Recently, I took part in an impromptu three day road trip with my Father. We had flown from South Alabama to Phoenix, Arizona to see a family whose son had fallen ill while traveling. The flight took us four hours, when we arrived we found out the family would be flying home on a medical plane. Far from home, they were at a loss of what could be done with their vehicle and family dog. We volunteered to drive the car home so they could stay with their son and arrive back home at the same time together. We canceled our four hour return flight home and embarked on a 25 hour 1500 mile trek home. While we were more than thrilled to help the family out, in any other circumstances, if given the choice of a four hour flight or two and a half days in the car, always take the plane ride.
Somewhere between El Paso and San Antonio, I remember thinking that someone should really have developed either “Beaming” or “Warp Speed Technology” by now. It has become so cliche to say that we live in a “Fast Food World”, but it is our reality. We want things instantly. I wanted to be home, but life is rarely that easy. Most things in life are difficult to achieve, and even once we’ve achieved a lofty goal, often it’s hard work to maintain those goals. I guess we can thank our first Parents and the great fruit debacle for all of life’s toils and troubles. Yet, on our trip, the more we drove, the closer we got to home, eventually (three days after leaving Phoenix) I got to kiss my wife and tuck my daughters in bed. Though it was long, and though I was physically sore from sitting in a car for days on end, we endured, and that particular journey came to an end.
Spiritual endurance in life is about as popular as the restaurant that takes three hours to serve your food on a Sunday afternoon, while your one year old child cries because she is starving. The concept of endurance is lost on us. Even in the church, we often sell an “Endurance-less Christianity.” The product being sold by most Pastoral Pitchmen typically sounds too good to be true, and the truth is, I believe it is too good to be true.
Let’s pause a minute for me to get a few things out in the open. I believe that it is abundantly clear in scripture that we are saved BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH ALONE. We don’t earn our salvation; it was paid for and is given freely as a gift. To some, that sounds too good too be true, but Jesus paid a high price to bring that fantasy into reality. I do not believe in adding to what Jesus has done, but we do have a part to play, this endurance isn’t so much a single action, but a single posture that we must maintain. An on going posture of faith in Christ as our righteousness and hope through whatever life brings our way.
Similarly, I do not believe that we, as Christians, are saved one moment, but because of a short coming or a current temptation we are wrestling with, that God takes an eraser to a list in heaven. That being said, I do not believe that once you are saved that it is impossible to loose your salvation (hang with me, I’ll show you how important this is.), but I believe the bible shows us that we can live without fear. Simply put our Salvation is secured, but we must also endure to the end.
With that said, let us get back to the Pastoral Pitchmen that are selling God as a product. I don’t know how many times in church I’ve heard… ok, even me as a Pastor have said things to someone like:
“Just surrender it all to Jesus and everything will work out.”
There are millions of variations on this, some have to do with God fixing broken families, some have to do with tithing and magic money bags, and some have to do with healing. There is this abstract idea that when we come to Christ, we will walk through a field of roses. I do firmly believe in a world view that would say “God makes everything better,” and I believe he honors the faithfulness of tithing, he’s into restoring families, and he still heals the same way today as when Christ walked the earth. However, the problem with selling these concepts as the product known as “Christianity” is, it only sells until someone experiences loss or pain. Then we fall into the trap of believing God has abandoned us, or he never really loved us. We have a whole generation walking away from God because they didn’t get they product they were promised when they walked to an altar and said a prayer at summer camp.
We gloss over passages where Jesus tells us, “In this life you will have trouble, but I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). He isn’t telling us that because we have accepted His gracious gift of life, that there won’t be days, weeks, or even months, that life doesn’t seem like a gift. It’s in these moments, if we don’t let God help us develop Spiritual Endurance, we turn our back on having faith in God. It’s the change in our posture of faith that I believe can put us at a place where our salvation is at risk.
