4. What were some of the challenges these heroes of faith faced? What sorts of challenges face us as Christians in Britain? What challenges face Christians in other parts of the world? How can Christian address those situations?
Are there examples from the witness of contemporary Christians which inspire you in your Christian living?

Over the line

What have we learnt this week about the encouragement derived from the witness of other believers?

The extra mile

1. The heroes of faith that Hebrews speaks about are intended to encourage and inspire us. Why do we need that encouragement? What are the things which discourage and drag down those in the group? What encourages them to keep going?

2. The people Hebrews mentions by name weren’t perfect by any means. What were some of the failings of these characters that you know about? What does that tell us about the sort of people God is willing to use? Is that helpful to us in our Christian walk?
3. There is something of a paradox in what is said about those who have demonstrated their faith – some ‘escaped the sword’, some were ‘slain by the sword’; some conquered by faith, some accepted suffering through faith. How is true is that to our experience of life as a Christian? How does faith in God help us in both types of situation?
4. Many of the references in these verses are to those who suffered for the sake of their faith and to the cost of passing on faith in God. The writer wanted to encourage his readers to be willing to face the cost of being a Christian. How true is it that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church’? Are there examples of Christians enduring persecution today which have inspired you? Is it true that we need to value our faith more – do we take it for granted?
5. Some of the stories which are alluded to in this passage are about outstanding leaders, others about quite ordinary folk – why is it important that God touches both. Which encourages you most and why?
6. There are references here to God’s promises as the source of inspiration. Are there promises in the Bible which have helped group members?
These stories suggest that sometimes we have to wait for promises to be kept. How difficult do we find it when that happens? How do we cope?

7. Verses 39 and 40 tell us that the faith of these Old Testament characters was a real trust in God which was in some way looking forward to the fulfilment of God’s promises in Christ and all he has achieved for us. How can this solidarity of people of faith spur us on to live for God?

The briefing

The passages listed for reading this week give the background to the verses in Hebrews. Leaders need to have read them beforehand.
Hebrews 11 has been working through the Bible, beginning in Genesis, highlighting the stories of a whole series of Old Testament heroes of faith who can be an encouragement to us as we live for God. Having worked through to Joshua and the Israelites entering the Promised Land the writer gives up – there are just too many stories to tell. By now we should have got the point! A few more heroes are listed by name but then we hear about the achievements of men and women which point to the spiritual and moral victories won through faith. It’s possible to identify the stories behind most of the allusions in these verses – Daniel who shut the mouths of lions and his companions who survived the fiery furnace, David and Elijah who lived in caves and so on. Some of the references are to stories not recorded in the Bible – Jeremiah was said to have been stoned to death, Isaiah sawn in two. Then there are those in the period between the two Testaments whose stories are recorded in the Books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha. Antiochus Epiphanes ruled Palestine in the second century B.C. and tried to impose Greek culture on the Jews - desecrating the Temple, banning Jewish practices such as circumcision and the owning of the Scriptures. Those who refused faced great penalties and the stories tell of the horrendous tortures they endured as they were put to death. As in our passage, there is too much detail to give it all the information in these notes but commentaries or cross references in Bibles will help you track down more of the stories.

The allusions to a whole host of people and their tremendous achievements is intended to inspire us to live a life of faith. They weren’t all superheroes who would have made it to the top any way. They were flawed characters, some of them very ordinary people, but what made the difference was their trust in God, the same sort of trust that the readers of these verses had. Indeed the readers had one big advantage – they had seen the fulfilment of God’s promises in Jesus. They had experienced the reality that the Old Testament believers were glimpsing from afar and grasping after. If the people written about could live lives in which they stood firm despite opposition and persecution, if they could show by the quality of their lives and their achievements that they belonged to God, then Christians should be able to do so too.

Celebrating and reflecting

Use some of the ideas from the Worship resource pages to celebrate the faith of ordinary and extraordinary believers. Read or say together the Te Deum (Common Worship page 802) which celebrates the faith of a variety of people including martyrs.

In your prayers include those experiencing persecution; those who are leaders in society and who help administer justice and those who are mourning.
The warm up

In the week before this study read the following passages. We have finished reading about Old Testaments characters, so this week’s readings are passages from the New Testament which use the image of athletics and the race to speak of the Christian life or which speak of looking to Jesus. Think about how these sporting images help us understand the Christian life in some way.

