Running a marathon hurts. The original marathoner, Pheidippides, ran 26.2 miles, announced the Greek victory in the Battle of Marathon, and promptly fell dead!
It’s a demanding distance. The human body forced to endure constant pounding for such a distance responds with pain. It is inevitable.
It is fitting that God chose a distance race as an analogy for the Christian life. “Run with perseverance,” the writer of Hebrews urged Christians who were hurting and wanting to quit. “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light,” he says, “when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering” (10:32). The word “contest” here is a translation of “athlesis” from which we get our word athlete.
Following Jesus is a distance race – an athletic contest. In this race, you will experience pain. His path led to a cross, remember? Dying to self, submitting to others, turning the other cheek, surrendering everything to God – those things hurt!
But you can persevere. That’s what separates the winners from the losers in sports. The same is true in Christianity. It’s often tempting to give up, but the ones who stick with it win.
How can we do that? Hebrews offers three keys to continuing even when it hurts. The first is focus. “Fix your eyes on Jesus” (12:2). What you’ll see is that the one you follow also suffered (endured the cross) and overcame. What you’ll discover is that focusing on Jesus keeps your mind off your own pain. Thinking about pain just makes it worse. Get your mind off it and it bothers you less.
The second requires developing a new attitude toward pain. Learn to think of it as training. “Endure hardship as discipline” (12:7). Exercise brings pain, but training eventually allows us to run the same distance with less discomfort. So it is with difficulty in the Christian life.
The third key is to focus on the prize instead of the pain. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace” (12:11). The best way to keep running in a race when you’re tired and want to quit is to think of the finish line and the rewards of finishing.
When it hurts, when you want to give up on following Jesus, persevere. Keep running. Every step brings you closer to rest and reward.