fruit of the spirit

Joyful Endurance

“We look away from the natural realm and we fasten our gaze onto Jesus…His example is this: Because his heart was focused on the joy of knowing you would be his, he endured the agony of the cross and conquered its humiliation…” (Hebrews 12:2)

Many people in my family are fast and athletic, but not me. I’m slow and uncoordinated. In spite of this, I joined the track team my senior year in high school and ran the two-mile event. I don’t know what it’s like to come in first place to the cheers of adoring fans, but I do know what it means to endure until I finally finished the two-mile course.

Running a two-mile race is hard. Running a marathon is harder. In Hebrews 12:1, life is represented as a marathon. Just like a marathon, life requires endurance.

When we fix our gaze on Jesus, we run our races well. “We look away from the natural realm and we fasten our gaze onto Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1). When we ignore Jesus, our example, and look instead on the circumstances of our lives, we struggle to endure.

Jesus didn’t focus on his circumstances. He endured by focusing on joy. “…Because his heart was focused on the joy of knowing that you would be his, he endured the agony of the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2).

When Jesus was going through the agony of crucifixion, he didn’t focus on the pain. He focused on the joy he would have in the future when his pain secured our redemption. He joyfully endured his painful present because he was confident of his joyful future.

The Greek word for “endured,” in Hebrews 12:2 is, “hupomone.” It doesn’t describe a grim, hopeless, resignation-to-an-unpleasant-situation kind of endurance. On the contrary, it is a picture of triumphant endurance, like a marathon runner who endures while looking forward to victory. Hupomone endurance is a joyful endurance filled with hope.

“So, consider carefully how Jesus faced such intense opposition…so that you won’t become worn down and cave in under life’s pressures. After all, you have not yet reached the point of sweating blood in your opposition to sin” (Hebrews 12:3). We’re told to, “carefully consider,” what Jesus endured. We haven’t endured anything compared to what he went through.

What agony can we endure? Most of what we face in our lives pales when compared to the agony Jesus went through. If he could find joy in the midst of his unimaginable pain, we can certainly find joy in our circumstances.

Joy is continuously available to us. As we steadily fix our eyes on Jesus, we grow in the joyful endurance needed to finish our race in triumph.

Lord Jesus, thank you for giving me your joy. Thank you for your example of focusing on joy even in the midst of pain. Help me endure difficulty with hope and joy, knowing it is only for a season. Fill my heart with joy that overflows to the people around me. Use my joy to draw others to you. In Jesus’s name, amen.

Today’s Reading: Hebrews 12:1-4

Handling Life's Problems

Before, During, and After

“The end of a thing is better than its beginning…” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

So many seasons of life can be divided into “before,” “during,” and “after.” We can point out the time before we lost the job, the uncertain time during the job hunting, and the time after starting the new job. A mountain climber has the before time of preparation, the during when they need every ounce of their skill and strength for the climb, and the after, when they stand top of the mountain and enjoy the breathtaking, panoramic view.

The before is comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s easy. The during can be challenging, confusing, scary, and painful. But, ahh—the after! That’s the exciting part when we see how the before and during led us to the place we needed to be.

Jesus’s life on earth had a before, during, and after. The before was amazing. His three years of ministry were filled with miracles, healings, victories over demons, and throngs of followers. On what we now call Palm Sunday, he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, to the acclaim of the crowds, who called out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).

Less than a week later, the during began. Jesus was betrayed by one of those closest to him. The adoring crowds disappeared. He was arrested, beaten, tormented, and mocked. He was falsely accused and unlawfully sentenced to die. Jesus was actually forced to carry the cross upon which he was murdered.

The during was frightening and painful, torturous beyond imagination. But the during wasn’t the end of the story.

We know what happened after the crucifixion. The power of God was manifested by raising Jesus from the dead. Our salvation was procured. The bondage of sin and death was broken.

Hebrews 12:2 says, “Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards; and now he sits in the place of honor by the throne of God.” We are to emulate Jesus, to keep watching what he did and do the same. He endured the cross because he knew the joy that would come after.

We’ve probably heard people say, “It didn’t come to stay, it came to pass.” The during doesn’t come to stay. It will pass. The struggle is for a season. During that season, we learn, we grow stronger, and we gain a testimony to share with the world about the faithfulness and goodness of God. The end is better than the beginning. If it isn’t better, it isn’t over.

Dear God, I know you’re the God of every season of my life, the good times as well as the bad times. When I’m walking through a challenging time, give me faith to follow your plan and peace during the struggle. You’ve promised to never leave me alone. Whether I’m in an enduring season or enjoying the ease of the “after,” let me always be aware of your presence, your protection, and your peace. In Jesus’s name, amen.