And so, dear reader, the year of endurance is almost over. Rejoice! Celebrate! Kill the fatted calf and pour the drinks! Next year I’m gonna be the Queen of quitting.
I’d love to have a nice shiny pearl of wisdom to impart to you, some eloquent revelation about endurance and what it means. But all I have is three words – stay with it.
Endurance is about staying with it when you’re tired, when you’ve run out of options, when you just want to give up and all you have left is an itsy bitsy teenie weenie tiny glimmer of mustard seed sized hope.
Stay with it – stay with doing hard and holy things, stay with believing God for impossible things, stay with brazen hope, just stay with God through it all in this season you are in." Ann Voskamp
2017 has not been my favourite year (17 is a prime number so we were already off to a bad start - prime numbers are selfish and I don’t like them). But if nothing else, this absolute non-ironic 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife kinda year has taught me that sometimes all you can do is take a deep breath, take your shoes off (it’s grounding) and choose to stay with God.
Endurance is about sticking with faith/hope/love through the minutes/hours/days/weeks/months that started with such promise but seemed to crash and burn despite your very best laid plans of prayers and intentions. Endurance is about sticking with it through the doubt, the fears and tears. Endurance is making decisions based on faith and not fear. Endurance is about staying with the hard and holy things. [Disclaimer: Endurance is not about staying with the abusive, unboundaried and destructive things. Run like you’re about to miss the last train home from those.]
Stay with brazen/bold/barefaced/shameless/unabashed/audacious/unashamed hope – I JUST LOVE THIS.
The secret to endurance? It’s there, written to a people who were being beaten up, jailed and killed for choosing to follow Jesus. We endure by keeping our eyes on Jesus. The number of times I have had to relearn this lesson over the past 12 months is quite frankly embarrassing.
When we take our eyes from Jesus we can find ourselves looking at the situation and start to sink, just like Peter walking to Jesus on water. The weight of what we carry can seem too big. We forget that Jesus invites all those wearied and burdened to come to him for rest.
I used to think endurance was about continuing to move forwards through the difficult things. But actually, maybe it’s sometimes just about staying on the course - sticking with faith and hope and love when absolutely everything tells you to give up.
Endurance is Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego about to be burnt to death – “We know our God is able to save us, but even ifHe doesn’t, we will not worship your idols.” They had brazen unashamed wild hope, and yet acknowledged that God might not intervene. They based their decisions on faith and not fear. They had faith enough to keep believing, faith enough to stay in the race and faith enough to not let their situation dictate their actions “even if…”
Endurance is faith enough to stay with it. Faith enough to pray through the mountains in our way and faith enough to not be offended by prayers unanswered. Faith enough to say this:
I know You're able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand. But even if You don't, my hope is You alone." Mercyme
My prayer for you in 2018 is that you stay with the hard and holy things with brazen/bold/barefaced/shameless/unabashed/audacious/unashamed hope.
Stay with it babe. In hope and anticipation of the absolute JOY to come in 2018.
Much love x x
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. 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 honour beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. Hebrews 12v 1-
This time last year I was the fittest I'd ever been. Today I ate my body weight in chocolate, crisps and ice cream - the no sugar detox met its happy end as soon as someone at work offered me a doughnut. I can feel my muscles disintegrating as I type. Never did I regret my lack of fitness more than when I somehow found myself here:
Pretty incredible right? (and I don't just mean my beautiful self)
Don't be fooled. What you can't see is how I'd spent the 45 minutes before this photo was taken - testing the patience of my hiking extraordinaire Norwegian partner-in-climb by clinging to the rockface praying “Lord have mercy, O Jesus” with every step up and every foot climbed higher. This was a place where an over or under balance, a misstep or overstep could send you tumbling 700m down to a freezing cold lake. We passed at least one person frozen to the rock, tears streaming down their face, family and friends trying to coax/bully them to move forward.
It reminded me of an oft forgotten truth – sometimes the amazing and perplexing things of God require us to first push through and embrace nerves and uncertainty.
The Besseggen Ridge is a 14km hike over a ridge of mountains. And it’s called a ridge for a reason - most of the hike is a pathway through the wilderness but a good 2km is a narrow narrow narrow path along the ridge - think, steps into Mordor but with better views and no Gollum. At some points, you literally have to use your hands and feet to climb up the mountain. Incredibly, some people actually take their dogs - what can I say, Norwegians be hardcore.
At one check point the sign cheerily informs you that the route ahead is narrow and hard, but there is an alternative route - 4km longer but less perilous. Not gonna lie.
I was tempted.
I'd admired the scenery, walked at least 10km and scaled some scary rock walls, a nice gentle, flat stroll around a lake sounded like a rather jolly ending to the day. But it wasn't what we set out to do. We would have reached the end happy to have made it and with some lovely photos of the lake but wondering what we missed seeing from the mountain top.
It’s so cliché, but we really do have to take that first step up the mountain and then another and then another and then another. Keep stepping through the nerves, keep stepping through the fear, leaning on faith to hold us up, give us hope and help us endure.
Sometimes endurance is pressing on through fear and uncertainty, trusting the evidence of things we cannot yet see, confident that what we hope for is going to happen.
“But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if he doesn’t come through.” Francis Chan
When we’re walking with God at our side there is no risk. Need to hear a great message on this? Listen here.
