I know what most of you are thinking after watching that clip. “Why in the world… has it taken me so long to hear about the Barkley Marathon and where do I sign up?”
Ok maybe not. But I’ll be honest. When I saw the documentary about the race on Netflix, I was hooked. I would totally love to do something like that.
Which is hilarious, because 10 years ago I hated the outdoors. I hated bugs. I hated physical exertion. I hated being dirty. I hated sweating.
I wanted to be comfortable.
These days, though, I climb mountains and go on solo backpacking trips in the wilderness and do mud runs.
What in the world changed? What happened to my comfort-loving self?
Well the short answer is I went to Panama. I went there to write articles about a non-profit organization. And I was baptized by fire.
· I had to sleep in a hut with rats in the walls.
· I had to lug a heavy pack through the jungle.
· I woke up in a tent covered with wolf spiders
· I bathed in a river.
· I accidentally got a self-inflicted machete wound.
· I was bitten by fire ants and attacked by razor grass.
· I spent one whole night vomiting from dehydration after a 9 hour hike through the mountains.
I was miserable. But somewhere in the middle of all that, something clicked for me. I got it.
As ridiculous as all those discomforts were, I was surviving. And not just surviving. I was learning and growing. My spirit was getting stronger.
I was starting to actually enjoy myself because I was facing those hardships and overcoming them. I was starting to develop some grit.
Grit: Firmness of character. Indomitable spirit.
Now, I still had a long, long way to go, but Panama set me on a new course and now I’m the kind of guy who sees the Barkley Marathons and says, “Sign me up.”
It took me 25 years, but in Panama I had finally discovered that enduring hardships and trials is often way better for you than avoiding them.
Now that may seem like a rather obvious conclusion. But for the vast majority of us living here in suburbia, we do not live that way.
Our entire culture is built around the avoidance of hardship. We value convenience, comfort, and safety above all else. Right?
And this devotion to comfort and ease has crept into our faith as well. We go to church only if we’re not too busy. We want following Jesus to be as low-risk as possible. We’re fine being Christians as long as it doesn’t cost us anything.
Many of us have bought into the idea of an easy, feel-good Christianity with airport self-help books and a Santa Claus God. The moment we face real challenges to our faith, it crumbles.
Our faith is adrift. Why? Because we don’t have grit. We haven’t learned how to endure.
Thankfully we’re not the only Christ-followers in history facing the drift of our faith. In fact, for the last several weeks we’ve been studying the book of Hebrews, whose initial readers were also adrift.
We’ve got a lot in common with them, so let’s take a look at a passage that talks all about grit. About endurance. [House Bibles]
Hebrews 12:1 Page ________
When you read through Hebrews, you can see that the readers - first century Jewish believers - were starting to question whether their decision to follow Jesus was a mistake.
For one thing, they were experiencing persecution. Everything from discrimination in the marketplace to state-sponsored violence.
After a while, that kind of stuff takes a toll.
But that wasn’t all. These Jewish believers had also in many ways cut themselves off from their communities and families and social networks when they chose to believe. They were being ostracized and ridiculed by their own neighbors.
It’s no surprise to me that they had begun to drift in their faith. They wanted to stop being uncomfortable. They wanted the hardship to end. And they were willing to let their faith slip because of it.
But the author of Hebrews didn’t want to see these Christ-followers fall away. So he challenged his readers to stop the drift of their faith by calling them to do one simple thing: Endure. Develop some grit. Push through the hardship.
The big idea for them, and for us, is this:
If our faith is adrift, we must learn how to endure.
Alright, so let’s read what he has to say about this. Hebrews 12.
If you remember, last week we talked the importance of taking bold steps in your faith. We looked at Hebrews 11, where the writer gives this long list of people who believed, and had become heroes of the faith.
And now, as we turn to chapter 12, the writer continues his argument by saying that we need to endure as they did. Look at verse 1.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
Ok, right off the bat, we are introduced to an illustration of a foot race. Something the readers of this letter would have been very familiar with. Back then, just like today, the Olympic games were famous for showing off the absolute apex of humanity’s physical ability.
All over the Greco-Roman world, young men (sorry ladies) would have trained to compete.
