Why can we not endure our lives?

The longer I live and serve God’s people, the more I witness how we have come to love formulas and quick fixes for life’s issues.  We probably aren’t any different from people of other ages.  Yet, for us, the good life or good quality of life is often defined in terms of things fixed or avoided, like pain alleviated or problems solved.  The quicker the pace of life, the more intense the experience or the busier the calendar, the more we demand to be relieved from it all.  We elevate comfort and ease to god-like status and order our lives around attaining them.  This is a sad state.

We have become a culture – even a Christian culture – of traders and bargain-hunters.  This is most clearly seen in relationships.  Here’s what I mean:

  • We have traded in plenty for paucity.

Now, we are satisfied with hundreds of Facebook friends and hours of wasted time keeping up with them rather than a couple of close and personal friendships.

  • We have traded in intimacy for efficiency.

Now, drive-by relational investments, “doing the minimum,” has replaced the time consuming and rigorous interactions necessary for meaningful relationships.

  • We have traded in personal letters for status updates.

Forget the fact that we may have no more time than the 140 characters of a tweet; I wonder how many of our hands could hold a pen for more than 5 minutes.

We think we are making improvements.  Perhaps we are simply improving our ability to be shallow and short-tempered.  One casualty in all of this, perhaps the greatest one, is our ability to live the long haul.  Mostly gone is the ethic of standing firm in the mundane or day-to-day.  Now, the “mundane” (which is not a by-word) is considered monotonous (which is).

Perhaps our culture lacks no greater virtue than the ability and vision to endure.  This is as true inside the church as it is outside.  We have grown in our expectation that life should be manageable, workable, or controllable.  But at the same time, we have put down the very thing that would allow us to see those things: endurance.  The real gravity involved in considering this topic isn’t primarily pragmatic: if we don’t endure then we’ll all be like middle-aged children. No, the Bible tells us that endurance is yoked to hope and our inheritance in Christ.  We cannot have the latter without the former. That’s what makes this so urgent.

Jesus says, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 10:22, 24:13; Mark 13:13).  He has a different view of life than we have adopted by and large; a different view than we are teaching our children at home, at church and at school.  Jesus was certainly not alone in speaking of the present in long-haul terms.  I mentioned our penchant for “formula” living.  Paul presents a formula that speaks to the topic we’ll be focusing on.  His formula is as shocking as it is short:

…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4)

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4)

Jesus and Paul (and others) viewed life in terms of scope – a lifetime.  They saw it as a race that has no end but heaven itself.

Like the other general letters of the New Testament (like, for example, James, 1 Peter and Revelation), Hebrews speaks to long haul living.  There, like in Romans, the author says long haul living is a life of endurance.  Most prominently in Hebrews 10:36.  There it reads:

“For you have need of endurance so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised”

Most believers work hard to endure life’s circumstances.  Most only endure because they happen to rather than purpose to.  Perhaps it would help to consider endurance, however, as a result rather than a goal.  We will see from Hebrews that endurance has two primary elements to it: faith and patience.  The author of Hebrews argues in his book that to focus on faith and patience is the means to endure.

First, faith (see Hebrews 4:2, 11:6).  Faith is of course a prominent feature of Hebrews, especially in chapter 11.  But, perhaps a more significant occurrence is far earlier in the book: 3:16-19, 4:2

For who were those who heard and yet rebelled?  Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?  And with whom was he provoked for forty years?  Was it not those whose bodies fell in the wilderness?  And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

For good news came to us just as to them but the message they heard did not benefit them because they were not united by faith with those who listened.  For we who believed enter that rest…

The Israelites that Moses led out of Egypt had the opportunity to enter the Promised Land had they simply believed God and followed Moses.  God had pledged Himself to the nation to care for them – He proved His power in the plagues and the exodus.  They were unfaithful and they did not believe God.  And, as a result, they did not endure the process of inheriting what had been promised to them.

  • They were, after all, going to be required to do the walking, fighting and settling of the land.