The potential for the amazing and perplexing move of God is just right over the line from safe and comfortable and right through terrifyingly exciting, unpredictable and uncontrollable. It would take too long to recount the stories of faith of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Mary, Ruth, David, Samuel and all the prophets. Did they have to face terrifyingly exciting and uncertain? Sure but by faith these people overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice and received what God had promised them.
Ever been there? Faced with two options. One tough but potentially rewarding, the other slightly more gentle but a possible less dramatic finish? Ever been tired of the climb and ready for something else? Ever been frozen in fear unable to move forward and just as unable to move back? That's ok. Me too.
Take heart, keep your eyes on Jesus, put on the armour of God and pray. For the eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. 2 Chronicles 16v9
"Sometimes the power of prayer is the power to carry on. It doesn't always change your circumstances but it gives you the strength to walk through them...the burden is taken off of your shoulders and put on the shoulders of Him who carried the cross to Calvary." Mark Batterson
So I managed to drag my sister out of bed for another Saturday morning run and even a bank holiday Monday one today too! This time she only thought she was going to die once. I call that progress. Although some old lady did overtake us a couple of times. Whatever. We got out of bed to run, neither of us threw up, fainted or cried. I call that progress.
This week I was reminded of how important it is to focus on running YOUR race.
No-one can run your race but you and you can't run anyone else's. So why do we spend so much time comparing our race to everyone else's?
Running with endurance means we need to avoid distraction from constantly looking around to see where everyone else is and then stopping to comfort eat cake and compare our race, our lives, to theirs. We look at our shaky start on faltering legs and compare it to their solid and sturdy beginning. We look at how their path stays so straight and wanders far less than ours (THEY DIDN'T EVEN GET STUCK IN THE WOODS OR AT THE BAR). We look at how they didn't get distracted by Netflix and just give up for a while. We look at the numerous people cheering them on and compare it to the few who seem interested in our progress. We look at how easy they make it seem to run without breaking a sweat, melting their makeup, getting injured or slowing down.
I'm not saying don't look around at all - where would be without the cloud of witnesses, the encouragement of saints both old and new, those who ran before us and those running alongside us? I'm not saying don't look around and see those who may be struggling and in need of encouragement - cheer them on with banners proclaiming they have the X-factor too!
But to run with endurance, to not let comparison hinder us, we need to fix our eyes on our goal, on our purpose, on Jesus.
And so, 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 (including comparison), especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. Hebrews 12v1-2
So take a new grip with your tired hands and stand firm on your shaky legs. Mark out a straight path for your feet. Then those who follow you, though they are weak and lame, will not stumble and fall but will become strong. Hebrews 12v12-13
I didn’t choose it. Who in their right mind would? It was given to me and I wanted to give it straight back. Because who wants a year in which they have to endure things? Wouldn’t you much rather have a year that is wild or free or joyful? WHERE CAN I SIGN UP FOR THOSE?
To me, endurance means struggle and endurance means suffering. Sure, you learn and grow during the process, both good things, but can’t I just read a nice book about it instead?
So, I’ve started running again because what better way to teach me about endurance than forcing myself out of bed on a Saturday morning to run. My loathing of running is well documented and I would normally only run when I'm walking home from the train station in the dark convinced there's a mad axe man just behind me – I live in Zone 6 (the wilderness of London) and everyone knows mad axe men live in the countryside.
I've come to the conclusion I mostly think endurance is about running because of this:
“and let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.” Hebrews 12v1
It’s there, In the word -running and endurance go together. Which is all well and good when you’re at the side-lines cheering on a friend, but when you've started your race strong and now you're starting to strain and tire in the middle and just want to give up, catch your breath and eat an ice cream what do you do? How do you get to that seemingly impossible that Usain Bolt finish?
“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward.” v2
We keep our eyes, our focus on Jesus. The same Jesus who endured a crucifixion because of the joy that was awaiting him.
“Now he is seated in the place of highest honour besides God’s throne in heaven. Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don’t become weary and give up.” v2-3
My inner psychologist tells me that there’s probably a whole heap of research documenting the link between being able to endure for longer when you have a motivating focus or a goal. But Job knew it too: But I do not have the strength to endure. I do not have a goal that encourages me to carry on. Job 6v11
So, as I do when I encounter ideas and questions and just life in general really, I crowdsource some answers and different perspectives from friends far and wide. Fortunately, my friends are (generally) far wiser and less prone to drama than me and in the midst of my “Endurance, why me?” lament one of them told me this:
“I would say in my perspective that endurance can be enjoyed. The reality is it's all about perspective. Think about an endurance athlete, whom I am assuming loves their sport enough to endure it. Maybe what you're trying to say is endurance is not easy or comfortable. The body is designed in such a way that we actually adapt. While the ratio of endurance muscle to quick movement muscle doesn't change, our ability to effectively move oxygen through our body from our blood improves drastically. The heart and lungs are strained far less when a person is trained than untrained. In that regard, I would think endurance is something that is very worthwhile.”
Urgh, don’t you just hate it when people seem reluctant to indulge your pity party and instead tell you that you’re looking at it wrong? Who even needs friends like that? And I didn’t even know there were such things as endurance muscle and quick movement muscle. I thought there were just normal muscles and then those-guys-who-are-always-doing-weights-at-the-gym muscles.
And so, apparently, endurance isn’t all bad. It’s dedication and commitment and training. Its fixing your eyes on the goal/joy to come/Jesus. Its knowing its worth the work and discomfort. And oh yes, endurance is about running.
I think Endurance is also about hope because if you don't have hope in the result or what you're focusing on surely you'd give up? More on this next time.