Did you make any New Years’ Resolutions for 2018? If you’re like me, chances are those resolutions have already been broken and abandoned. It’s easy to fall back into old patterns and habits – endurance takes work.
This past Sunday, Matt Simpson preached on the topic of spiritual endurance. He pointed to the passage in Mark 14:26-42 as an example of the perennial human struggle to endure. In the passage, the disciples have just enjoyed the Last Supper with Jesus, a deeply intimate time that should have strengthened them for the road ahead. Jesus then takes them to the Garden of Gethsemane where He asks them to stay awake and watch while He prays. However, despite the deep grief Jesus experiences, His disciples are unable to stay awake for even an hour. Jesus addresses the heart of the issue when He says to His disciples in verse 38: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Many of us long to follow Jesus closely but our flesh and the draw of this fallen world often hold us back.
Matt then took us to the book of Hebrews, beginning in 11:32-40 to set up context, and moving through the entirety of chapter 12. In Hebrews 11, the author lists our ‘heroes of the faith,’ those who persevered and endured trials on this earth because of the hope of eternity and salvation. The author then continues in Hebrews 12 to encourage us to endure as well.
The end of Hebrews 11 and the beginning of 12 show us two things.
- Our heritage:
Hebrews 11:32 – 12:1 gives us an overview of the many people in history who have endured before us. It encourages us, showing us that many have run this ‘race’ before us.
- Our example:
Hebrews 12:2-4 points to Jesus as our example. Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him…” When we look to Jesus and remember that this world is not all there is, we are enabled to look beyond our circumstances and persevere.
The rest of Hebrews 12 illuminates the things that hold us back and drain our endurance.
- Weights/Sinful Nature
Hebrews 12:1 states, “let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us.” When we begin to feel spiritually tired, we should look around and see what weights have attached themselves to us. These weights can include our own sin, distractions such as entertainment, technology, and bad relationships, and even ministry if it’s stealing our time and our heart away from Jesus.
- Wrong View of Trials
Hebrews 12:5-12 addresses both the discipline of the Lord and suffering we experience as a result of the consequences of our own sin, or simply of living in a fallen world. The author quotes out of the Old Testament, saying “ ‘My son, do not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or lose heart when you are reproved by Him, for the Lord disciplines those He loves and punishes every son He receives.’ Endure suffering as discipline – God is dealing with you as sons” (Hebrews 12:5-7). Matt used the example here of an athlete in training. How many athletes showed up to the Olympics without training? Not a single one! Training is never comfortable and isn’t always enjoyable, but it is necessary to grow and become strong. When God allows us opportunities to grow, we should lean into those opportunities and look forward to the end result. We’re getting stronger!
- Wrong Focus
Hebrews 12:14-29 gives us the example of Esau from the Old Testament, who was more concerned with his immediate physical desires than his long-term destiny. Our focus should ultimately be on eternal things. Our careers, leisure time, and even our families and friends cannot fulfill us. Our everlasting joy can’t come outside of an eternal focus, but rather comes from a pursuit of Jesus and His mission on the earth.
Matt then left us with some practical steps to build and maintain endurance in our spiritual race.
- Communicate with your God openly and honestly. Confess any sin and pray for change.
- Take your training seriously. You absolutely cannot maintain endurance without spending time with Jesus daily.
- Embrace spiritual growth.
- Refocus your life – be still and let the Holy Spirit change you. Focus on eternal things.
Run the race well. Look to Jesus as your example and, remember, you’re not alone!