Now here is the thing, the “trouble” that Jesus speaks of, comes in many different forms. For some it’s during the loss of a loved one, some it’s a specific sin that they have struggled with, some it’s financial turmoil, it can be pretty much anything life throws at us. These moments are difficult, but what we see clearly from what Jesus promised is that no matter how difficult those troubles are, He wants to be with us through it all.
We’ve sold a product that says “Buy in, and you will have no troubles.” What we are actually promised by God is, that no matter what we walk through, we don’t walk through it alone. Knowing the truth behind it all, we should feel we could walk through anything in life as long as we know He is with us. Sadly, we mostly feel like He’s abandoned us when we are walking through those moments. It’s right there we must allow the Spirit of God to do His work in us, or all that has come before could be for nothing.
Several years ago, I began to struggle with High Blood Pressure, at 30 years old my doctor felt like this was a direct result of me not taking care of myself. We made a one year plan for me to change my diet, begin exercising, and live an overall healthier life. This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I prayed daily that God would help me overcome the way I thought about food. Without the Spirit giving me self control I would have failed miserable. With God’s help, in a little under nine months, I’d lost 75lbs and began running 5 days a week. I felt healthy, I felt energized, and while it didn’t completely sort out my blood pressure (sometimes you can’t outrun genetics) it had put me in a place where I was more equipped to deal physically with life. Once my goal had been exceeded, an unsettling reality began to set in. Everything that I had changed about my life, especially the hard work of running everyday would all be for nothing, if tomorrow I simply went back to my former way of thinking. Even though I’d “made it” I had to continue to endure, and will have to face that reality everyday for the rest of my life.
I wish living healthy, and even more so Christian Spirituality, was a one time fix. I wish I could say a prayer and be good. For life. Period. But that is simply not the reality of the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul says:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (v. 24-27 ESV)
Paul is a “grace by faith alone” fiend (Read Galatians again). Yet he writes that there could be a possibility, if he didn’t endure, that he himself would be disqualified in the end. Paul is concerned, as we should be, about finishing strong, having a faith in Christ that endures life’s hardships. Even Paul freely admits that this isn’t easy. He compares it to an Olympic athlete in training, but for a much bigger prize. It’s this sentiment that he conveys again towards the end of his life, when he says he’s “kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, a passage covered in the previous post: “What it means to be “carryin fire”) Letting us know he endured to the end, as he wishes for us to do as well.
If you are in the midst of trouble, know that you have not been disqualified or being punished by your circumstances, but God is walking with you through them. If you are fighting addiction, know that you are not disqualified because of that single action, but that God is walking with you and will not forsake you in your fight till you cross the finish line. It is the endurance of our faith, the never ceasing in believing in the sacrifice Christ made for us on the cross, believing his promise of life and life more abundantly, that we must hold onto until the end, lest we be disqualified. And if you have been on this journey and you let go of that faith, it is NOT TOO LATE TO BEGIN THE HAUL AGAIN!
Since beginning to work on this post, the friend I spoke of who was sick in Phoenix, that resulted in the road trip, he won his battle against a very aggressive form of cancer. Heartbreakingly, he didn’t win his battle the way we would have hoped for. There is beauty and a peace in knowing where my friend is now. I watched the past four years as he learned to walk with God through many things. I know he’s waiting for me in eternity, but so many of the words I’d typed have been so difficult to re-read as I got ready to post this. His family, and us as a church family, have walked through one of the toughest things we could have imagined. I wish the fact that we were Christians meant we didn’t have to go through things like this, I wish that no one, a part of any faith or lack thereof would have to go through this. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy, but, God has been there for us through the trouble and for us and even more so for his family, a Long Haul stands in front of them. Through the Spirit of God’s strength may we all press on towards the goal, and endure, because through Him is the only way we can.
Grace and Peace to you.
And with unending hope of seeing him again, I post this in loving memory of my good buddy, Jackson Clark. You’ve finished your race, may God grant me the grace and strength to finish mine.