Recently I was in Tesco and noticed a young American couple doing their shopping. What particularly attracted my attention was the man's t-shirt which had the words 'And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us' Heb 12:1. I spoke to them and said that I liked the scripture on the shirt and we struck up a brief conversation in which they commented that I was the first Christian they had met during their time in the UK. After they had gone the young man at the checkout commented that they obviously hadn't looked very hard so I asked him whether that meant he was also a Christian to which he replied 'sort of'. He had been confirmed a while ago but had dropped off in attendance and doesn't really attend any church.
Ironically in the space of a few minutes I had spoken to two Christians: one who was bold enough to declare his desire to persevere in his faith on a shirt. The other who had stopped persevering, for now at least!
So what is the secret of persevering?
Like so many texts that end up on t-shirts and fridge magnets these words about perseverance are taken out of context and are an incomplete quotation. The full sentences says: And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
There is only one way for us to persevere and that is for us to fix our eyes upon Jesus. If we allow ourselves to be distracted or intimidated by what is around us then we will give up. However, if we look to Jesus' example then we will have reason to persevere. The writer of Hebrews continues: For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Jesus faced a greater trial of his faith than we ever will - the Cross! But he endured. He faced opposition from sinners, yet did not grow weary or lose heart. Yet it is more that his example in the face of suffering will keep us going. What will motivate us is what motivated Jesus - the joy set before him. Jesus was looking beyond the cross, beyond the present circumstances to his victory over sin and death. He was looking to his eternal kingdom. And we get to share in this joy!
Without this perspective we will easily give up. When life gets hard and things don't work out how we want them to we will despair, when our hurt and pain continues without being made better we will look for an escape route, unless we have something better to look forward to. That something better is what Jesus promised us and what he was looking forward to - the joy of his eternal kingdom.
So next time things look tough, fix your eyes on Jesus and fix your eyes on the joy set before him because that joy is also set before you.