The beginning of Hebrews 12 is an invitation to hard things. It’s an invitation to discipline. It’s even an invitation to pain - or at least an invitation to understand pain through a different lens.
Before you pack up and go home out of despair, though, hold on a second! Because it’s an invitation to the kind of purposeful pain that leads to growth. It’s an invitation to the kind of throbbing pain our muscles feel on the second day after an intense workout – pain that leads to increased strength and endurance. It’s an invitation to the kind of pain our bodies feel when enduring physical therapy – pain that leads to healing.
The message of Hebrews 12 is good one. A needed one. A freeing one. Pain is not for naught. When understood in view of the cross, pain leads to strength, endurance, and healing. It doesn’t necessarily make it easier. Sometimes life is just plain hard! But if Hebrews 11 was a heartening and humbling reminder of all those who have gone before us, made mistakes, experienced pain and suffering, and yet trusted in God’s faithfulness, Hebrews 12 is the passing of the baton. Hebrews 12 is the, “Ok, church, what say you? If Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith, who endured more pain and suffering than we can imagine and gave His very life for us, we too can ENDURE. What will your race – your life – look like in light of this? How will you respond to hard things, knowing God Himself has promised to guide us through?”
Endurance doesn’t happen overnight. It requires effort. It requires pain. It requires perseverance. It requires toughness. It requires discipline. (A note: sometimes "toughness" means just keeping your head above water, or like Moses, allowing others to lift your arms...)
But oh the joy – the glory – of experiencing the victory of enduring!
I had the gift of watching Daria Helfrich’s brother and friend - and thousands of other runners - compete in the Boston Marathon a few months ago. I’ve never witnessed a more inspiring sporting event. In the pelting, frigid, wind-tossed rain, their months and months of sacrifice and training paid off. In the worst of conditions, they finished and victoriously collected their medals. They endured. And it was beautiful to behold. The exhaustion and exhilaration on their faces, arms raised victoriously in the air, believing that every minute of training was worth it for THIS moment.
What if we lived our lives on earth fully believing our endurance here and now will result in a moment infinitely better than crossing the finish line at the Boston Marathon? A moment of extravagant joy that never ends? Not because of our hard work, but because of God's infinite grace?
This week, Jon Davis will preach on the next section of Hebrews 12 – and we’ll learn about discipline. Here’s a hint: when a loving Father with purely good and holy intentions disciplines us, it may feel painful, but it leads to peaceful goodness.
May we see God as the loving Father He truly is this week, and may we see ourselves as beloved sons and daughters of the Most High, embracing hard things and discipline, with our eyes on Jesus, knowing His ultimate goal is not our harm, but our greatest good.