Have you ever hiked a rugged trail through the forest? My sister and I went hiking a few months ago at a state park in the mountains of Tennessee. We rambled up steep trails composed more of rocks than dirt, scrambled over boulders, and stepped around or over fallen trees. At other times we found ourselves hiking wide, flat trails under a canopy of trees. I felt God’s presence reflected in the songs of birds, bubbling streams, and the stillness of our wooded surroundings. Another reward of this particular trail was the rare glimpse of a breath-taking view off the side of the mountain into the green valleys below. We could have taken an easier trail, but we would have missed out on the joy of breathing in the beauty of God’s magnificent handiwork. Even so, our hike left me weary.
The life of faith can also leave us weary.
Many New Testament passages allude to the Christian life as an athletic performance. One passage is found in Hebrews. The book of Hebrews was a sermon in the form of a letter to Jewish Christians. These Hebrew Christians were being ill-treated because of their faith, even having their property seized. Persecuted and suffering, they were losing heart in their journey. They were considering leaving Christianity, tempted to return to the patterns of their past when life wasn’t so hard.
In their tiredness, they were leaning towards taking the path of least resistance.
The author of Hebrews (who is unnamed) wrote a long sermon to encourage discouraged pilgrims in the faith.
Hebrews 12:1-3 tells us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.”
The author of Hebrews advised disheartened Christians to throw off any weight that was hindering them in their race, including any entangling sins, and to run the race of faith with endurance. But how could the Hebrew Christians do this when they were so worn out from the struggle?
They were encouraged to keep their eyes on Jesus, the One who had already blazed the trail on which He now commanded His followers to travel.
We are so like the weary Hebrews at times! We want to look normal in the eyes of society so that we don’t stick out or face persecution. We want a wide paved road to travel on in comfort, not a strenuous mountain footpath with fallen trees to have to climb over. We want a culture where everybody likes us, not a rocky trail of difficult relationships. We gravitate to the path of least resistance. But it’s in the challenging terrain where our faith is strengthened as we persevere in following in Jesus’ footsteps. In His kindness, Jesus has already gone where He expects us to go. He endured the cross, horrific torture, abuse, and humiliation. Why did He endure such evil forces? He knew what was coming around the next bend in the forest. He focused on the eternal joy when He would reenter His Father’s presence in Heaven.
In light of Jesus’ example, what can we do to persevere in our own race of faith when the trail gets too demanding?
We control our focus.
What sins are we entangled in that distract us from keeping our focus on Jesus? We can throw off the branches we get tangled up in by controlling our minds. What Bible passage can we form into a prayer? On what hymn or worship song can we meditate?
We persevere in the disciplines of prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship, and rest.
What habits or attitudes are distracting us from the disciplines we need to practice to stay close to God? Is our time management out of control? Is a difficult relationship overrunning appropriate boundaries?
In our journey as Christian travelers, one day we may find ourselves sprinting down a straight and level road, and the next day our pace may slow to a crawl as we climb over a fallen tree. But in the midst of our own pain and persecution, we are encouraged in the letter to the Hebrews to run with endurance by fixing our eyes on Jesus’ life and meditating on His example. We know what is coming around the next bend in the forest. We focus on the pure joy of the future when we will one day enter our Heavenly Father’s presence with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, seated at His side.
Our eternal peace is just over there through the trees.
One practical way we can control our focus and persevere in Bible study is to join Courage For Life this Wednesday, February 16 at 3 p.m. ET (12 p.m. PT) as we begin our in-depth study of the book of James via Instagram Live (@GodGivesCourage). We will walk verse-by-verse through one of the most practical books of the Bible. This live session will last less than 30 minutes each week, with a replay available on our Instagram feed afterward. Follow Courage For Life on Instagram to join us for this study each week.