I woke in the dark of early morning, forced down a small breakfast, and shimmied into the requisite layers of a Pacific Northwest runner. As the sun sent its light giving rays, I waited, crammed into a mass of humanity, for the starting shot. Bang! The gathered crowds cheered, the lurch of adrenaline propelled me forward, and so began the Seattle Half Marathon. My frenzied first steps soon mellowed into rhythmic pavement poundings. The first mile was exciting and sufficiently warmed my body against the cold November morning. But, the runner’s worst enemy loomed ahead: hills. The road twisted and turned up the climbing elevation and my resolve began to falter. The cheering crowds that lifted us all off the starting line were now only a few small groups or couples spotted here and there along the course. As the adrenaline wore off and difficulty made itself at home, in crept the suggestion of the ‘Q’ word: What if, maybe I should, it wouldn’t be the end of the world, it’s not really that important in the grand scheme of things; what if I just stopped? Is it worth the pain? Maybe I should quit.
It’s been two months since I commenced my health journey – Tame the Crave. And that ‘Q’ word is creeping it’s way into my mind just as it did all those years ago during my race. I’ve enjoyed some initial success and encouraging camaraderie, but the difficulties of the day-in and day-out rhythms of self-denial under the onslaught of such pleasurable temptations leave me asking some of those same questions. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, would it? Is it worth the pain? God loves me not matter what, right? Maybe I should quit.
I find myself wanting what we all want – the gain without the pain. We want the thrill of the last .1 mile of the half marathon without the 13 miles leading up to it. I find this to be true in many aspects of life, not just health. We want stuff now, so we buy the new car-furniture-TV-appliance with ‘no money down and zero interest for a year.’ We envy the fame and success of others but gloss over the laborious hours required to achieve such recognition and reward. Or maybe, and this hits closer to home, we crave intimacy with God, but we don’t invest time in our relationship with Him.
Do you know what my race required of me, and what this health journey is requiring too?
The ‘E’ word – Endurance.
God’s word has plenty to say on the topic.
Hebrews 10:36 reminds us that we, “have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” We all need endurance to reach the finish line of whatever race we are running.
Endurance is also a key ingredient in the process of spiritual maturity. James 1:4 says, “And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” It propels us toward completeness; it fills in our gaps and leads us to holiness. It teaches us diligence, self-control, patience, and perseverance.
Endurance is an identifying characteristic of servants of God. Paul exemplifies endurance; “but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in distresses,” (2 Corinthians 6:4).
But here’s the real kicker – biblically speaking, endurance is connected with happiness and cheerfulness! The Greek word, hupomone, refers to cheerful or hopeful constancy, patience, and waiting. Endurance sees beyond the here and now. It doesn’t get bogged down in the trivial and temporal – it forgoes fleeting pleasure for the sake of eternal rewards. James calls those who have endured blessed, or happy! “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful” (James 5:11).
If you’ve read the book of Job lately, you know that in the midst of his trials, Job was anything but happy. But, Job endured and remained obedient, a faithful servant of God, and the end result was magnificent. Not only did God give back to Job abundantly more than what Satan took away, but Job also gained tremendous insight into God’s power, mercy, and compassion.
That’s how endurance becomes a blessing for us too. Endurance teaches us patience in moments of pain and despair, self-control in times of temptation, and true happiness when we’ve reached the end.
But how do we endure?
In her message entitled “The Path of Endurance,” the late Elisabeth Elliot (one of my favorites) makes this bold claim: ‘struggle’ is a nice way of saying ‘delayed obedience.’ OUCH! How often do I ‘struggle’ over decisions or choices, when the truth is that I haven’t yet decided to obey? And honestly, for me delayed obedience often turns in to disobedience. When I ‘struggle’ with unhealthy cravings, I’m actually opening up space in my soul for temptation to take the lead instead of deciding immediately to obey. Obedience has a way of banishing temptation, at least for a time. Enter endurance – the cheerful, hopeful, and patient obedience that promises great rewards. But it’s not a one and done deal. It’s a daily choice, a moment by moment decision.
I didn’t quit the race I began on that frigid November morning. It was hard. My body hurt. But pavement pound by pavement pound I endured. I chose to keep running. And the feeling when I crossed the finish line? Fantastic! I did it!
I haven’t achieved this in my health journey yet. I’m still in those middle miles, putting one foot in front of the other, laboring for the finish line. But I know there will be rejoicing in the end. I’m choosing obedience and wisdom. It’s far from easy, and the excitement that got me started has completely worn off, but these are the defining moments. I’m choosing to Endure, not to Quit.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1)