Jesus: our example of faithful endurance

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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

This Holy Week we think of Jesus having set his face like a flint to go to Jerusalem knowing full well what was awaiting him there, just as he had told his disciples three times, doing so either for the joy set before him, or instead of. The Greek word, ἀντὶ (transliterated, anti) can mean “instead of,” or “for.” Either way Jesus endured, scorning the shame of the cross. That was the worst form of Roman execution, reserved for non citizens. And whoever was hung on a tree was said to be under God’s curse in Jewish Scripture, yes indeed, in God’s word.

Instead of the joy set before him might mean something like the idea that Jesus was ready to undergo the Father’s will, even when it went against his own will, evident from his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. I probably prefer the other way it can be translated, for the joy set before him, with the idea of doing something in exchange for something else (see BAGD Greek Lexicon). There surely is mystery in Christ’s sufferings for us. But the intent of this passage is to strengthen us in our suffering. So that we can endure because we know the good that awaits us at the end of what’s set before us. Or persevere against our own wishes. Following the pioneer and perfecter of faith, Jesus. In and through him.

in it for the long haul

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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

Hebrews 12:1-2

The great book of Hebrews ends with a list of Old Testament saints who were simply people of faith (Hebrews 11). I use saints in the same way all are saints who are God’s people, set apart and holy, consecrated to God. We’re talking about ordinary people who have faith in an extraordinary God. See the passage.

The idea expressed here is not in terms of a sprint, or even a mile long race, but more like a marathon. It is a long race, actually lifelong. So that to run it well, we have to be in it for the long haul.

Often we think in terms of short bursts, or things in front of us we have to do which may take require special effort. We go from one such mini crisis to the next.

What might be more helpful for us is to try to look at everything, including the challenging problems as part of what we are called to do for the long haul. Everything is in the mix. Instead of seeing it all as one short sprint after another, it would surely be more healthy and helpful to see it as a whole, part of the race marked out for us by God. So that we’re not tied in knots over challenges that come our way, or inevitable setbacks.

When we get older, it may be easy to quit thinking in terms of the long haul. But this race lasts until the very end. We who are older ought to be an example in running it. Actually I wish I would have learned this well decades ago.

At any rate, let’s settle in, and by God’s grace throw off all that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles us. And with perseverance and endurance run, all the while fixing our eyes on Jesus. The one who is the pioneer and perfecter of faith, whom we follow. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

 

it doesn’t come easy

When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”

“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.

Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.[a]

Mark 9:14-29

I remember the story of George Muller, that he prayed for two people faithfully over his lifetime, but that they didn’t receive Christ until his funeral, at least one of them, perhaps the other one later. But that goes to show the necessity of persistence and perseverance in prayer, and how some answers don’t come easy. Muller was known for being systematic and consistent, as well as a man who prayed and seemed to have a special gift of faith, though I think he wanted to deny that. He wanted his life to be an encouragement to Christians to seek God for their needs, and not think it all depended on them. Christians in those days would often work sixteen hours daily, I suppose six days a week to provide for their families. In the case of Muller and his wife, they prayed for God’s provision for orphans, opening up an orphanage which I believe continues on to this day. And by faith they saw over and over again God’s miraculous provision.

It is so easy to simply get lost in the tumble and actually rumble of the spiritual warfare. In the passage above, Jesus informs his disciples that they needed to pray (and in some manuscripts, fasting is added) to cast out the demon. What often happens is that we more or less get sidetracked and kind of take a plunge down and out of the sense that all will be well, not just out of step with God, but in no step at all. What can be behind that is simply the spiritual reality and resistance we’re up against. To think it’s easy to break strongholds that have perhaps been in place for generations is naive at best, and dangerous at worst. Sometimes answers seem to come easily, but most the time what is required is perseverance in prayer.

Some might ask (and I’ve wondered a bit, myself) why doesn’t a good and great God simply answer and change the situation for good, especially by grace moving people’s hearts to trust and obey? I think the obvious hard fact of the matter is that God simply honors the free will of people. And that the process from our perspective can be arduous, long, and difficult. And we have to hold on by faith and over time. In the case of Jesus’s disciples above, without Jesus’s presence with them, they might have had to pray for a night over the situation, though I imagine simply praying would have sufficed. Some manuscripts add “and fasting” which suggests that it would take more time and effort in looking to God in prayer.

