“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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Paul says in v. 7, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons…” (12:7). There is a thread through scripture about suffering. I know that this is “politically incorrect” to talk about, however, Scripture is replete with the subject. 1 Peter is about suffering saying, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”(1 Peter 4:12-13).
Paul uses sports analogies to say, “Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Cor. 9:24). He tells us about going into strict training in order to get the crown that will last- salvation. And yet in Galatians 2:2 he says he presented the gospel to leaders privately for fear that he was running or had run the race in vain.
Finally, in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 he says from prison, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day- and not only me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Author Steve Farrar says in his book Finishing Strong, In the Christian life it is not how you start that matters, but how you finish. He writes of a young man in full-time service to the Lord who wrote down names of 24 men who were sold out to the Lord at age 20. Now, at age 54, there are only three names on the list who have not compromised and been crossed off the list. Running this race is not easy, it requires perseverance. It is the rare, exceptional and teachable man who makes it to the finish uncompromised. Only two of the 12 spies came back and said that the Israelites could take the promised land while fear stopped the others.
This morning I strapped on my cross-country skis and headed to a nearby park. The snow was slow and my sweat and heart rate increased as I went. It reminded me of skiing the Birkebeiner XC Marathon, an annual 55K race in northern Wisconsin. I have skied it three times. It is grueling and requires substantial training and perseverance. You need to pace yourself and take water and snacks on the way or you will not make it to the end. Injuries, fatigue and exhaustion take many as the miles of trail wend through the forest. At the finish the competitors are greeted with a medal and a cup of hot blueberry soup. The soup seems heaven sent. I recall jumping in the hot tub with clothes after my first race, as hypothermia was taking over me and I was losing coordination. I am proud of this accomplishment, even if there were 10,000 other skiers in the race and I came in 1000th. I had trained hard for several months and was prepared that I not ski in vain.
Some years late I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan near what is known as the Keweenaw Peninsula. I loved to mountain bike, so one warm summer Saturday I decided to bike the 120 miles around the thumb. I had one bottle of water. The trek around Copper Harbor and up Bordeaux Mountain at 1000 vertical feet was breath taking, but very arduous. I had an ice cream cone at about half way. When I finally returned to the cottage where I was staying I was exhausted. Actually, I was more than that. As the physician who rented the cottage to me happened to meet me as I returned, he saw that I was pale and no longer sweating. I was dangerously dehydrated and in an unsafe physical condition. He started an IV to rehydrate and stabilize me so that I would not become unconscious and die. I had overdone it without adequate provision for the journey.
Traveling through the trials of life takes courage, training and perseverance. We will meet up against many obstacles that are daunting physically, intellectually and spiritually. Some of them are beyond us and take discernment to figure out. Many aspects of life are arduous and like the marathons that I have described in this story. We need to train and be prepared for them if we are to finish and sometimes survive. Elijah, in 1 Kings was exhausted from his journey and running a marathon away from Jezebel and King Ahab, who wanted to kill him after his Mt. Carmel triumph over their priests. God took care of him providing bread and water through ravens. God is faithful and will provide, but often there are consequences to our folly or missteps.
Life is a marathon and will take perseverance to run. Endurance is built up often through trials James tells us. But we also need to ask God what to do and how for he will generously show us the way if we will ask and obey him. We need to stay the course and not quit or be disqualified. Throughout Scripture we are reminded of the one thing we need to do, and that is to fix our eyes on Jesus, submit and obey. Oh yes, there are 7 habits of highly effective people, but trusting in and obeying Jesus is the best way. And while you are at it, find a friend who can help you, for two are better than one as Ecclesiastes tells us. They can help us anticipate and avoid ambushes that will occur, as Satan does not want us to finish strong.
Know that the journey is long and hard. My experience from having been a hospital chaplain for 15 years is that trials and valleys are more frequent than mountaintops. But remember as Psalm 23 tells us we will be walking and we will get through the valley of the shadow of death, so do not fear, for God is with us, guiding and protecting us. However, we may have a wreck along the way. Shipwrecks can take us further and take longer than we planned. They also can cost more in every way. So obviously we want to avoid them; however, they may happen at our causing or not and without warning often. Know that we can come back from shipwrecks. If there is sin involved, we can confess and turnaround and God will renew us for the journey.
Persevere, for the journey may be too much for you. Know that on this life journey,the only strength that will last is strength through trust in God through Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. All other trusts can fail. Money, job, friends and health will fail us. Stay humble knowing that there is not such a thing as a self-made man. Be humble, teachable and accountable to others and God. Learn from your mistakes and those of others. And be kind to others, for we will need them on the way. You can finish strong even if you started with problems. It is not over until it is over. And if you trust in Jesus Christ it is never over.