While hosting my parents for the weekend, we enjoyed an afternoon at a park nearby that happens to be situated next to a 200-step incline known as "Challenge Hill." My dad was eager to see the view from the top of Challenge Hill, so we tromped off on a leisurely walk that soon turned into a cardio workout.
It reminded me of my first time up those same steps nearly a year ago. Unsure of how my legs and lungs would respond, I was surprised by how easy it was...for the first twenty steps or so. My springy pace came to a fatigued halt by step 60. My central California lungs were still acclimating to the 6200+ft elevation of Castle Rock, Colorado. And in between gasps, it dawned on me: my goal wasn't to break a record or impress anyone by my speed; my goal was to get to the top and finish what I started.
In our journey as followers of Jesus, God often prompts us toward change or surrender in a certain area so we can grow and take steps onward and upward. Have you ever found yourself responding to those prompts with great zeal and desire only to flag in fervor a few weeks later? Or maybe you've started strong and not even finished at all? This question can even be asked of communities of believers, even for new communities of faith like our church we just launched this past Sabbath. None of us starts strong with a plan to quit halfway through. So how do we start strong with a plan to finish even stronger?
Apparently, the believers to whom the book of Hebrews is addressed struggled to finish strong so to speak. They had "need of endurance" just like you and I (Heb. 10:36). And the seasoned apostle not only knew how to identify this need but also gave the slowing saints a simple but profound remedy that has relevance for us two millennia later:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1, 2).
Lay down the excess
If our goal is to run with endurance and truly finish what we start, one of the first critical steps we can take to set ourselves up for success is to let God examine our hearts and remove the excess. I think we all would rather climb a hill with a 5 lb. backpack than a 50 lb. burden. Our excess may come in the form of innocent distractions of life that sap our spiritual focus and affection, or it could be that we're morally ensared by cherished sins and ways we indulge selfish rebellion against God's will under the notice of most. Whatever it is that hinders rather than helps us along the way, big or small, it's not worth clinging to because it will not only slow us down but sabotage our ultimate desire of crossing the heavenly finish line.
Look to Jesus
Not only does Jesus give us an example of endurance, but He gives us inspiration for endurance. There's something about looking to the Lamb of God who takes away our sins (John 1:29), something about looking to our heavenly High Priest who is able to save us to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25) that inspires us to keep pressing forward. Beholding His love and His power generates in us greater love for Him and faith in His power. The apostle Paul could have had plenty of excuses to turn back from what he had started, but for him, looking to the Lamb kept his love for and loyalty to God fresh:
Love for the Lord of glory...was the actuating principle of his conduct, his motive power. If ever his ardor in the path of duty flagged, one glance at the cross and the amazing love there revealed, was enough to cause him to gird up the loins of his mind and press forward in the path of self-denial (E. G. White, Acts of the Apostles, 246).
"One glance at the cross" can do more for us than we realize as we journey with Jesus. Whether as individuals or as communities of faith, let's commit to laying aside the excess and looking to the Lamb in order to run this race with endurance. May it be said of us that we started strong and finished even stronger.