When the writer of Hebrews talks about “the race God has set before us,” his readers would have had an immediate mental image in their mind. Young, fit (most likely naked) athletes straining with all their might to win the prize.
So the analogy here is a simple one, but it’s powerful. And it’s one that is really applicable to us today.
“You guys” - the author says - “You Christ-followers are the ones running this race of faith. All the godly heroes from generations past are on the sidelines cheering you on. But your job is to make it to the finish line. Your job is to endure.”
So how do we endure? Well, the author lays out three primary ways. Three challenges.
The first is this: If we want to endure, we must deal with our sin.
Look what he says in verse 1. “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.”
Now, it’s funny to imagine a race of a bunch of people running totally nude, but it’s kind of an important point.
When you are trying to run a race, you need to be light. To be nimble. There’s a reason elite running shoes are measured in tenths of ounces.
What he’s implying here is that allowing sin to exist unchallenged in our lives is like running with long, flowing robes and a backpack full of rocks. Sure, I guess it’s possible, but that’s not a winning strategy.
Sin trips us up.
If your faith is drifting right now, let me ask you something. Are you dealing with your sin?
There are people in this room who are hopelessly addicted to pornography and not doing a thing about it (because “aw, it’s hurting anybody”). You think you’re running the best race you can run with porn tripping you up at every step?
· Or those of you living together outside of marriage, because it’s just too hard to wait for sex.
· Or those of you letting unchecked greed take root at work, turning a blind eye to corruption.
· Or letting gluttony call the shots because “I deserve a little indulgence.”
· Willful pride.
· Blatant hate.
· Open dishonesty.
The problem is not that you sin. I sin. We all sin.
The problem comes when you stop caring that you sin. That’s when you get tripped up.
Now look. Dealing with sin is hard. It’s uncomfortable. It’s embarrassing because the first step in addressing our sin is confessing it. To God, yes. But also to the people in our spiritual community.
If you want to strip off the sin that so easily trips you up, somebody in your life is going to have to know about it. Being honest about our sin takes grit.
It is way easier to just drift along and not deal with it.
But if we want to endure, we must deal with our sin.
So that’s the first challenge. Deal with our sin. Let’s move on to the second. Look at the end of verse 1 again.
Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
So now we add another element to the race metaphor. The idea of keeping our eyes on Jesus as we run.
Jesus is a fellow sprinter in this race of faith. He’s the fastest - obviously - but by keeping our eyes on him, we can see how it’s done. His life is a model for how we are to endure.
Look at verse 3. “Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.”
Remember, the original recipients of this letter were facing near constant public scorn. The Jewish communities they had come from thought they were in a cult. The gentiles in their cities thought they were crazy.
“What. God became a man? You’re saying that your leader died on a Roman cross. And then what, rose from the grave?”
It’s no surprise that early Christians were ridiculed. It’s why Paul said this in his letter to the church in Corinth.
1 Corinthians 1:23
When we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say its all nonsense.
Back then the gospel was wildly countercultural. It wasn’t a popular lifestyle choice. Is it really all that different today?
I mean, sure. We live in a “Christian nation.” But I believe that truly following Christ still raises eyebrows even here.
· It means believing in an invisible God in a culture based on human reason.
· It means choosing to give generously in a world of consumeristic excess.
· It means avoiding immorality when everyone else says you’re being old fashioned.
· It means pursuing God’s dreams for the world instead of the American Dream.
· It means proclaiming a message of hope in a very cynical age.
Being a Christ-follower - a real one - will bring ridicule. It will make people uncomfortable. And every one of us will face the temptation to compromise on our convictions to save ourselves from embarrassment.
What do we do in those circumstances? What do we do when the race is exhausting? When giving up and playing it safe seems like the only acceptable option? What do we do?
We endure. We develop some grit.
How? Verse 2. “We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.”
Jesus showed us what it means to endure the ridicule of the world. He was the living embodiment of grit. We can follow his example.
Jesus took his faith all the way to the cross. Are we willing to at least stand up for what we believe and face a little embarrassment?
If we want to endure, we must defend our faith with boldness.
Alright. We must deal with our sin. We must defend our faith with boldness. Let’s look at the third challenge this passage gives us. Verse 5.
And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said,
“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”
As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father?
