“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Heb. 12:1b; NASB)
File this under strange, but true (and a little funny). The following statements were taken from registration sheets and comment cards returned to the staff of the Bridger Wilderness area:
- Trails need to be wider so people can walk holding hands.
- Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.
- Too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the area of these pests.
- Please pave the trails so they can be plowed of snow during the winter.
- Chairlifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.
- The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.
- A small deer came into my camp and stole my jar of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed?
- Reflectors need to be placed on trees every 50 feet so people can hike at night with flashlights.
- Escalators would help on steep uphill sections.
- A McDonald’s would be nice at the trailhead.
- The places where trails do not exist are not well marked.
- Too many rocks in the mountains.
Perseverance evidently is not something that these respondents had in mind when they began on their hikes. Yet perseverance is fundamental to hiking and also to life. And in the spiritual life, it could be said that it is not only a characteristic of the follower of Christ, but it is even a discipline for the follower of Christ.
Perseverance is a discipline because it is not a natural behavior. It is a discipline because it requires training. It is a discipline because it is regularly repeated. In this familiar verse (Heb. 12:1) there is encouragement and help for those who struggle to continue on when the burden of their loads feel overwhelming.
A burden is neither new nor unusual to life. There is a mass of faithful followers of God and Christ who have gone before us, faced the same weights (and worse) and maintained a faithful testimony to God. Hebrews 11 is filled with such stories. And lest we assume that God’s sufficiency was only for an earlier time, place and church, even a superficial look at those who worship in the pews beside us will reveal a continuing testimony of perseverance and faithfulness to God while under fire.
So why do we not persevere? One reason is because we don’t like hardship and difficulty. We have spent too much time worshipping at our culture’s idol of ease and prosperity and assumed that the Christian life also prioritizes easiness and shuns persecution and trials. So when the trials come, we forget their sanctifying benefits and we quit persevering in following Christ.
Another inhibitor of perseverance is sin. Specifically, the sin that will most quickly inhibit perseverance is unbelief. We forget and disregard and deny the truth that “God is faithful” (1 Thess. 5:24). By definition, the word “is” in that sentence means being in a constant state; and when applied to God it means, “eternal.” God is eternally faithful. Do you, in the deepest recesses of your heart believe that? If so, then you have laid the foundation for an enduring life. If we don’t believe that, then we are on a course to quitting and unbelief.
God has placed us where we are in life. The race is established by Him. He has either divinely orchestrated or allowed the circumstances of our lives to be what they are. In either case, nothing has caught Him off guard — and He is accomplishing our good for His glory through the very difficulties that too often cause us to despair.
These truths are no magic potion for persevering when troubles not only increase, but seem to multiply exponentially. But they are truths that will lay the foundation for a spiritual life that finishes even better than it begins.
Lord, It is the desire of my heart not only to start well, but to finish well. Give me the strength to carry the burdens you give. Give me the wisdom to see the intrusion of sin into my life (and to confess it quickly). And give me the faith to trust you throughout every trial of life. Amen.