2 Corinthians 11:23-28
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one--I am talking like a madman--with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches
When I was in high school I absolutely hated long-distance running. Football, basketball, soccer, bring it on! But long distance running... ugh. If I had to, I could run the track during football or basketball training; once or twice around was doable, but it was long distance running that I avoided like the plague. Why was that? Truth be told, I couldn’t get into the prize. The goal just didn’t warrant the pain. The end did not justify the means. A ribbon? A medal? Bragging rights? Come on. “Not worth the pain”, I reasoned, and besides, I wasn't very good at it anyway. At some point along the run, every runner experiences the sense that if they continue for much longer, they just might die. That's the point where those who endure would push through and find their second or third wind and those who don't, like me, would give up. It was an attitude that coursed throughout every vein in my life at that time and one which, if I'm going to be honest, I still fight with now. Since I hated to be pushed beyond my limitations, hated to have to work at anything in order to gain mastery of it, it shouldn't come as a surprise that my life was characterized by the path of least resistance. I eventually dropped out of college and became the quintessential prodigal. At this point I think it expedient to make the observation that endurance is a character trait; it both produces and is a product of good character. I thank God He arrested me when He did.
In 1998 I made a commitment to Jesus Christ, asking him to be Lord of my life. Embracing again the God of my youth, I gave my life to Him and told Him He could use me as He would. Little did I know then, (I thought I knew, but I really didn’t and likely still don’t), how much of a long-distance run the Christian life really is. In 1999 I met my wife, Candice, and in 2000 we were married. Again, though I thought I knew, I really had no idea what a long-distance run it is to commit to love someone for the rest of your life. So we were married and began to have children right away. In fact, 9 months later our first child came along. We had made the decision not to use birth-control, but to trust God even with our family size. A noble decision to be sure, but again - not a clue how much endurance that decision would require of me. Now, seven children later and physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted, I wonder what on earth I was thinking!
Well do I remember the words of a friend, a man with seven children who I met when I only had one, “Get into the Word now Joe”, he said, “Fill yourself with the Word while you can, because the day is coming when you won’t have time and you’ll need what you’ve stored up just to get you through.” So did I heed his warning? Perhaps not as well as I could have, but I’m so glad for what I hid in my heart during those early years with God. Though I can’t be sure, God's grace is supernatural, I don’t think I would be standing today were it not for that time. In Proverbs 24:16 we read that "a righteous man stumbles seven times and rises again..." Thank God.
Several times in the Bible, God tells us to stand. He tells us in Hebrews 12:1 to run with endurance the race that is set before us and for someone who hates long-distance running, this is a challenge of epic proportions. We're told to consider Jesus, who suffered and resisted and stood firm, and didn’t give up, but allowed Himself, God in the flesh, who had at his disposal more than 12 legions of angels just waiting to rescue Him should he have but spoken the word, to be brutally tortured and murdered by godless people in a Satanic display of hatred. Why? He had His eyes on the prize, the "joy that was set before him."
So when my children are sick, or I’m tired, or my wife is emotional (come on men), or I have to repair drywall, paint a room, stain a deck, sell a house, buy a car, pay my bills, lead worship, minister to children, wear wrinkled clothes, deal with nasty neighbours and unbelieving family members, talk to someone I don’t like, deal with conflict among church members, take a stand for Christ at work or any number of other lovely, real life quarter-miles, will I endure in God? As long as my life is my own, I won’t. I’ll throw in the towel and say, “this is too hard Lord, I need to think about me here!” This is why Jesus says in Mark 8:35, "For whoever would save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it." It's the glorious second and third wind. Then there's Paul’s list in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28; did he go through all that for a gold medal? No medal in all the world could motivate someone to endure what he endured. His second and third wind came from the Holy Spirit, which is a whole other topic - the all-sufficiency of Christ in us.
So, I’m somewhere along the 5th mile in a 100 mile run. Only God can bring me through, and only if my eyes are fixed on Jesus. This I know, and though I still hate long-distance running - I'm in good company and I can see the prize, and that makes all the difference.