I read about a grandmother who had her young grandson over. In the morning they got up and they were having breakfast and he noticed the shirt she was wearing which had the words “BE NICE TO ME. I HAD A HARD DAY” on it. Her grandson looked at the words and asked, "How can you tell this early in the morning?"
Craig Larson tells about “the Boston Marathon, on which there is a legendary obstacle called Heartbreak Hill. Starting at mile thirteen of the Boston race course, there are a number of hills, climaxing at mile nineteen with Heartbreak Hill. It's the longest, steepest hill in the race. What makes this hill even worse is that world-class runners "hit the wall" around mile eighteen or nineteen. That is, their bodies have depleted the glycogen stored in the muscles. That glycogen has been replaced with lactic acid. The muscles are screaming for oxygen. And when you hit the wall, you just feel like you're going to die. Heartbreak Hill tests runners to the very core of their determination and their strength.
There are Heartbreak Hills in life. Life is not on a level grade. We have problems. We have bigger problems. And at times we face Heartbreak Hill.
What is your “heartbreak hill?” There are Christians in many places in the world who are suffering persecution. Some of you have at times suffered because of illness and some of you are still struggling because of physical ailments. All of us wrestle with temptation. Sometimes there are difficulties in our relationships with others and with other things like loneliness, fear and loss. Sooner or later, we will all struggle with the tragedy of death – whether our own or that of someone close to us. None of these hardships are easy to bear and we sometimes wonder how we can face them.
Hebrews 12:1 encourages us to “run with perseverance.” These words acknowledge that sometimes life is tough and that it requires perseverance. The same verse goes on to speak about “the race marked out for us” indicating that each of us has a different path to go. The things I struggle with may not be the same things you struggle with, but we are all in this race and we all need to persevere.
What are the perspectives which can help us as we face difficulties? What point of view is important to be able to “run with perseverance?” The rest of the passage helps answer that question.
II. Consider Him Hebrews 12:2-4
On day six of the ill-fated mission of Apollo 13, the astronauts needed to make a critical course correction. If they failed, they might never return to Earth.
To conserve power, they shut down the onboard computer that steered the craft. Yet the astronauts needed to conduct a thirty-nine-second burn of the main engines. How to steer? Astronaut Jim Lovell determined that if they could keep a fixed point in space in view through their tiny window, they could steer the craft manually. That focal point turned out to be their destination--Earth.
As shown in 1995's hit movie, Apollo 13, for thirty-nine agonizing seconds, Lovell focused on keeping the earth in view. By not losing sight of that reference point, the three astronauts avoided disaster.
There are two verses in Hebrews 12 that point to the fixed reference point that we need to keep our eyes on if we are to “run with perseverance.” In verse 2 it says, “let us fix our eyes on Jesus.” Then in verse 3 we are encouraged to “consider Him.” How does considering Jesus help us “run with perseverance?”
A. Christ Endured
Hebrews 11 lists all the heroes of faith who persevered in difficulty. We are reminded that Abraham longed for a country not his own, a heavenly one which he never saw. His example of perseverance is inspiring. Moses left the pleasures of royal life in Egypt to lead God’s people out of slavery. His example of perseverance is also an encouragement. But the example of Jesus is even more important to consider and that is why we are not pointed so much to the earthly heroes of faith, but to Jesus. What does His life and example teach us about difficulty and suffering?
The text says that Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame.” What did that mean for Jesus? The physical suffering of the cross was enormous. We cannot dismiss the suffering of Jesus by saying that he was God as if that indicates that his suffering meant nothing. Jesus was fully human and suffered physical suffering as much as any of us do. But the spiritual suffering of the cross was even greater. He was God and so the spiritual suffering of the sinless one taking the sins of the world upon Himself was something that we will ever experience and can hardly imagine. Yet Jesus endured the cross. He was willing to experience it and of course, He did it for us.
B. Look To Him
How does this suffering of Jesus encourage us to endure?
First of all, it encourages us because we are reminded that we have not suffered as much as Jesus suffered. In verse 4 it says, “you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” This is a clear reference to the sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesus. Our suffering has not yet approached what Jesus experienced by taking our place. Since Jesus suffered so much and was willing to do it, we are encouraged also to endure.
Furthermore, we are encouraged as we realize that since Jesus suffered, He understands our suffering. We can look to Him because in His compassion He knows what we are going through.
Anne Ortlund writes, “A young pastor friend has ... been through the trial of his life. When I saw him recently, he asked me, "What do you do when God doesn't say yes--doesn't give it, doesn't make it happen?" Then he answered his own question: "Through agony I've gotten to know God better; I love him more. ..."
He showed me a piece of paper he keeps in his wallet. It says, "Look to his face, not to his hand." Looking to Jesus, remembering His suffering, realizing He understands our suffering will help us “run with perseverance.”
What gave Jesus the ability to face such suffering? The answer to that question is also given in this passage when it says, “who for the joy set before Him.” In other words, Jesus was able to endure His particular suffering because of the hope and joy of what it would accomplish and because he knew that it was not forever, but that someday He would be in the presence of God and rejoicing in great victory.
