Increasing Your Endurance
Perseverance is an essential quality for those who follow Jesus Christ. We often face times of discouragement and distraction and feel tempted to give up. What can we do to increase our endurance so that, when the going gets tough, we persevere in our commitment to the Lord?
Hebrews 12:1-3 provides good counsel for weary Christians. It says: “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.”
These verses suggest four things believers in Christ can do, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to grow in our ability to endure.
1) Remember the race.
The Christian life is not compared here to a Caribbean cruise. It is compared to a race. Races are intended to be hard. (The Greek word translated “race” in Hebrews 12:1 is the word “agon” from which we derive the English word “agony”.)
Imagine your heart is beating quickly, you are gasping for breath, and perspiration is pouring down your face. Should you panic? If you experience these symptoms while eating breakfast, yes, you should panic. Call 911 right away. But if you are sweating and out of breath at mile 15 of a marathon, you should not panic at all. During a marathon, physiological reactions such as these are normal. Races are intended to be hard.
It is the same with the Christian life. Sometimes believers are needlessly discouraged because they have come to expect the life of faith to be easy. They assume that church membership will never be disappointing, that their marriage (or singleness) will flourish automatically, that temptations will flee in response to five-second prayers, that the Bible will always make sense, and that they will never experience doubt. When these assumptions prove to be false, they panic and consider throwing in the towel.
But the Bible tells us to expect to encounter difficulties as we follow Jesus. The Apostles taught that “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22). Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) So do not panic if things are tough right now. Remember: You are in a race.
2) Hear the cheers.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we are “surrounded by ... a great cloud of witnesses.” There are thousands and thousands of men and women who have run the race before us, people who faced hardship, who lived by faith, who trusted God, and who are now with the Lord in glory. Some of these people are named for us in Hebrews 11 (ex. Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab). Perhaps you could add other names to the list (your grandfather, your grandmother, your Christian friend who passed away).
Multitudes have run the race before us. Their lives serve as a witness to us. Their examples cheer us on. As we run our race, the stories of those who have gone before us shout out to us, encouraging us not to quit.
Is it worth it to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6:33)? Is it worth it, by the Spirit’s power, to put to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom. 8:13)? Is it worth it to wage battle in on-going spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:12)? Is it worth it to abstain from the sinful desires of the flesh (1 Pet. 2:11)? Is it worth it to give sacrificially to the poor (Luke 12:33)? Is it worth it to forgive others who have hurt us (Eph. 4:32)? Is it worth it to be insulted and falsely accused because of our connection to Jesus (Mt. 5:11)? In other words, is it worth it to run the Christian race all the way to the end? In the words of an old hymn, “Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs answer, ‘Yes.’”
3) Drop the baggage.
Every year, after the New York Marathon, volunteers pick up over four tons of used clothing, most of which was discarded at the beginning of the race. Marathon runners know that, if they carry even a few ounces of unnecessary weight, it will slow them down. Too much clothing might even prevent them from reaching the finish line. So whatever clothing they do not need, even if it is their favorite running jacket, they willingly cast aside.
This is what we are told to do. Hebrews 12:1 tells us to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” It is easy to understand why we should get rid of our sins, but this verse instructs us to lay aside anything that slows us down, even things that may be morally neutral.
I had a friend who grew up in a working-class family in the Dominican Republic. He was a gifted athlete who loved to play baseball. Sports might have been a ticket out of poverty for him. But he gave up playing baseball because his league games were on Sunday mornings and, as a young believer, he knew that if he were not in church consistently, he would likely drift from the Lord. There is nothing wrong with playing baseball, but for him, at that time in his life, it was a weight that hindered him from following Jesus, so he cast it aside.
What is it that weighs you down and makes it hard for you to stay close to Jesus? Is there a grudge you need to let go of? Is there a dream you need to place in the hands of God? Is there a certain activity that occupies too much of your time and attention? Whatever it might be, if it slows you down in the spiritual race, perhaps you should pray about throwing it off.
4) Keep your eyes on Jesus.
The final word of advice we glean from these verses is to maintain our focus on the Lord. The author of Hebrews writes, “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.”
This is important. If you fix your eyes on other people (even good people), they will eventually let you down. If you fix your eyes on yourself, you will quickly grow discouraged by your personal struggles, and feel like quitting. If you set your gaze on the world, the surrounding culture will lie to you, and shake your faith in God. But if your fix your eyes on Jesus, he will never disappoint you.
We are reminded in these verses that Jesus is committed both to his Father and to us. He “endured the cross, scorning its shame” out of love for the Father, to fulfill the Father’s will. He also went to the cross out of love for us. Jesus is both the “pioneer” and the “perfecter” of our faith. He is the one who began his good work in us (the pioneer) and the one who will bring that work to completion (the perfecter). The promise is that, if we focus our attention on Jesus, we will “not grow weary and lose heart.”
How do we build up our endurance as followers of Christ? Remember you are in a race. (Do not be discouraged if things are hard.) Be encouraged by the cheers of those who have gone before you. Rid yourself of needless baggage that might slow you down. And, above all, fix your eyes on Jesus, your Savior, your friend, and the lover of your soul.