1. 1 Corinthians 9.23-27

2. Philippians 2.1-16

3. Philippians 3.1-21

4. Colossians 3.1-4

5. 1 Timothy 3.11-16

6. 2 Timothy 3.2-13

3. 2 Timothy 4.5-8

The starting line

What difference can it make to competitors in the Olympics stadium to know that previous medal winners are there cheering them on? What motivates us to be ‘the champion’?


Share in twos and threes about a time when you were encouraged by learning of someone who had gone through similar experiences to yours.

The race

Read Hebrews 12.1-4 and 11-13

1. Picture yourself in the arena running the race that is your life, what difference does it make

- to have as spectators the crowd of the people of faith;

- to have Jesus standing at the finishing line?

2. In verse 1 two handicaps are mentioned which we need to lay aside before we can run the race properly – one is described as the weights which slow us down, the other as sin which clings and trips us up. What is the difference between the two? How do they have their different impacts? What does it mean to lay them aside?
3. What do we learn here about Jesus? How has he made it possible for us to run the race? What attitudes did he have to the task set before him? What is his position now? How can that encourage us?
4. Taking part in a sport requires discipline, so does being a disciple. What do these verses teach us about the nature of discipline in the Christian life? What do they teach about its value?
Over the line

At the end of these studies which sporting competition would you choose to best describe the Christian life and why?

The extra mile

1. The picture in Hebrews seems to be of past heroes cheering us on but present day Christians can also be part of that crowd. How can we encourage one another in our Christian living?

2. Spend some time as individuals thinking about what slows you down in your Christian living – is it the weights of things legitimate in themselves which distract us or is it particular sins which get in the way? Many people may not want to share with the whole group the particular things which affect them but you should be able to discuss whether it is the ‘weights’ or the ‘sins’ which actually have most impact.
3. We are each called to run the race set before us. How will it be different for each person? Why is it important to recognize those differences?

4. What is the role of the pioneer? What difference does it make that someone has already achieved the goal (Think, perhaps, of Roger Bannister breaking the 4 minute mile barrier or the first astronauts.)? What difference does it make that Jesus is the pioneer in the Christian race?

5. ‘No cross, no crown,’ goes the saying. How was that true for Jesus? How is it true for us?
6. In what ways can we keep ‘looking to Jesus’ in our daily lives? What have you found helpful? How does looking to Jesus transform us?
7. How should all we have learnt about the heroes of faith and Jesus, the great champion inspire and encourage us to keep going as Christians?

The briefing

The passages listed for reading this week give the background to the verses in Hebrews. Leaders need to have read them beforehand.
As we move from Hebrews 11 to the opening verses of chapter 12 the writer pictures the number of people with faith are so numerous that they are described being like a cloud of witnesses. They form the crowd in the arena cheering on those running the race currently. Their example and inspiration spurs on but those still in the race. The focus then turns to Jesus who is standing at the finishing line. Keeping your eye on the goal is always a good idea for runners but to picture Jesus standing there gives an even greater encouragement. He is described as the ‘pioneer and perfecter of our faith’, that is he is the one who has run the race to its completion. Others can follow in his footsteps.
The race is not an easy one and this passage talks of the discipline involved. There are things which need to be set aside if you are to run effectively. Obviously we need to deal with sin, which in itself it not easy – it clings, wrapping itself around the runners like a garment that will trip them up. But there is a reference to weights which would act as a handicap too, slowing us down. These can be things which are quite legitimate in themselves, but a whole variety of things such as hobbies, relationships, work can get in the way of following Christ.

The Christian life isn’t easy - from these verses it looks as if the original readers were facing opposition but no one had yet been martyred (12.4). The writer wants to encourage them to stand firm as Christians, so he sets before them the example of Jesus who had endured the suffering of the cross. Crucifixion was such a shameful and degrading way to die that a Roman citizen could never be put to death that way. Jesus endured the cross because it was the path he had to follow. (Hebrews earlier has spoken of the way Christ has offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin.) But he did so knowing that beyond that death there was resurrection and exaltation to God’s right hand. (Philippians 2.4-11 spells out that theme too.) Christians can endure suffering, persecution, temptation and all the other trials that beset us knowing that the vision we are pursuing and the ultimate rewards are worth it. In the light of that they can be strengthened to run the race, however long, however hard, knowing that it is worthwhile.

Celebrating and reflecting

Use some of the ideas from the Worship resource pages to celebrate Jesus and to reflect on running the Christian race to the end.