We have similar promises. We know that our suffering will not be forever, that some day we will be in heaven with the one who loves us and then everything will be good. Looking to Jesus helps us because he has given us eternal life. As we consider heaven and the hope and victory that heaven will bring, that eternal perspective allows us as vs. 3 says, to “not grow weary and lose heart.” That is another reason why looking to Jesus helps us endure.
Whenever we are really, deeply struggling, one perspective which helps us run with perseverance is looking to Jesus. I invite you to consider Him.
III. Endure Hardship As Discipline 12:5-11
The next section gives us another perspective in being able to “run with perseverance.”
A. The Lord Disciplines Those He Loves
Most of us understand what it means to be parents. We know the love and concern we have for our children. When they do well, we are proud of them. When they struggle, we find it hard to watch. When they make poor choices, what do we do? When they are younger, we discipline them. We do not do it because we hate them, but we do it because we love them and want them to learn that poor choices make for a difficult life and so we provide discipline. As they mature, we may not discipline, but we speak wisdom into their lives also in an effort to guide them into a better way of living.
With such an understanding, why would we think that God is any different? He is our Father. He loves us. He also allows us to go through hardship so that we will learn from that hardship to seek Him and to follow a path that is a better path. That is the message of Hebrews 12. Notice all the phrases which communicate this idea. Verse 6 says, “the Lord disciplines those he loves.” Verse 7 reminds us that “God is treating you as sons.” And verse 10 says, “God disciplines us for our good.” In fact, this idea is so strongly stated that verse 8 indicates that if we are not being disciplined, it indicates that we are illegitimate children. What kind of a difference does it make for you to know that the hardships God allows into your life are for your good? Does it make it easier to take when we know that our lives are in the hands of a loving Father who is seeking to draw us to Himself?
As human children, we come to the place as we mature in which we know that the discipline we received from our parents was a good thing. Although not usually when it is happening, but later on we come to the place where we respect our parents for the way they guided us even though it wasn’t always easy at the time. In a similar way, we are encouraged to adopt the perspective that God is disciplining us for our good and that we are to submit to Him and to the discipline he brings into our lives. Can we respect God for His discipline? One writer says, “there is no discipleship without discipline.”
A.W. Tozer points out that if a violin has loose strings, the sound that comes out of it is terrible. The strings and the bow for that matter need to be made tight in order for a beautiful sound. Discipline is like the tightening of our strings in order to make us sound better.
B. What Discipline Produces
What precisely is the intention of God’s loving discipline in our lives?” There are four things mentioned in this passage which indicate what discipline teaches us.
1. Life vs. 9
In verse 9, we learn that if we submit to God’s discipline, we will learn to live. Sin feels like life, but leads to death. Discipline, hardship feels like death, but leads to life.
Hugh Latimer says, “For like sauces make the stomach desire to receive meat, so affliction stirs up in us a desire to Christ.” God’s discipline will make us desire Him and desiring Him, we will find life.
2. Holiness vs. 10
God’s intention is to create a holy body of His followers. The discipline of God accomplishes the task of sanctification in our lives. Verse 10 tells us that God’s discipline is important and even though we don’t enjoy it or want it, it is good in order that “we may share in His holiness.” If we want to be holy, as God is holy, then we will need to go through discipline in order to be holy.
George Whitefield said, “We must be made perfect by sufferings. If we do not meet them in our younger days, we shall certainly have them in the decline of life.”
3. Righteousness vs. 11
Verse 11, in a similar vein, tells us that the discipline of God will produce in us “a harvest of righteousness.” If you plant wheat seeds, you will harvest wheat. If you plant corn, you will harvest corn. If God plants discipline in us, it will result in a harvest of righteousness of doing that which is right.
In plant sowing/reaping there is a process. You put the right things in the soil and then you wait. After a time of waiting, there is a harvest. The same is true in the spiritual world. Through discipline, God puts the right stuff into our life. After waiting for a time there is a harvest which is righteousness.
4. Peace vs. 11
The other thing which this passage indicates is received from God allowing us to go through suffering is peace. Psalm 46:10, in a context that has hardship and struggle in it, invites us to “be still and know that I am God.” When we suffer, we are brought to that place as we put our hope and trust in God. A person who has suffered has ceased to feel resentful and rebellious; he has stilled and quieted his soul.
Dan Foster has written, “I heard Professor Bruce Waltke describe a Christian's response to pain this way: We once rescued a wren from the claws of our cat. Though its wing was broken, the frightened bird struggled to escape my loving hands. Contrast this with my daughter's recent trip to the doctor. Her strep throat meant a shot was necessary. Frightened, she cried, "No Daddy. No, Daddy. No, Daddy." But all the while she gripped me tightly around the neck. Pain ought to make us more like a sick child than a hurt bird.”
As we consider these perspectives on suffering, may we learn to accept and embrace what God is doing in our lives and receive the blessings and benefits that come from Him.
May we consider Jesus and what He has done, how he has endured suffering in hope of what He has now received. As we consider the value of suffering to bring us to God and to teach us holiness and righteousness and peace, may we be encouraged to run with perseverance.