Recently, as I rounded the corner on the last mile of my run, I set my face like flint toward the finish and breathed out a prayer for endurance. I also picked up my pace. I was starting my tenth mile, and though tired and ready to be done, no thought was given to quitting. All week, I’d prepared mentally and physically for the run, knowing that I’d hit a point when I felt tired. Like long-distance running, our walk with the Lord requires endurance, future-oriented thinking, and a steadfast heart.
I hear a lot of people say of my running, “I could never do that!” To which my response is often, “yes you could!”Here’s the thing about endurance: it’s not a 13.1 mile sprint. It’s also not easy-breezy. Real work and training is required to complete a long distance run. The same is true in life. In Romans 5:3, Paul tells us that suffering produces endurance. When we experience suffering and don’t quit, grumble, or despise it, we are a little stronger for the next mile of life. In the same vein, when we receive the Lord’s correction and discipline with a heart eager to grow and change, we are strengthened to endure in Him. In order to become people who are able to endure without offense toward the Lord until the end, we must work through and not avoid hard things at the heart level. We know, according to Scripture and by looking around us, that suffering is occurring on the earth. We also know that the Lord disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6-8).
After having a baby, I began running one mile at a time, and I slowly increased the distance by half mile increments. This is what it looks like to build endurance. When I go the extra half-mile, there may be some grit and gruel required, especially when I get to 6, 7, 8 miles. Endurance builds as I choose to do the hard work required to get there. It is a choice, and my movement toward endurance, as hard as it may feel sometimes as I do it, is doing something.
The same is true in life. What is the hard trial you’re experiencing or the issue that you’ve ignored instead of confronting? Do you know that every step you take toward the Lord is accomplishing something grand in the Spirit? The hard, painful steps aren’t only producing pain. They are producing glory.
The writer of Hebrews said, “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (10:36). By choosing not to develop spiritual endurance because it’s hard, we forfeit opportunity to train our spiritual muscles to run a little farther, to be a little stronger the next time. We will never get the spiritual equivalent one those 13.1 stickers affixed to our heart, because we weren’t willing to do the work required to let the Spirit put it there. We should consider seriously the exhortation of our need for endurance.
We forfeit a glorious opportunity to meet the Lord in our weakness. He loves to come and strengthen our hearts with His Spirit, and delights in perfecting His strength in our weakness. According to both Romans 5:3 and Hebrews 10:36, if we choose to avoid deep, heart level work that is hard and often times painful, what confidence should we have that we will be one who endures severe suffering? Let’s run this race of faith with endurance!
When I do a long run, I do not go out on a whim and run nine or ten miles. There is a future orientation to my running goals. I set a goal and work toward it. In order to accomplish a 13.1 mile half marathon, I need to be disciplined to train regularly. I need to eat well, and get enough sleep. Everything I do needs to help me accomplish my intended goal. It’s a real goal that will happen.
I love David’s example in the Psalms of crying out and asking the Lord to help him number his days so that he would get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). He knew that if he grasped the reality of our temporal, fleeting life on the earth, it would affect how he lived. There is a very real need for us to grasp that our time on this earth is short. There is an appointed time when we will meet the Lord face to face. And, ever since Jesus ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit, we’ve been living in the last days. Therefore, there should be an urgency with which we walk on this earth. We are a bride betrothed to a glorious bridegroom. What delighted, increasing urgency we should live with!
Have you ever known a bride to sit around twiddling her thumbs during her engagement? Probably not, and we’d think something wrong with her if so! She is busy getting ready for her wedding day. There are lots of details, and as the day approaches, she usually works at a faster pace. Sometimes the details feel overwhelming, and the temptation to just quit and elope may be very real. But imagine what she’d forfeit! Imagine the lack of readiness for her wedding day if she neglected all involved in planning such an event. More importantly, many people can relate to the challenges that crop up in marriage after the wedding, due to a lack of relational preparation. Things could have been much smoother and more enjoyable if there had been significant investment in the long-term relationship, instead of being caught up in twitterpated infatuation. Similarly, no matter what, when we meet Jesus face to face, we will revel in glory. But, think of how much more glory we will experience if we press harder into Him while on the earth. I am jealous for this!
When we walk through life with future-oriented thinking, or, an eternal perspective, it dramatically affects the minutia of life. We will live differently. We will be willing to endure the mundane, or the suffering, or whatever the Lord brings our way now to partake in the glory later.
A Steadfast Heart
Girls, we are not good at this steadfast heart business. I don’t know about you, but I can often feel like a pendulum. It’s so easy to live life based on how we feel, isn’t it? If I ran according to how I often feel about running during the week, it would rarely happen. I love to run, but during the week, things inevitably crop up to prevent me from following through. Whether tiredness, discouragement, cold weather, or just “not feeling like it,” all are things I must overcome to maintain a running routine that allows me to continue to improve.
The same is true for life. If I let my emotions totally derail my existence, I do not grow in steadfastness. There is a difference between running to the Lord with my out-of-control emotions and aligning them with Him, and letting them instead take me to the kitchen to seek comfort in food instead. A steadfast heart is growing when, in my felt out-of-control state, I run into the arms of the Lord. Every time I run to Him, it’s doing something! Every time I run four miles during the week, especially when I don’t feel like it, is doing something. I am being steadfast, and it is helping me to build endurance. I will be ready to add that extra mile at the end of the week because I did what I did not feel like doing during the week.
Crossing the Finish Line
It feels really good to finish a long run, and even better, a race. What’s even better than that is beating your personal goal. All the hours of training and preparation yield a sweaty, exhausted, weak and glorious finish. This is what it will be like when we see Jesus. All the secret “yeses,” agreements with Him to go to that hard place, to continue taking one more step when it just doesn’t feel possible, will yield an unimaginable glory one day. The most amazing thing is that unlike the momentary euphoria that happens after finishing a long race, this glory will last forever.