Last week I decided to read through the book of Hebrews in the Bible. It’s one of my favourites because of the way it engages with the trials and privileges of following Jesus, and because of the strong encouragements that it offers us.
One of the things that has really stuck with me on this read-through is the focus on endurance. Allow me to take you through some of my highlights in chapter 12:
A Need for Endurance
Firstly, all Christians are called to be endurance runners.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
This is not good news for me. I don’t want to endure, I want things to be simple, easy, and fast. More on this in a minute. . .
In It to Win It
When I’m at the gym, what I wear is carefully chosen – and not for fashion reasons! I wear clothes that are designed for the kind of exercise that I intend to do. They musn’t hinder my movements or distract me as I train. And for the serious athlete, (not me by the way!) anything that might hamper effective training is put on hold until the goal is achieved. It’s similar with the Christian life, this is a race that we are called to run to the best of our ability: Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
Whatever would get in the way of this spiritual race must be left behind, if we are to run enduringly and well.
Painful Discipline That Achieves Great Rewards
The way that the ESV phrases verse 7 is helpful: It is for discipline that you have to endure.
Because another thing that any athlete will tell you, is that training that produces results requires painful effort and discipline. The body must be strictly disciplined and pushed to the limit, so that muscles will grow and lengthen, endurance and skill will increase. My gym instructors often ‘encourage’ us by shouting ‘It’s a good pain!’ What they mean is that the difficult training that they are putting us through is not meaningless or sadistic, the pain that we feel is a sign that it’s producing results!
Verse 6 says: The Lord disciplines the one he loves and verse 7 continues: God is treating you as his children
So it’s not a pointless exercise or meaningless pain, and neither is it the coaching of a strict and unfeeling Father, but the loving, tender, wise training of a Dad who has great dreams for his child when they are grown.
Discipline comes now, so that we are ready for freedom, fruitfulness, and responsibility. See verses 10 &11: That we might share in his holiness and so that it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. This training brings us into an inheritance which is more wonderful than we can imagine!
And yet, so often I’m tempted to give up when the road gets tough and the training seems strict or painful. I confess that I want my life as a Christian to resemble a sprint, a quick burst of challenge and effort, followed by victory and fanfare. Not a long, gruelling, endurance race, where I must focus repeatedly on the goal, to make it to the end without giving in to the pain and weariness that sets in at key points in the course.
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. . . God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Like the long distance runner, whose body and mind is honed by persistent and gruelling training so that they are able to withstand the demands of the race and complete it. All of that pain has had a purpose, they have been successfully trained by it and they reach their goal, winning the prize.
Sometimes I think that we ask God to bless us and give us righteousness and peace without understanding that this is part of his training package!
Eyes on the Prize
Verse 2: fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. . .
The spiritual realities of this chapter expose the reality of my faith and its foundations. If I am following Jesus so that he will give me what I want, or so that my life will be comfortable and easy, if I am treating him like some kind of genie, I will leave the race before it really gets started.
. . .For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The Bible wants us to know what we have truly signed up for, and whom we have set out to follow, but it also stands at the side lines and cheers us on, telling us to look ahead to Christ who has successfully run the race before us, and now helps us as we run it too.
Because it will be worth it.
This is a race that will end with the greatest celebration and fanfare of all time!
Jesus is our prize, and we are his – eternally!