We’re quite the sight. A baby happily taking in the outdoors, grinning impishly at any passersby. A large, rambunctious black dog lashed to the stroller, leaping for attention from any passersby. And me, trying to navigate the neighborhood without meeting other dogs in order to avoid kerfuffle and brouhaha. Normally I walk with headphones in, enjoying a podcast or audiobook as I push the stroller, but one day recently, with many podcasts on summer hiatus, and no book in my queue, I decided to use my daily walk as a time of prayer. I prayed for a couple of ministries close to my heart that have recently, like so many of their counterparts, been facing an avalanche of difficult decisions. Since many of these worries have been brought on by the pandemic, I found myself praying—as I have often in the past several months—for an end of, as my nephew put it, the “corona drama.” However, as I was praying to that end, the Holy Spirit brought the first phrase of Hebrews 10:36 to mind: “You have need of endurance.”
The Holy Spirit has used the pandemic to teach me this, but I need endurance in many areas of life. I need endurance in marriage. I need endurance in parenting. In friendships. In ministry. In exercising. You name the circumstance, and I am probably tempted to quit rather than to endure. To be honest, I am often more concerned with comfort than I am the Kingdom of God. I dislike hard things, and I like easy things. The writer of Hebrews would tell me that I need endurance.
This word endurance, a translation of the Greek word, hypomone, literally means “staying under.” I’m afraid that I am all too eager to get out from under pressure than I am to stay underneath it. But I’m not called to endure just for the sake of bragging rights. This isn’t a call to monastic masochism. Hebrews 10:36 tells us that we endure for a reason: “So that, when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” And what was promised? To find out, join me on a mini-tour of the latter chapters of Hebrews.
This verse in chapter 10 is a prelude to Hebrews 11, the famous listing of saints who “gained approval” through their faith–a faith that called them to some pretty gnarly stuff. Think about it. Noah was quarantined on the ark with just his family for an entire year. Meanwhile, the world he knew was completely destroyed by a flood, so he had to figure that out once the waters receded. (Talk about adjusting to a “new normal”!) Abraham was asked to leave everything and (nearly) everyone he knew—all without having any idea where he was going! (Imagine having that conversation with your wife!) Sarah dealt with infertility for over fifty years, and even after God had promised her a son, it would be decades before she would hold him in her arms. Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of sexual assault, unjustly incarcerated, and forgotten in jail for three years. Moses was nearly murdered as a baby. Later, he led a hoard of grumbling people to the brink of the Promised Land and put up with in the wilderness for forty years; yet he was not permitted to set foot in Canaan. And, as the author of Hebrews says, “time would fail me” to tell of all the rest. But all these people endured. They pressed on, “as seeing Him who is unseen” (11:27). They never received what was promised, but they kept looking for it in the distance (11:13). They stayed under their circumstances (albeit often imperfectly) and kept looking for the better reward. But we still don’t quite know what that is. I guess we better keeping going.
After detailing the heroes of the faith in chapter 11, the author of Hebrews calls his readers to run their race with endurance (12:1), a command he concludes with an exhortation to fix their eyes on Jesus, the ultimate example of endurance. He didn’t merely endure the agony of asphyxiation and crucifixion. He didn’t endure only the humiliation of hanging naked and vulnerable on a cross, to be spat upon and mocked by drunken soldiers and spectators. He endured the eternal, infinite wrath of God poured out upon Him. He endured the punishment for my cosmic treason, the penalty that I could never pay, though I try for all eternity. He could have called a legion of angels to get Him down–or, forget the angels, He could have just hopped off the cross, fully healed, and ridden off into the sunset. But He didn’t. He endured. He hung there until uttering, “It is finished.”
Not only did Jesus set the example for us of endurance, but He gave us the reward for endurance we’ve been looking for. Hebrews 12:28 states it beautifully: “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken…” This is the reward the “witnesses” from Hebrews 11 longed for. It was the city they were seeking, the country they desired. And it’s the reason we endure as well. My hope cannot be in getting back to my “comfort zone.” Even if I find it momentarily, it will disappoint; for, as 2020 has shown us, everything we consider normal or happy or safe in our own little kingdoms can be shaken. When I take the easy way out, I settle for a shakeable kingdom. Only when I endure do I hold out for the ultimate reward.
So, is it wrong to pray for relief from the pandemic? Of course not. I believe that God will, in His common grace, allow scientists to develop an effective vaccine that will usher in the beginning of the end of this season. My point is this. Rather than begging for relief and comfort and my old life back, I need to lock eyes on Jesus and run with endurance this pandemic-riddled, insanity-laden course set before me and let my heart yearn for the promised Kingdom—a Kingdom cannot and will not be shaken (12:28). How about you?