“Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.”—Hebrews 12:1 (CSB)
There’s a huge need for endurance in the Kingdom of God today, but it’s not being talked about enough. Hebrews reveals the need for us to run the race marked out for us. More importantly, we must run the race with endurance.
THE CHALLENGE WE FACE
Billy Graham started ministry with many strident Kingdom runners who could arguably have been stronger preachers or more impressive personalities. However, so few of them finished their race. Recently, a former classmate of mine noted, as I’m about to celebrate 50 years in vocational ministry, “You know, only two remain in vocational ministry from among all the guys you trained with.”
There were scores of students in my class…
What in the world happened?
The startling reality, even in the ministerial world right now, is that so many full-time pastors and ministry workers are quitting. Every day, everywhere Kingdom Laborers face the same reality.
Running the race is hard.
And the heartbreaking truth is that the requirement of endurance causes many to exit the race.
So, how do we run the race with endurance? What does that look like?
4 TIPS TO RUN THE RACE WITH ENDURANCE
Here are 4 practical tips to help you run the race with endurance.
- Fix Your Eyes beyond the Finish Line
I was a competitive runner. My sport was track. I recall my coach emphatically telling me, “Fix your eyes beyond the finish line. Don’t focus on the finish line and barely make it across. Look beyond the finish line to someone standing on the other side.”
For all of us, we must fix our eyes on Jesus, the One we want to hear on the other side of the finish line, saying, “Well done, good and faithful laborer!” Look beyond the finish line, your eyes continuously fixed “on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2, CSB).
I’ve been privileged to be around vibrant people whose lives radiate the glory of God well in their 90s. These people modeled an extra kick later in life, far beyond what others would have expected. Where did that extra kick come from?
They were full of the strength of the Spirit of God because they fixed their eyes on Jesus! Their fiery ongoing love for God was the extra passion and spiritual fuel needed to be running with endurance into their ninth decade of life!
Hebrews tells us, “For the joy that lay before him, [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning the shame” (Hebrews 12:2, CSB). While Jesus endured inconceivable pain and suffering, He fixed His eyes on the joy beyond the finish line!
Delayed gratification is common among devoted students and athletes who work hard and train diligently to achieve monumental educational and physical feats. They steadfastly focus not on the strain of training difficulties but rather beyond the finish line at happy rewards they envision and expect to enjoy ahead.
Previous generations suffering hardships in life often sang songs about Heaven. Like Jesus, their eyes were focused beyond the tough challenges being faced to the hope and promise of Heaven’s joys ahead.
How did Jesus endure while hanging on a cruel cross?
Hebrews tells us Jesus focused beyond the cross at “the joy set before Him.” He focused on His Father’s will, telling His disciples, “My meat is to do the will of Him who sent me.” He’d settled an internal battle of the will after wrestling with and finally declaring in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” This resolve to accomplish the will of the One who’d sent Him enabled Jesus to endure all the way to His triumphant declaration, “It is finished.” Jesus knew his mission. He fixed His gaze on the will of the Father, and for the “joy set before Him,” endured and “finished” the mission.
Only as we look beyond ourselves and our circumstances, fixing our eyes on Jesus and focusing on the reward beyond the finish line, can we run the race with endurance.
- Be Inspired & Encouraged by the Endurance of Those Who’ve Run before Us
As a boy, I was gifted a paperback book on the adventurous missionary life of John Patton. Each stirring chapter revealed challenges, difficult situations, and what it took to engage hard things with endurance to get the Gospel to people who had never heard its message.
I finished the first book so fast that the same person handed me another book about David Livingston, the trailblazing missionary. I continued devouring similar biographical books for years. It became my way to get up close and learn from people who faced persecution and hardship and yet continued to run the race with endurance.
As a teenager, I ran track. During an early season practice, the coach ran us off the school grounds and down a country road. Huffing and puffing, I asked my friend, “Where does this go?” My friend said, “It goes nowhere. We aren’t going to see the school for a long time.”
Soon, the guys were holding their sides, barely able to make another step. Over the next two hours, each runner eventually found their way back to the gymnasium, where the coach sought individual conversations with the runner. When he reached my locker, he said, “So, Robertson, what do you think?”
I responded, “Well, I think you proved it’s going to be hard.”
“Yep, it’s going to be hard. So, you going to quit?”
“No, sir, I replied.
“We’ll see,” he said before he exited the locker room.
By the time our first track meet was to occur, more than half of those who’d signed up and shown up for a while were no longer with us.
Eventually, Coach Taylor asked me, “Robertson, why don’t you quit?”
There was no hesitation in my response.
“Because it’s worth it to me.”
And when the season came to an end, and awards were announced, with a trophy in hand, I almost shouted, “It was hard, but it was worth it!”
Running the race with endurance is worth it! The mission Jesus has given us, the race marked out for us, is worth it. Reading noteworthy life-legacy testimonies of others who endured helps us remember this.
Forge’s book It’s My Turn provides 20 such mini biographies that will encourage you to run the race with endurance, as John Patton and David Livingston encouraged me. Find it HERE.
- Be Supernaturally Strengthened
God wants to help you run the race with endurance.
He offers you supernatural strength in Isaiah 41:10, “I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand,” (CSB).
I often begin my day with upward cupped hands before My Provider. This was the way Israelites used to pray, receiving strength from Jehovah Jireh, God Our Provider.