Either read Philippians 2.5-11 or use the canticle ‘The Song of Christ’s Glory’ (Common Worship page 799) which is based on it. In a time of thanksgiving give space for people to mention by name those who have inspired them in by the way they have lived as Christians. Pray for athletes; for persecuted Christians; for Christians feeling discouraged.


1. It is indeed right, our duty and our joy,

that we should always sing of your glory,

holy Father, almighty and eternal God,

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

For you are the hope of the nations,

the builder of the city that is to come.

Your love made visible in Jesus Christ

brings home the lost,

restores the sinner

and gives dignity to the despised.

In his face your light shines out,

flooding lives with goodness and truth,

gathering into one in your kingdom

a divided and broken humanity.

Therefore with all who can give voice in your creation

we glorify your name,

for ever praising you and saying:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord,

God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

2. We give you thanks

for the glorious pledge of the hope of our calling

which you have given us in your saints;

that, following their example and strengthened by their fellowship,

we may run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

and with them receive the unfading crown of glory.

Therefore with angels and archangels,

and with all the company of heave,

we proclaim your great and glorious name,

for ever praising you and saying:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord,

God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.


Since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,

let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,

looking to Jesus in penitence and faith. Hebrews 12.1

Lord, you are gracious and compassionate:

Lord, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.
You are loving to all

and your mercy is over all your creation:

Christ, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.
Your faithful servants bless your name

and speak of the glory of your kingdom:

Lord, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

1. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised:

there is no end of his greatness.

One generation shall praise your works to another

and shall declare your power.

All your works praise you, Lord,

and your faithful servants bless you.

They make known the glory of your kingdom

and speak of your power.

My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord:

let everything bless his holy name for ever and ever.
2. You are worthy, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honour and power.

For you have created all things,

and by your will they have their being.
You are worthy, O Lamb, for you were slain,

and by your blood you ransomed for God

saints from every tribe and language and nation.

You have made them to be a kingdom and priests

serving our God,

and they will reign with you on earth.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. (said after each section)
For Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors in faith,

and all who journey into the unknown trusting God’s promises:

For Jacob, deceitful younger brother, yet chosen by God,

the father of all who are called by virtue not of their own:

For Moses the lawgiver and Aaron the priest,

and all who lead God’s people to freedom and newness of life:

For Esther and Deborah, saviours of their nation,

and for all who dare to act courageously at God’s call:

For Hannah and Ruth, and all who through love and devotion

witness to the faithfulness of God:

For Isaiah, John the Baptist and all the prophets,

and all who speak the truth without counting the cost:


Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised:

there is no end of his greatness.
One generation shall praise your works to another

and shall declare your power.
All your works praise you, Lord,

and your faithful servants bless you.
They make known the glory of your kingdom

and speak of your power.
My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord:

let everything bless his holy name for ever and ever.

1. The Prayer of St Richard

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,

for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

2. A Prayer of St Ignatius

Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost;

to fight and not to heed the wounds;

to toil and not to seek for rest;

to labour and not to ask for any reward,

save that of knowing that we do your will.

3. A Prayer of Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596) 

Lord God,

when you call your servants to endeavour any great matter,

grant us also to know that it is not the beginning,

but the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly finished,

which yields the true glory;

through him who, for the finishing of your work,

laid down his life for us, our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

4. A Prayer of John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

Lord, support us all the day long

till the shades lengthen,

the evening comes,

the busy world is hushed,

the fever of life is over

and our work is done. 

Then in your mercy

grant us a safe lodging,

a holy rest and peace at the last.

5. A Prayer of St Augustine (354-430)

O thou,

who art the light of the minds that know thee,

the life of the souls that love thee,

and the strength of the wills that serve thee;

help us so to know thee that we may truly love thee;

so to love thee that we may fully serve thee,

whom to serve is perfect freedom.

Songs (to be said or sung)

1. Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
Fix your eyes upon Jesus,

Let nobody else take his place

And then hour by hour you will know his power,

Till at last you shall win the great race.

(verse 1 by Helen H. Lemmel)

2. When we walk with the Lord
in the light oh his Word
what a glory he sheds on our way!
Let us do his good will;
he abides with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey,
for there's no other way

to be happy in Jesus,
but to trust and obey.

