When Suffering, Focus Your Faith (Part 1)

One of the shows that our family enjoys watching on television is “American Ninja Warrior.”  Men and women face an unbelievable obstacle course in which most competitors never finish.  The last episode we watched had 30 competitors, only 2 finished.  In this obstacle course, there are two halves.  Usually, by the second half the guys’ shirts usually come off.  Some I’m sure do it out of vanity to show off their ripped bodies.  Some do it out of excitement.  But there is a chance that some do it to shed weight and add more friction between their bodies and the course.

Professional runners do not run with regular sneakers.  They have sneakers specifically designed for them.  They are nearly weightless.  The story has been told of a sprinter who had to wear a pair of shoes that weighed just a couple of ounces more than his normal running shoe.  He lost the race by tenths of a second, blaming the loss on the weight of the shoe.

Life is not a sprint; it is a marathon.  But it is more than a marathon; it is a marathon with an obstacle course.  Most of us are trying to run this race with a ruck sack on our back.  We may have sins that slow us down.  We may have worries that hold us back.  We may have brokenness that we can’t or won’t let go of.  And life, that is already hard enough in this fallen world, becomes nearly unbearable.  You may be getting to the point where you no longer want to run the race.  You want to quit where you are.  You question if it is even worth the effort.

This is a question that young people are asking; it is a question that old people are asking.  Some are ready to give up entirely, others are wanting to just walk the rest of the way.  If they make progress then okay, but if they don’t make that much headway that’s okay too.  How is it that we can avoid this kind of limping along?  How can we regain the strength to run until the finish line is behind us?  The first thing, I would say is that we need to remember–remember those of old.

What we need to remember is that we are not the first people to run this race.  In fact, the writer of Hebrews tell us: “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us,” (Hebrews 12.1, HCSB).  This word for witnesses is deceiving.  We read this in English and it makes us feel like we are being watched from heaven.  But that wasn’t the intent of the author.  The word for witness is a judicial word.  As in: “I’d like to call my first witness.”  It’s a person who testifies about what he or she has seen.  It is not meant to say that the person is watching us.  So it would be accurate to say that we have a large cloud of testifiers surrounding us.

Who are these testifiers? Those the writer mentioned in Hebrews 11 (and really all who died in the faith).  People like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rahab, and more!  But if they are not witnesses of us. What are they witness of?  What are they testifying to?  That it was all worth it.  That finishing the race is possible.  Finishing the race running is doable.

We have Abel who knew God well enough to know that blood was the required sacrifice, and offered the best of his flock by faith to God.  We have Enoch who lived such a life that it is said he walked with God, and then was not because God took him to heaven.  We have Noah who spent 120 years building a large boat because God said there would eventually be a flood.  We have Abraham who left everything for God.  When God told him he would have a son being 75 years old with a 65 year old barren wife, he believed God.  We have Sarah who though she laughed at the idea of getting pregnant now 89 years old, believed God could do it.  Moses is made much of, because he was brought up in Pharaoh’s household.  He had everything he could ever want or need, and he gave it all up because it didn’t compare with what was to come from God.  Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho.  She gave up life as a prostitute, life in the city, because she believed God would do as God had said.

All of them are testimonies that the race can be run and won.  So the next time you feel bitter toward someone or some situation, perhaps it would be good to go back and read the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50.  Perhaps you are just drained, exhausted from the daily grind of doing the same thing day in and day out, whether rearing children or driving a truck, maybe a reading of Noah in Genesis 6-8 might be in order.  You’ve maybe lost loved ones, close friends and family, and there is all this pain inside.  Reading Ruth or even Job might be good medicine.  Don’t read these with the idea of “at least I’m not…” rather read them to see that these people went through something similar to me and they came out on the other side.

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