Life is like riding a bike. You need to keep peddling. Endurance is essential. But what do you do when you don’t feel like peddling, when you’re demoralized and lack strength?
The author of the book of Hebrews was speaking to a group of Jewish followers of Jesus who did not feel like “peddling.” Why? It wasn’t that they didn’t believe in Jesus anymore, it was because they were discouraged due to intense cultural upheaval, personal suffering, persecution and exploitation (Heb. 10:32-36). But a divine strategy was given to encourage them to keep moving forward in their faith and to grow to their full potential.
If you’re discouraged, hear this!
1. Allow the heroes of the faith to encourage you.
Hebrews 12:1 reads, “Since we’re surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” What does this mean? The “cloud of witnesses” in this verse is speaking of the heroes of the faith identified earlier in Hebrews 11 — heroes who have gone before us and whom God has purposed to speak into our lives to encourage us even today!
One of those heroes mentioned is Abraham. God promised, “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).
Needless to say, that’s quite a promise! But for many years after this promise Abraham and Sarah still had no children. At times they were discouraged. But eventually Sarah did conceive and bore a son named Isaac. And now thousands of years later we can see how the promise given to Abraham has continued to unfold as the entire world has been radically blessed by the Lord Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Be encouraged to live by faith in God’s promises. Allow the example of Abraham to speak into your life! “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Rom. 4:3).
Faith doesn’t mean you won’t have problems and disappointments in life. Faith is not saying to yourself “I’m not in pain” when you are in pain. Nor is it saying “I don’t hurt” when you do hurt. Faith is seeing your problems through the lens of the truth of God’s Word. It is putting your trust in the One who knows all things, and loves you! It is trusting in His perfect timing. It is trusting in His unfolding plan in Christ in your life.
Here are some great promises to lay hold of: God promises to be with us and to help us, “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Is. 41:10). God promises to forgive our sins, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I Jn. 1:9). God promises that in Christ “…all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God promises salvation to all who believe in Jesus, "if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rm. 10:9).
Be encouraged! Keep peddling! Just like Abraham, our lives and our faith can make an impact beyond our lifetime on earth and we all can finish well.
2. See your life as a long endurance run rather than a sprint.
Hebrews 12:1 says “…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” By nature, a long endurance run does not always feel good. It is painful. At times it requires just pure grit. This then brings an important distinction: If we base the “race of life” on our feelings, not only will it give us an inaccurate picture of the reality of God in our life, but we will be tempted to quit.
It’s a trap to think, “If I am feeling good, then God is good” or “If I’m not feeling good, then God is not good!” James 1:3 tells us that trials are “the testing of your faith” which means it’s an opportunity to experience the faithfulness of God as we go through them. It helps us to move from just “knowing” of God to “experiencing” God and His faithfulness. The test therefore, has less to do with your strength, and all to do with God’s strength and faithfulness. Faith has an object—God who never fails! Therefore, your faith in God will never fail!
James writes, “when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (Jm. 1:2-4).
3. Be aware of the weight of sin in your life that saps energy, pulls you down and demoralizes you!
Hebrews 12:2 says “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us …” By removing the small compromises in your life that act like footholds, which can then lead to self-defeating strongholds, you will increase your strength and glorify God in your life.
One place to look for excess “weight” is in your relationships. In any healthy relationship it’s essential to both receive and give forgiveness. It’s the way the Lord heals. The Lord wants us to forgive, not only to bring new beginning and healing to others, but when you choose to forgive someone, you’re setting a prisoner free: yourself!
Forgiving others is essential to no longer being under the power and the injury of the injustice that you’ve experienced. An important perspective is that you don’t have to agree with someone to love them and you don’t have to compromise your convictions to love others. Hebrews 12:14 reads, “Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.”
4. Keep your eyes on Jesus who kept His eyes on the Heavenly Father. This is the main point in context! A paraphrase of Hebrews 12:2 reads, “...When you find yourselves dragging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
What story are we to go over and over again to be encouraged?
The story of how Jesus endured the ultimate endurance run by giving His life on the cross on Passover as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, and who resurrected from the dead, ascended to heaven and is coming back to reign on Earth. It could be said that “Jesus’ long endurance run” has brought the greatest blessing the world has ever known!
How did Jesus do it? How did He endure? The answer is He trusted the Heavenly Father and the unfolding plan of God! The question is, “Do we trust the Heavenly Father enough to keep peddling, to keep running, to keep trusting and to bring our pain, needs and burdens to?”
These are important questions to ask ourselves because the reality is the default condition of our heart, deep in our psyche — because of the original sin of man in Eden — is distrust. Jesus came in the full expression of the Father to restore that trust so that we also could have the kind of intimate trusting relationship that Jesus embodied with the Father. Jesus’ life tells us that we can trust the innate goodness of God and His unfolding plan in our life!
Galatians 4:6 says, “… God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” God wants you to trust Him. He wants you to bring your pain to Him and pour out your heart to Him in prayer. God will meet you there and strengthen you and help you to keep going.
Keep your eyes on Jesus who kept His eyes on the Heavenly Father. Jesus came to make us right with God and it is our Heavenly Father who is training us in righteousness. Keep peddling! The Heavenly Father is training you and preparing you for greater blessings ahead!
Greg Denham has been a lead pastor for thirty years and is presently the Senior Pastor of Rise Church (a new church plant in San Marcos, Ca.). He is the founder of “The Context Movement”, an author, and spearheads yearly “Friends of Israel Weekends” to fight anti-Semitism and champion friendships between Christians and Jews.