But we never can prove

the delights of his love
until all on the altar we lay;
for the favour he shows
and the joy he bestows
are for those who will trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet

we will sit at his feet
or we'll walk by his side in the way;
what he says we will do,
where he sends we will go;
never fear, only trust and obey.

(J.H. Sammis)
3. Ye holy angels bright,
who wait at God's right hand
or through the realms of light
fly at your Lord's command,
assist our song
for else the theme
too high doth seem
for mortal tongue.

Ye blessed souls at rest,
who ran this earthly race
and now, from sin released,
behold your Savior's face
God's praises sound,
as in his light
with sweet delight
ye do abound.
Ye saints who toil below
adore your heavenly King
and onward as ye go
some joyful anthem sing;
take what he gives

and praise him still,

through good and ill,
who ever lives.

My soul, bear thou thy part,
triumph in God above
and with a well-tuned heart
sing thou the songs of love!
Let all thy days
till life shall end,
whate'er he send,
be filled with praise.

(Richard Baxter)
4. Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy strength, and Christ thy right;
lay hold on life, and it shall be
thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace,

lift up thine eyes, and seek his face;
life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.

Cast care aside, upon thy guide,

lean, and his mercy will provide;
lean, and the trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its life, and Christ its love.

Faint not nor fear, his arms are near,

he changeth not, and thou art dear.
Only believe, and thou shalt see
that Christ is all in all to thee.

(J.S.B. Monsell)


1. Jesus our exalted Lord has been given all authority.

Let us seek his intercession,

that our prayers may be perfected by his prayer.
Jesus Christ, great high priest, living for ever to intercede for us:

pray for your Church, your broken body in the world …

Lord, hear us.

Lord, graciously hear us.

Jesus Christ, King of righteousness,

enthroned at the right hand of the majesty on high:

pray for the world, and make it subject to your gentle rule …

Lord, hear us.

Lord, graciously hear us.
Jesus Christ, Son of man, drawing humanity into the life of God:

pray for your brothers and sisters in need, distress or sorrow …

Lord, hear us.

Lord, graciously hear us.
Jesus Christ, pioneer of our salvation,

bringing us to your glory through your death and resurrection:

pray for all who are dying,

that they may trust in your promises …

Lord, hear us.

Lord, graciously hear us.
Jesus Christ, Lord of all things,

ascended far above from the heavens and filling the universe:

pray for us who receive the gifts you give us for

work in your service …

Lord, hear us.

Lord, graciously hear us.
Jesus Christ, first-fruits of the new creation,

keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit

and in the bond of peace,

until you bring the whole created order to worship at your feet;

for you are alive and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

2. United in the company of all the faithful

and looking for the coming of the kingdom,

let us offer our prayers to God,

the source of all life and holiness.

Merciful Lord,

strengthen all Christian people by your Holy Spirit,

that we may live as a royal priesthood and a holy nation

to the praise of Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Lord, in your mercy

hear our prayer.
Bless N our bishop and all ministers of your Church,

that by faithful proclamation of your word

we may be built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets

into a holy temple in the Lord.

Lord, in your mercy

hear our prayer.

Empower us by the gift of your holy and life-giving Spirit,

that we may be transformed into the likeness of Christ

from glory to glory.

Lord, in your mercy

hear our prayer.
Give to the world and its peoples

the peace that comes from above,

that they may find Christ’s way of freedom and life.

Lord, in your mercy

hear our prayer.
Hold in your embrace all who witness to your love in the

service of the poor and needy;

all who minister to the sick and dying;

and all who bring light to those in darkness.

Lord, in your mercy

hear our prayer.
Touch and heal all those whose lives are scarred by sin

or disfigured by pain,

that, raised from death to life in Christ,

their sorrow may be turned to eternal joy.

Lord, in your mercy

hear our prayer.
Remember in your mercy all those gone before us

who have been well-pleasing to you from eternity;

preserve in your faith your servants on earth,

guide us to your kingdom

and grant us your peace at all times.

Lord, in your mercy

hear our prayer.
Hasten the day when many will come

from east and west, from north and south,

and sit at table in your kingdom.

Lord, in your mercy

hear our prayer.
We give you thanks

for the whole company of your saints in glory,

with whom in fellowship we join our prayers and praises;

by your grace may we, like them, be made perfect in your love.

Blessing and glory and wisdom,

thanksgiving and honour and power,

be to our God for ever and ever.



Merciful Father,

accept these prayers

for the sake of your Son,

our Saviour Jesus Christ.



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