36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. 39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. — Hebrews 11:36-12:2
We are all on a faith journey. As we talked about last week that faith journey begin and is marked at many points by aligning our story with God’s story. Therefore, our faith journey becomes our story. Everything that God does through us on that journey is part of what we have to tell people. These stories are essential for our life of faith, and as I have mentioned we will talk about sharing those stories next week, but before we move to that I want us to focus on our stories.
Last week I encouraged you to begin to put your story together. I asked you to find those times in your life where you know that your story has aligned with God…those moments where your story meets God’s story. Whether it was one time, or whether you are continually reminded about your connection with God. These callings and conversions play essential roles in our stories, but they are often just the beginning or mark a significant point in our faith stories.
However, as much as we want those to be the sole focus of our faith stories our lives are made up of much more than just these call and conversion stories. In fact many of us may only experience a few of these in our lives. Our stories are made up of every single moment of our lives. They are made up of the times when our faith is strong and when our faith is weak.
As Christians we want to always think that when we acknowledge God’s ever-present love in our lives that our lives are going to be all fine and dandy, and while to an extent that is true our lives also get tougher? Why? I think it is because we place so much trust in God. It is often not our lack of faith that leads to a disjointed relationship with God, but often strong faith can lead us to feel hurt when something happens. It can disrupt our faith.
As your pastor I’m not going to sugarcoat your life for you. I am not going to sit here and tell you that everything will be fine. Unfortunately bad things happen. Tragedy and disease take those we love most. We are hurt in the worst ways, and we are often left to pick up the pieces ourselves. Life is a long journey, and for most of us the highs are really high and really awesome, but the lows can be awful. They can be lonely, they can be trying, and they can lead us to lose our faith in the worst cases.
However, what I can do is to give you encouragement. I can’t stop bad things from happening, but God can help you through those rough patches in your life. When our stories get rough thats when we have to remember to have the perseverance of faith that the writer of Hebrews tells us about today. You may be thinking to yourself, “Pastor Andrew, our scripture today wasn’t a story.” And my response to that is going to turn your attention to the first 35 verses in chapter 11. I brought you in at the end of the writers description of a long line of saints from the ancient scriptures.
The writer tells of the faith of these saints and gives the example of faith as a message of encouragement, and to end it all the writer writes,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1-2)
“let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb. 12:1b)
What an amazing line.
Now to learn a little bit more about me. I love running, and I don’t mean I just love jogging around. I have been running since I was a small child, and as my mother says I have not stopped since. I get up every morning and run, and I love to run races, 5k’s, 10k’s, half marathon’s, and even marathon’s. The marathon is believed to be one of the toughest tests of endurance and perseverance for the human body. In my lifetime I have run 2 marathons, and the thing about marathons is that you can be in the best shape of your life but still fail at the marathon. Why? Because the marathon is as much mental as it is physical. You have to overcome not just the pain radiating through your legs, but you have to overcome weariness of the mind. Therefore, you not only have to persevere physically, but mentally as well.
Similarly faith is both physical and mental. Life as we know it is not just physically tiring but it is also mentally tiring. We not only have to overcome the limitations of our bodies but we also have to overcome the limitations of our minds.
In the marathon the term that is often used for the minds physical limitations is called “the wall.” It is the point in the marathon, usually between miles 18-20, where you feel like everything is going wrong. While there are scientifically shown physical limitations that happen in the body it is shown that the wall is primarily a mental state. One that can be overcome through mental endurance. Any runner that has been through enough training has the mental perseverance to break through the wall.
In our lives we hit walls. They come in form of bad days, weeks, months, years, what have you. They come when you or someone close to you has a terrible illness. They come when you lose your job. They come when you get in trouble. But here is the amazing thing. God is there for us, and we should always remember that. We have these wonderful and amazing avenues of encouragement. The training we have done through prayer and study and worship have given us the tools we need to break through the wall and to keep our faith strong to get us through these tough times.
There are three ways we can be encouraged in tough times (probably more, but three that I will highlight today and that are especially highlighted by our scripture). The first is a reminder from last week. Your call/conversion story should always be a source of inspiration for you. Remember that if the God of the universe loved you so much that you were called and you are loved. That encouragement stands strong to keep those in tough times going. The fact that God has saved us shows us that God will be with us, not just in the good but through the bad too.
The second way is through that great cloud of witnesses. We read in Hebrews, “since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” (12:1a) The great thing about this passage is that before we get the story of faith in the saints of the Hebrew Bible. There are so many saints who have gone through this journey before us. There are those who have passed on from this life, and those who are still with us. The stories from the witnesses can help us be reminded of who God is and God’s promise for us.
The last way of encouragement is through Jesus Christ. Hebrews gives us the encouragement of saying,
“fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (12:2a)
Christ is our ultimate source of encouragement. We look to Christ for strength. We look to Christ for courage.
Life will be tough. I don’t think it would be responsible of me to tell you differently. But what I can tell you is that even in the hard times God is there to help get you through. Our stories are not meant to be a sentence or a paragraph or even one chapter. God has great and wonderful plans for us. We have to take our stories as far as God is going to take us. In the good times and bad times
Roger Bannister was the first man to ever break the 4 minute mile, a feat thought unimaginable. He once said,
“The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.” (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/rogerbanni140368.html)
When the effort gets painful thats when our faith is tested and that is when perseverance is important. When we persevere our faith becomes stronger. It won’t be easy, but when we get through it becomes part of our story. The narrative of our life is about how God is using both our goods and bags for the will of the Kingdom.
I want you to add to that narrative from last week. I want you to keep working on your story. Not only what have been the highs, but where have there been lows and how have you gotten through them. Not only are they encouragement for you, but as we will explore next week they can be encouragement for others.