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Long and hard


Time and distance are human dilemmas. How long and how far are inquiries that don't equate with our most painful mortal tendencies---impatience and endurance. In early childhood we wonder, "are we there yet?" before we get out of the drive-way. As adults we pound computer keys, press elevator buttons, and scream at the microwave for taking fifteen seconds to heat our cold coffee. We're the culture that has morphed short-cuts into more sophisticated workarounds, both illusions of an abbreviated route. When the update takes seven minutes we'll just unplug and use the old model. If it seems too far, we'll just stay where we are. Long and hard are often translated "quit".

In Scripture time and distance are typically internal measures. Yes, the Bible keys on years, decades, generation, millennia, and stretches us mortals to imagine eternity. But, life is usually pictured as short and transient----a shadow that fades, grass that withers, mist that evaporates, a wind that passes, a flower, a vapor, and still more images of brevity. What appears far away is drawn near in the councils of faith---diverse humans being one, loving our enemies, a Kingdom that is near, the possibility of unlikely sorts sharing community and fellowship, shrinkage of those things that separate. When time and distance are actually enumerated their rigors are mediated by God's provision of graces to minimize their effect.

Patience is promised as a fruit of the spirit, God's enabling prospect for those times that, even though portrayed as brief, seem so prolonged at times. That is a hard task in itself, the human spirit being calibrated by clocks and schedules and agendas and to-do lists. Still, this patience should grow naturally in the life of a maturing disciple, the product of a fresh and vibrant relationship with Christ. It is the grace of being still and knowing, an attitude of the heart that helps us to wait. It's is God's way for impatient humans to counter the long hours and days and years that punctuate those moments of vapor and mist and grass that seem like eons. Patience teaches us to deal with time.

Dealing with the distance factor requires endurance. This is not a fruit of the spirit naturally growing in a Christian life. It is a discipline that must be learned, often the hard way. While several Greek terms have been translated endurance or perseverance, the word "hupomeno" (a compound root) is the one most referenced. It literally means "hyper-staying", or remaining. It means to stay the course or remain in place even when the way is hard and long. And, of course, Jesus is the prime example of endurance. The anonymous author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote about endurance in this way---

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also

lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with

endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and

perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,

despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV

This writer instructs us to "...run with endurance the race that is set before us..." and then offers Jesus as our exemplar, "...looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross...". Both references to the discipline of endurance in these verses are renderings of the word "hupomeno".

These same verses also detail our path to this enduring quality.

1. We must remember the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us.

This cloud, in my opinion, are the people and witnesses so faithfully revealed to

us in Scripture. This truth challenges our knowledge and study of the Bible and

demands familiarity with their lives. We learn from them God's provision when

they faced long and hard times.

2. We must lay aside every weight and the sin that plagues us.

There are many distractions and behaviors that hinder our progress and

threaten our ability to continue. These must be discarded if going the distance

is our goal.

3. We must keep the finish line in constant view.

Jesus endured "for the joy that was set before him". His life was fixated on

doing the will of his Father in heaven and the glories of being at the "right hand

of the throne of God". This vision enabled him to say, from the cross, "It is

finished" (John 19:30).

In my limited opinion we don't talk about the "finish line" often enough, the joy of standing before our Lord to receive the crown of glory he has promised to the elect at his coming. Peter wrote about it---

And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of

glory.

1 Peter 5:4, ESV

The prospect of hearing the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:23) at the finish line of long and hard experiences may encourage us to continue.

Our path is often long and hard. Time and distance are crucibles that bring many of us to the portals of quitting. It is evident in our culture as suddenly we are a nation of quitters---marriage, families, relationships, careers, the back doors of the church, and so many other commitments gone sour. We can muster resolve, imbibe energy concoctions, develop stubbornness, draw lines, seek therapy, and take drugs, while still missing that singular biblical discipline of endurance.

Paul knew about it and wrote about it to the Corinthians---

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful,

and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation

he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13-14, ESV

in a funk? Ready to quit? Learn and develop endurance to go the distance.


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