We have seen the effects of unbelief, what, then, is faith?  We look to Hebrews 11:1,6:

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…Believe that He exists and that he rewards those who seek him

Faith recognizes that something has been done for us but we haven’t seen it yet.  It assumes the truthfulness of the promises God has made.  It looks at the finished work of Jesus Christ that is ours who are in Him.  Faith is thoughtfully considering the gospel of God and its effectsHebrews exalts Christ and His work as our priest, prophet and king.  Our task is to drink all of that in:

  • It is saying “Yes” to what God promises without actually seeing what He promises.
  • It is saying “Yes” to God’s control of all things even though the interpretation of those things might escape us.

The effect of faith is to anchor our endurance outside of our circumstances.  Faith reels in the anchor and pulls us closer to heaven.

Secondly, patience (see Hebrews 6:12).  We know of patience from prominent places in the Bible.  Perhaps most notably as a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence in Galatians 5:22.  Or as love’s first character trait in 1 Corinthians 13:4.   Patience is only considered in light of testing.  It only makes sense in that light.  So, whereas someone might think faith ignores circumstances in favor of other things, patience doesn’t.  Patience looks at the burdens of life but considers the temporary nature of those burdens.  When it is united to faith, patience thinks on this life relative to eternity and says, with Paul:

This slight and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Patience is internal fortitude in the face life’s real challenges knowing they will end.  While faith reels in the anchor drawing us nearer to heaven, patience bears the work of the reeling knowing that one day the anchor will be in hand and heaven will be our experience.

We know this to be true from life experience.  Let me illustrate.  Child-bearing.  Now, I’ve been through that – as a spectator – several times.  As a junior participant (my wife thought that was an apt description), there was always a point in the process where I needed to endure.  If for no other reason (but importantly), she needed me to stay engaged with her so she could endure.  At that moment, I was confronted with the need to be faithful and patient.

  • Faith in God that my wife’s body could actually do what He designed it to do: deliver this baby and safeguarding her life.
  • Patience that though it sometimes took hours to happen, it would eventually be complete.

The combination of these two made me joyfully endure the process to see the wonderful results.  What would the opposite have looked like?

  • Without faith in God in the ways I mentioned, the whole process would be horrific for me: always wondering at what point the baby’s heart was going to stop beating or something awful was going to happen to my wife.
  • Without patience, I would have been no help to her.  I could potentially have been mean to her or the physicians or put out because I “had” to be with her when I’d rather be doing something else (like she wouldn’t also!).

I illustrate in this way so you can see what failures in either faith or patience can do to endurance.  Does the Bible really discuss endurance in these terms?  Are faith and patience united to create endurance as I have suggested?  Hebrews 6:12, prays:

“…you may not be sluggish but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises”

We see here that faith + patience = inheritance.  Or, are we saw from Hebrews 10:36:

“For you have need of endurance so that when you done the will of God you may receive what is promised”

In that case, faith + patience = endurance.  Endurance leads to inheritance.  Perhaps our lives lack no greater virtue than the ability and vision to endure.  And, as we fail to endure, we fail to have the hope won for us in Jesus Christ.  But, endurance is a result not a goal.  We may pray to endure, but we should back our prayers up a bit.

First, we must pray that God will grow our faith in His character and promises and the finished work of His Son, Jesus Christ.  We must ask Him to remind us of the ways that He has acted for our good and blessing.  We must have our view of who God is and what He has done for us deepened and strengthened.  The more we see Him, the more we trust Him.  The more we trust in Him, the more patience will yield the result of endurance.

Secondly, we must ask God for an increase in patience.  This is simply asking Him for more of what He has already given us in His Spirit.  Believers in Christ aren’t at zero balance in patience.  They simply need refilling.  But, I know what you’ll say since it’s what I say, “I’m afraid to pray for patience!”

  • To pray for patience is to ask God to help us to grow in seeing our experience as transient and temporary though we may be grieved by it at times.

Endurance will be ours as faith and patience are ours.  God is not stingy about giving us these gifts.  We must simply be diligent to ask Him for them and trust that we will receive them when we need them.

Why I should hate the phrase, “Woe is me.”