What we need to remember is the reality we’re in, and what is required. God will move, though I don’t believe forcing his way on anyone. People with God’s grace given (called prevenient grace) still are involved in that they have to respond to saving grace. Of course apart from the grace preceding, no one would. But prayer from others can be essential in helping the breakthroughs take place. I’m sure I’ve been the recipient of such. And I hope to be a blessing to others that way. In and through Jesus.

faith must be challenged

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

James emphasizes that knowledge and profession of faith mean nothing at all, in fact, lend themselves to deception. And in this opening part of his letter, that faith actually has to be challenged to make the needed difference in our lives.

We often get out of sorts if things are not going wonderfully well, or when the bad comes. But a big part of life is learning by faith to walk through trials of all kinds which come our way pretty much everyday, and at least on a regular basis. Some of them might be imagined, and some real. But the point James makes here is our response to them. We’re to count it all joy, or nothing but joy when they come, because of what they can bring, if we are open to what God wants to do through them.

Maturity in the faith, in Christ, is not something to which we easily arrive. It requires effort on our part to hang in their through the difficulty, not allowing ourselves to be moved from our faith, but letting it be tested. Just what kind of faith do we have? Is it merely circumstantial, just good when things are going well? Or is it grounded in God, even when we don’t understand, or find it going against our understanding, or at least against what we think is good or acceptable.

God wants to work something quite good out of it. So it’s up to us to be willing to walk through it, to endure it, trusting God is at work in it for good, for our good to help us mature completely, so that we may lack nothing when it comes to what really matters: our Christian formation and character. In and through Jesus.

our part under trial: endurance

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

James tells us a bit earlier that the testing of our faith produces perseverance, or endurance. A big part of that testing is simply remaining faithful in the trial.

As someone once told me, struggling is the default or norm in which we live. That’s why it’s nice to get away from time to time on a vacation with no cares in the world. And while “there’s no place like home,” there are always concerns, sometimes big that can well weigh us down. And some of those can seem well over our head, unmanageable, and in need of divine intervention. Actually we want the Lord’s help, and need it, whether the trial seems big or small.

James’s readers were facing problems from those who were wealthy (James 5). And James in the more immediate context referred to “trials of many kinds.” What is important for us is to remain faithful, and be willing to endure. Endurance is not something in and of itself enjoyable. We would rather escape. Yes, we’re to persevere, but endurance might seem to hit James’s thought in this letter more squarely for me, though to persevere is involved in that, as well. It seems like patience, and hanging in their through the tough times with faith in God is the point here.

And we have another promise from another book of wisdom, considered the basic book of wisdom in scripture: Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

In the midst of trials, we need to trust and obey. In submission to the One who will see us through to the end. In and through Jesus.

in the trouble zone

“Mortals, born of woman,
    are of few days and full of trouble.”

Job 14:1

There is much to ponder and take in from the wisdom of Job. I’m thinking of the book as a whole, but Job’s words here are observant, to say the least. It seems like the goal of most people and much of the advertisement which appeals to us is to arrive to some kind of trouble free existence. But no matter how far science and technology may take us, as well as knowledge that no doubt can help, trouble really awaits us at every turn.

Probably half the battle for us is to accept that reality up front, and learn in a sense to relax in it. Some matters aren’t worth the time of day, nagging problems which we might or might not address at some time, maybe if we’re annoyed enough. But other issues we will be compelled to consider and work on with the knowledge that we may or may not be able to arrive at some satisfactory conclusion except to leave it in God’s hands.

As one work friend used to say: “Do your best and hang the rest.” Basically that’s all we can do. We have to stop thinking the world, or any given matter in it depends on us at all. It’s not like we may not have a role to play, but its outcome is ultimately up to God. That said, we should do what we can to resolve the problems which come our way. And the way everything is, the “honey do” list, or whatever you might call it, will never end. Instead of denying all of this, and retreating into either a disengagement, or even denial of trouble, we should face it. Believing that God can and will give us the wisdom to address it (James 1:2-5). And that the process will even be good. In and through Jesus.

like Jeremiah, our need of ongoing repentance

Lord, you understand;
    remember me and care for me.
    Avenge me on my persecutors.
You are long-suffering—do not take me away;
    think of how I suffer reproach for your sake.
When your words came, I ate them;
    they were my joy and my heart’s delight,
for I bear your name,
    Lord God Almighty.
I never sat in the company of revelers,
    never made merry with them;
I sat alone because your hand was on me
    and you had filled me with indignation.
Why is my pain unending
    and my wound grievous and incurable?
You are to me like a deceptive brook,
    like a spring that fails.

Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“If you repent, I will restore you
    that you may serve me;
if you utter worthy, not worthless, words,
    you will be my spokesman.
Let this people turn to you,
    but you must not turn to them.
I will make you a wall to this people,
    a fortified wall of bronze;
they will fight against you
    but will not overcome you,
for I am with you
    to rescue and save you,”
declares the Lord.
“I will save you from the hands of the wicked
    and deliver you from the grasp of the cruel.”

Jeremiah 15:15-21

It is so easy to find fault with one’s lot. There is almost always something wrong somewhere. Admittedly there can be seasons which are especially difficult and challenging, even for no fault of our own.

Jeremiah certainly ran into plenty of trouble because of his prophetic call from God. He was to deliver a message which would put his life in jeopardy again and again. He had his enemies who wished to see him dead. And it seemed to him at times that even God was against him. He is aptly called “the weeping prophet.” Some thought Jesus was Jeremiah (Matthew 16:13-14). I tend to want to go back to Jeremiah again and again because I kind of identify with him myself, at least in some of the moods he was in, as well as trying to speak the word of the Lord into a world which is often indifferent, or sometimes hostile to it.

In the passage quoted above (the link is Jeremiah 14 and 15) Jeremiah is in the midst of trouble, and is tired of it. He has had enough, and God seems not only helpful, but deceptive to him. His attitude has turned south and is sour. He even likens God to “a deceptive brook” and “a spring that fails.”

God wastes no time in calling the prophet to repentance. Once again (Jeremiah 1) God gives him the commission, this time conditioned on his repentance. No matter what the outlook, God will see him through, albeit in a difficult task for sure.

This for me is a good and needed word. I too often complain at what in comparison to what Jeremiah went through is nothing. Although it can seem life threatening to me in a different way. And certainly not easy. But repentance of wrong attitudes toward God is basic, if we’re to continue on in God’s will. And a wrong attitude toward life is essentially a wrong attitude toward God when you boil it down for what it really is.

God is sovereign, and nothing happens apart from God, even apart from his will. God is great and God is good, and he is love. We have to persevere in faith in the midst of difficulty. Otherwise we end up becoming part of the problem. And we can no longer figure into God’s solution.

Like Jeremiah, some of us might carry with us a predisposition to easily fall into the pit of discouragement and despair. And like him, we need to heed God’s call again, and when need be repent of charging God with wrong in our complaining and grumbling. What is essential for us is to grasp God’s call and keep coming back. Knowing God will see us through, and with the blessing of the gospel for others, in and through Jesus.

running a marathon

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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

I’m in a particular work situation with quite long hours, but less days per week as a rule. It is not something I’m easily catching on to, nor even want to take on. But with the minor car accident I was in last year, the recent speeding infraction going what I believe is the correct speed limit, but at the wrong time (I didn’t see the lights flashing), it seems that God has me on an agenda to slow down, and even relax where I can.

Much of my work is not really conducive to relaxing. It requires a degree of ability, plenty of discipline in perseverance, and attention to detail. In some ways that reminds me of something I’ve never done myself, but have to take second hand from others: running a marathon (42.195 kilometers, which equals 26 miles 385 yards). I think I could train and do it, though I don’t think I want to, and at my age it’s probably not the best idea, unless I would do it wisely, and perhaps keep doing it. But I’m realizing as I face a number of upcoming weeks with an extra work day, that I need to take it on as a marathon, and less as a sprint, or with sprints along the way. I want to be relaxed about the entire endeavor, insofar as that’s possible.

And that is a part of my life, and therefore something God must be using to help me better find my way in his way. I could name at least another change or two in my life lately, suggestive in the same way. The context to the passage above on running the race focuses on Jesus’s suffering, and therefore our identification with him in that before the world, as the writer to the Hebrews was trying to make clear to the recipients of this letter (and see what follows in the writer’s counsel to them). Hebrews 11 as marked in our Bibles is part of the context of this passage as well. That cites certain actions of Old Testament saints (of course we in and through Jesus are all saints, marked out as God’s holy people), and in the case of Abraham points to a number of actions which had come to characterize his life. So including my work situation into the mix of the larger picture, I think is surely apt.