And if you will let Him (especially as things get hard), He will carry you when you can’t carry on.
Stephen Curtis Chapman, in his early songwriting days, wrote a song called “His Strength is Perfect,” never imagining he and his family would eventually face unimaginable tragedy and loss. But no matter the pain or hardship, the race Stephen was called to run as a young man, he’s still running. His testimonial life and song lyrics reveal a poignant truth:
“His strength is perfect when our strength is gone
He’ll carry us when we can’t carry on
Raised in His power, the weak become strong
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect
We can only know
The power that He holds
When we truly see how deep our weakness goes
His strength in us begins
Where ours comes to an end
He hears our humble cry and proves again
His strength is perfect when our strength is gone”
My friend, you and I will get to the end of ourselves (more than once). But as we reach upward and cling to God in the threatening storms of life, His supernatural strength is there to steady us and supply what we need to endure.
- Expect the Race to Be Hard, but Know He’s with You, and He Is Worth It!
The honest, forthright invitation of Jesus to “take up your cross, and follow me” reveals there is a “cost” to follow. But the joy of getting to be up close with Him as we “follow” is an indescribable and often unexpected “reward.” Difficult “crosses” do cost us something. But the rewarding closeness of His Presence as we share in “the fellowship of His sufferings” becomes such a cherished treasure that you will often hear people say of whatever they went through, “I wouldn’t trade it for anything!”
They experienced “intimacy with God” at such a deeper and more profound level that any hardship was totally eclipsed by the glory and joy of His intimate presence with them through it all.
No wonder songwriter Andraé Crouch, in his song “Through It All,” wrote the following: “Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus. I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned I can depend upon His word.”
There is an eventual fondness in the discovery of what suffering brings when we lean into God and personally experience the truth of His promise, “I will never leave or forsake you.” Remember, He has promised to be “a very present help in times of trouble.” In your troubles, let your pursuit of Him and the boundless provisions of His presence and resources surpass your suffering, and “under His wings,” embrace the intangible gifts of His joy and peace.
Whatever you previously heard or thought, reorient yourself around the natural idea that the race will be hard, but (know and declare) He is worth it!
As a young guy, when I’d hear people sharing testimonies that revealed great sacrifice and hardship, I’d think, “Man, if you’re trying to attract me to the Christian life or being a Kingdom laborer, telling me ’It’s hard’ isn’t the way.” I wanted to run—in the opposite direction.
However, I think the surprising thing is that because I was exposed to that message, I was more prepared when the hard moments came. And now, I understand and fully agree with Andre Crouch’s “Through It All” verse three lyrics, “So I thank God for the mountains, I even thank God for my valleys, I thank Him for the storms He’s brought me through. For if I’d never had a problem, I wouldn’t know that God could solve them, and I’d never know what Faith in my God can do.”
There are secret things about being a Christian that you can only discover in hard times. But know that when it costs you something, there will also likely be a new discovery about God’s character and a new personal record of God’s faithfulness and His promises fulfilled.
Corrie ten Boom suffered through the holocaust and watched her sister Betsy die in a concentration camp. The suffering, hardship, and persecution she endured were unimaginable. When I was young, I remember hearing her say with a glisten in her eye, “There is no pit that the love of God will not go deeper.”
She’d come to know there is a closeness with Christ in suffering, not experienced any other way. Becoming so frail and weak within yourself that His nearness and friendship become “far better than life” is known only when we endure with Him.
In the fourth chapter of Hebrews, we read, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15, CSB). No, we have One who knows and understands and will meet us in the depths of our desperation.
A dear friend battling terminal cancer placed an unforgettable quote in my hand during his bout with brain cancer, which said, “When you get to the end of all you have, that’s when you will know He is all you will ever need.”
I recall the anguish my wife and I were experiencing over years of repeatedly suffering the shock and painful loss of multiple miscarriages. Even now, deep emotions well up inside me as I recall this painful season of grief. Recently, my sweet wife, while describing being shaken to her core, said, “I lost my moorings, my balance, and hope deferred made my heart sick. I became numb toward God and everyone else in my life.” Her emotions went on “pause.”
My husband prayers were desperate: “Lord, only you can find my wife.” It seemed she was lost in a dark fog of sorrow and despair, numb to every other available joy in life. I feared I’d lost her. Or that she’d lost herself. Or, most importantly, had she lost God in the midst of it all. I cried out again, “God, if you don’t rescue her, who can? We’re sinking. Help!”
The next morning, at about 4:30 a.m., I tiptoed down to the lower level of our home and sat with my Bible open. And in all my years of living, I would say what transpired next was the most tender time I’ve ever known with The Lord. And then later that same day, my wife also experienced the nearness of God in a way she never had before. In the midst of such a hard season of life, Jesus showed up, and His Presence made all the difference.
ARE YOU READY TO RUN THE RACE WITH ENDURANCE?
There is an indescribable tenderness that becomes an eventual cherished highlight in your Christian life memory bank when the Lord Himself was near you.
This world needs more Kingdom Laborers who will
- Fix their eyes beyond the finish line
- Be encouraged by the endurance of those who’ve run before us
- Expect the race to be hard, be supernaturally strengthened
- Know He is with us (every step of the way), and He is worth it!
Will you run the race with endurance? If you will, one thing is certain: You will not be running alone!
Continue the Conversation: Listen to this blog and more on the Forge podcast at FuelForTheHarvest.com.