Faith column: Look up to Jesus
As you run this race of life, he is there for you.
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set out before us” (Hebrews 12:1)
WORTHINGTON — I am currently training for my first marathon, a 26.2-mile race. This Saturday, I will run 16 miles. However, several weeks back I went out to run 4 miles on a hot summer evening and my body and brain were not going to have it. My legs felt like concrete and my lungs felt like they were half their normal size.
I was half a mile into the run and all I could think about was quitting. My brain and body were pounding “It’s too hard! Just give up! You can’t do this! Why am I doing this!?” I had just run 13.1 miles a week earlier and yet this was the hardest run in my entire training, but I completed it.
As a reader, you may be wondering, “Why would you even put yourself through this?” Sometimes, I wonder that, too. LOL. Joking aside, I like to put myself through challenges, because in these events I learn about myself, life in general and ultimately about God. This way I am also better equipped for the unexpected and unwanted challenges that come with living in a broken world.
One experience common to running long distances is called “hitting the wall.” Hitting the wall is this psychological barrier where the grind of running builds and you face a barrier where everything in you says, “Why am I doing this?” “Stop running!” “You can’t make it any farther!” “Just give up!”
People can hit the wall at different lengths and stages of running. For some people it’s 3 miles or 7 miles or 17 miles. Some of you are thinking, “I hit the wall getting off the couch or just thinking about running.”
When you hit the wall, your energy and thoughts are drawn inward. There is this tractor beam, this gravitational pull, this compelling force to look inward and trust your emotions and experience, “I can’t … I can’t … give up… abort!”
You don’t have to be a runner to hit the wall. This happens to us in life — in our jobs, in marriage, with our kids or parents, with our own mental health. We face times when we hit this invisible barrier and we just don’t feel like we can keep going, or we’ve “lost that loving feeling,” or we can’t see any light at the end of the grind or our troubles and trials.
This internal voice emerges, “This is just too hard! Why do I even try? How am I going to get through this?”
Have you experienced this? On the one hand, you know it’s not true, you know that you are capable of more than what your mind is telling you. On the other hand, that voice seems so emotionally compelling and convincing. Your experience and emotions want to define you and your perception of reality.
It’s precisely at this moment that the author of Hebrews is shouting encouragement to us like a coach cheering on his runner, “Let us run the race with endurance.” Persevere through the wall! You are capable of so much more than what you think or feel! We can’t let our experience or emotions determine our behavior or define reality.
The author of Hebrews writes this message about running the race of life with perseverance because followers of Jesus 2,000 years ago were hitting the wall. It was increasingly difficult to follow Jesus due to persecution and discrimination in a world hostile to the gospel truth of our sinfulness and salvation through King Jesus alone. Their external stressors stirred up the internal experience and emotions of escape. They were struggling to endure through the persecution and discrimination. They couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. They didn’t feel like they had what it took to keep going.
The author doesn’t merely cheer them on with empty inspiration. He coaches them on the source of power for their perseverance.
“Fix your eyes on Jesus…” (Heb 12:2)
Where is your focus … to what are you looking for inspiration, for direction, for truth? The author of Hebrews is saying, “Don’t look in… look up!”
“Look to Jesus, the founder and completer of your faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross….”
Jesus started your faith and he wants to strengthen it so you can finish running your race. Jesus doesn’t merely cheer you on as an inexperienced observer. He set the example by pushing through the wall, by enduring Hell on the cross for you. Not only is his example compelling, but so is his motivation. It was for joy that he went to suffer on the cross for you. He delights in you. Even in your worst, he loves you and he died for you. He was compelled by love, not by his emotions or experience.
Wherever you are in your race, don’t look in, look up. Look to Jesus. Like a gentle father who sees his child frustrated and discouraged with a task and wants to give up, Jesus gently takes your face in his hands and lovingly instructs you to look at him, look in his eyes.
“I love you, I’m here with you, let’s do this together.”
As you run this race of life, look to Jesus. He is not only the role model, but he is the powerful means for running with endurance through every wall we hit in this life. Friends, when you hit the wall, remember: Don’t look in, look up! Look to Jesus!
Rev. Scott Barber is pastor of Grace Community Church in Worthington.