I must proceed by faith: “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And to do so according to God’s specified program, which is a matter of God’s revealed will found in scripture in and through Jesus and the good news in him. We never know what a year, a season, a month, a week, and for that matter, a day might bring forth. But we need to try to take life in stride as much as possible, in the context of the full run we’re called to in Jesus.

We’re to run this race marked out before us with endurance and perseverance, getting rid of anything which is a hindrance in doing so. And we’re to do that, fixing our eyes on Jesus, who is the pioneer and perfecter of faith, especially marked by his suffering and death on the cross. So that whatever comes our way, we can be ready. Realizing that sinners will oppose us along the way, and that God’s loving hand of discipline is necessarily on us as well, to make us holy, that we might share in God’s holiness.

All of this is not easy, but I’m trying to get into the rhythm of being able to get my necessary stride, so that in all of this I can grow together with others in God’s calling for us in Jesus, run the race God has marked out for me, and finish well, along with others in and through Jesus.

a hard earned faith

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works,just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:9-13

In the culture of praying the prayer and asking Jesus into our hearts, once saved always saved, the idea of a hard earned faith seems mistaken at best. It is interesting, considering Jesus’s parable of the sower, that one can believe with joy, but fall away when the trials come (Luke 8:13). In contrast to the one who perseveres, and by so doing yields a significant crop (Luke 8:15).

Trusting in God by trusting in his word and the sea-change that brings is at the heart of this. It is not just a one time thing, and it is not so much incremental. We can see in Jesus’s parable of the sower, that the person who ends up falling away, initially receives the word with joy, and for all intents and purposes looks genuine, believing for a while (Luke 8:13). But when testing comes, which we see in the other gospel can involve “trouble or persecution because of the word, they quickly fall away” (Matthew 13:21; see also Mark 4:16-17).

Back to the Hebrews passage, some of this might not fit all that well into our doctrine or what we’ve been taught in church. I think especially of churches which have taught once saved, always saved, though it all depends on all those churches teach. The point is that we can neither take faith for granted, nor be careless concerning it, just because we made some commitment once upon a time. That faith has to survive through all the rough patches and troubles life throws our way.  And according to Hebrews, that takes effort on our part. It seems like an oxymoron, but we’re to make every effort to enter into that rest. And this is an issue of obedience, whether or not we will obey God.

What we need is God’s word to help us along the way, by correcting us. We need to be committed to being under that word, to hear it and abide by it (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Sounds rather stark and threatening. But that’s not because God is that way, but rather because we are so prone to wander and get lost. God is faithful, and we can depend on God’s word. God will help us see what we need to see to keep going. And to learn to live in the rest God provides for us in and through Jesus.

a marathon

So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us.

Now stay focused on Jesus, who designed and perfected our faith. He endured the cross and ignored the shame of that death because He focused on the joy that was set before Him; and now He is seated beside God on the throne, a place of honor.

Hebrews 12:1-2; VOICE

In the United States, we love the sprinters, “the world’s fastest humans,” and we pay little attention to marathons, though perhaps that has been changing in recent times. Part of that might be our penchant for instant entertainment and results. We probably are not all that good at processing things, therefore we prefer a song (which might be good) of three to five minutes duration over a symphony any day. Anything that takes time and involves process is not what we’re all about, or programmed for.

But all of that said, the Christian faith and life is all about process and longevity. It is not about some great flash into arrival and unending success. If we don’t believe that, maybe we would do well to read the passage linked above which includes all of Hebrews 11. But much of our Christianity seems to be different. It is about greatness now in the sense of doing great things, and in some sense having arrived. But I don’t see scripture, and life that way at all.

We never know what a day may bring, but we have to be in it, committed for the long haul. We have to have a marathon runner’s mentality, not the sprinter’s. Many things will happen along the way. Seeming failure, setbacks, mistakes, challenges, unforeseen problems, whatever it might be. But we go on, maybe get up and go on, but definitely go on. We’re in it for the long haul. Looking to, indeed fixing our eyes on Jesus. What we’re called to. In and through Jesus.