Skip to verse 10.
For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.
Ok. This passage can be a little uncomfortable. For one thing, this idea of fatherly discipline leaves a real sour taste in peoples’ mouths today.
Some of us might have grown up being spanked. It was always done in love, and it was exactly what we needed when we were acting like little sociopaths.
But far too many people have experienced real, physical abuse at the hands of their earthly fathers or mothers. And the idea that God would also abuse his children is abhorrent.
So I want to be clear. The discipline the author of Hebrews is talking about here is not abuse. This isn’t harmful.
At the time this was written, a father’s role was to be the primary trainer and educator of his children.
Yes, sometimes that involved corporal punishment, but it also involved loving correction and rebuke when the kids were getting off track.
The father’s job was to shape his children into men and women of integrity, strength, and honor.
And in the context of this whole passage about running a race and developing endurance, the father’s discipline looks a lot more like that of a coach - standing on the sidelines with a whistle in his mouth, pushing us to be stronger than we ever thought possible.
That’s what God’s discipline is all about here. So this is the third challenge we have to face.
If we want to endure, we must let God shape us.
Ok, so what exactly does that look like? How do we know the stuff we’re going through is from God and not just the brokenness of this world?
Well, the short answer is, we don’t. We don’t know.
When we face difficulties or trials of some kind, it may be that God is using them to train and shape us. It’s also possible that they’re just plain happening to us. Right? The world is messy.
But either way, whether God caused this pain or not, we can be confident that our Father is right there beside us, our trainer, our coach, who wants us to fight, get stronger, and “run with endurance the race he has set before us.”
God uses challenging circumstances to shape us into stronger followers of Christ.
Paul said something similar in his letter to the church in Rome.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
Let me give you a specific example. I recently experienced what I think was God’s discipline. It wasn’t fun.
Back in January I received some criticism about my work here at Grace and it cut pretty deep. Now, I’m all about getting honest feedback, because I genuinely want to get better at what I do, but this stuff hit me right in the middle of all of my deepest insecurities.
For a few hours I was an emotional basket case. My first reaction was to say, “It’s true. I’m not cut out for this. I shouldn’t be here. I’m giving up. So long. Thank you for everything. Have a wonderful life.”
But as I prayed about this and wrestled, I didn’t feel any sense of God’s judgment or disapproval. Instead, I felt more like he was standing next to me saying, “Dude. Get up out of the dust. I know that’s not all you’ve got. These comments may hurt, but they are going to make you stronger in the end. Come on. Get up. Let’s run another lap.”
And guess what? I did get back up. I searched for truth in the comments, I owned the areas I could be doing better. And completely out of nowhere, God began giving me new perspectives and insights about myself.
In the end, I was stronger and more passionate about my work. And somehow, those negative comments became fuel to launch me into a whole new season of ministry. I don’t understand it, but I’m in a better place now than I was before I got criticized!
God used those comments to shape me. As verse 11 says,
“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening. But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living.”
If we want to endure, we must let God shape us.
Alright. Let’s recap.
We are running a race. This world wants us to fail. But we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on.
If we want to make it to the finish line and stop the drift o our faith, we must endure.
So let me ask you. Where do you most need to endure? Where can you stand to develop a little more grit?
Do you need to strip off the sin that’s tripping you up? Maybe it’s time for you to find someone you trust and confess. Endure the awkwardness. Get that weight off your shoulders so you can run free.
Maybe you need to be done with this weak sauce Christianity you’ve been peddling, and actually develop a faith of boldness. Endure the ridicule. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who showed us what it means to live a countercultural faith.
Or maybe it’s time to stop avoiding the discipline of God. To push through the challenging circumstances you’re facing. Endure God’s training. Face your shortcomings with humility and allow God to show you how strong you can really be.
I want to close with my favorite verse from this whole passage, verse 12.
So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.
Your faith can be powerful. God can use you to change lives. To transform your community. To alter the very course of human history. You.
But to do any of that, you’re going to need a little bit of grit.
1. Deal with your sin.
2. Defend your faith with boldness.
3. Let God shape you.
Stop the drift of your faith by taking a new grip. Strengthen your weak knees, friends.
We have a race to run, and it is time for us to endure.