Most people are quickly discouraged in their lives.  Joy in some circumstances is hard, in most is even harder and in all circumstances seems impossible.   We have good intentions: we might start out well in the morning, our devotions done and prayers prayed. Yet the first ankle-biter issue in life turns us over into the sour pusses that we had hoped to avoid.  We capitulate faster than you can say “woe is me.”  “Wait a minute,” you say, “Woe is me?  Are you saying the difficulties of life are all my fault?”  The cause?  No; that wouldn’t be fair.  But the response is all you and all me.

It is not as if life isn’t hard.  I was recently reminded of this when we heard a church family had just a baby who might have Down’s Syndrome.  Hard indeed.  Life’s bowl of cherries has pits that break teeth.  It’s not going to do us any good to ignore the difficulty.  No one has true joy by ignoring circumstances; that’s a fool’s errand.  Eventually, we’ll go crazy in our little make believe worlds.

No, the world is to be faced.  And it is a hard world.

I like movies.  I particularly like the movie “A Knight’s Tale.”  Now there are parts of it that aren’t so good, but there’s one scene in the movie that will help here.  The main character, Ulrich Von Licthenstein, is a tournament jouster.  In one exchange his opponent cracked his armor.  He had to go to a smithy and have it fixed.  He found one, a woman named Kate.  Kate, he found out, had come up with her own way to heat steel and make stronger armor out of less steel.  The effect was a very light yet strong suit of armor for Ulrich; like Knight’s UnderArmor.

It certainly looked different than the other knights’ armor.  In fact, the next time he jousted, he got laughed at by the other men for his armor.  That is, until he was able to mount his horse like he was wearing no armor – that got their attention since none of them could do that.

In fact, those knights had armor that made jousting difficult: apparently it was very heavy and didn’t move well.  As if trying to stay on a horse that’s galloping, holding a lance, trying to strike the opponent in a meaningful way and avoid getting hit and falling off the horse weren’t difficult enough!

Here’s how it touches what we’re considering: life, like jousting, is difficult.  The question is:

  • What do we “put on” that makes living in it even harder?

I’m talking about perspectives, demands, views, commitments and hopes.  What I mean is that what we believe about life can either help us tackle it or make it even harder to tackle.

Here’s an example.  I think Christians often put on a viewpoint that thinks much of the power of our own sin and circumstances to crush and discourage us and little of the power of our Savior to strengthen and save us.    We think things like, “It’s only a matter of time before I get mad / lust / depressed / worried….There’s nothing I can really do about it.  It’s going to happen.”  This view makes the difficulties of life even more difficult: if we’re already convinced that the mountain is too hard to climb before we even see it (or see what’s in our packs) then we’re sunk when we come to it.  In other words, we really think highly of our sin and our life’s circumstances and lowly of Christ’s provision and power believing perhaps that we are just passive recipients of the black waters of life.  In the end, we drink deeply and it is bitter.

But, if Christ Himself holds all things together (Col 1:15-17) and all things were conceived of in His mind and built through His very power and find their purpose and conclusion in Him, then why be so quick to think sin is too much and circumstances too overwhelming?

  • Is the tendency to sin really too strong for the Spirit to counteract?
  • Are your children really so aggravating that the Spirit can’t give you peace or patience?
  • Is the disease, the deformity or the doubt really so strong that God the Rock and Refuge (Psalm 31) cannot enter in?

My wife and I were talking about how it feels like the home page in our lives’ web is “Me.”  But that’s wrong.  In Christ, our home page is Him.  He is our default.  Our sin is not the first or final word in our lives, His righteousness that He gave to us and His Word is both first and final.  If we believe that it’s only a matter of time before we sin or our circumstance are going to beat us up, then perhaps instead of being realistic we are being sinful.  Instead we must face our daily problems with:

  • Christ’s power is enough to keep me from the power of my sin and these circumstances

He is either powerful or He isn’t.  We either live one way (“He is powerful”) or we live the other (“He is not strong enough”).  God gives power to His children to overcome (1 Corinthians 10:13) because He has already overcome it all.  Receive it and use it today.