USA Today reported that January 17th is the day most new year resolutions fail. Research for why we fail reveals everything from unclear goals to not having an adequate plan for change. The real problem is that making change in our lives is tough. It’s hard work. We want the product but not the process. If we could all just spend a day and learn that foreign language, drop those pounds, or become a Bible scholar we would. But if it takes longer than a day, we’re not sure it’s worth the work.
We’re not alone. The original audience of the book of Hebrews was struggling with finishing strong, with staying the course.
Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV) Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 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.
There are five things in this passage that can encourage us to keep going and not turn back…
Remember you’re not alone. Your struggles are not unique. You aren’t the first person to fall in that trap. You are the most recent in a long line of people who didn’t live up to their own expectations.
You are not alone in your failure, nor or you alone in trying again. It does us good to have people around us that encourage us to keep going.
A running partner keeps you on the road, a spotter keeps you safe in the gym, a good spiritual friend pushes you to be the person God is calling you to be. Theses are all people we see, but this passage reminds us that veil between this life and the next is not that thick. It teaches we are also surrounded by the people who have gone on to the next life. The saints mentioned in chapter 11: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Gideon, are all watching us! The apostles are cheering you on as you get up and try one more time.
Your own personal heroes of faith, maybe an old Sunday school teacher, a pastor, your mom, or your grandpa, they’re there too…all cheering for you! You might have to ask people in this life to pray for you, but you don’t have to worry about those in the next life. They’re in the presence of Jesus and they are praying for you there.
Throw off the old. Every time you fall look at what tripped you up. Look at your failure and ask, “Why did this happen?” Then get rid of the trap or trigger. Failure should always be a learning experience! The problem is we often get too down on ourselves to learn from it. Don't let failure defeat you; allow it to teach you something about yourself!
I remember counseling with a young man dealing who was struggling with pornography. Together we discovered that there was a particular time he was getting into it. So, we made a plan for him to have a friend keep his laptop after he was done studying in the evenings. Guess what? He failed again, but less often and not in the same way. We'll make enough unique mistakes in life, so we don't have to repeat any of them.
Try again. The word that we translate as “perseverance” is frequently translated as “endurance.” It means that you have the ability to endure, to keep going despite difficulties. Everyone can keep going when it’s easy. Everyone can keep going when they win. It takes a special person to get up and try again.
Maybe you’ve failed now for the hundredth time, get up…try again. One more time, you might have learned 1,000 ways to fail, but you only need one way to succeed.
Focus on Jesus. The author of Hebrews makes it clear that the place we want to look is the course marked out for us. It’s the next step and the ultimate price. We need to focus on the goal, the prize, and not allow our failure or temptation to distract us from that. Jesus is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. He came blazed a trail for us to follow. The road for him was hard, it will be hard for us, but we can do it because he made the way.
This world is not our home! There is more to this life than we can see. When we view this world through the lens of eternity things come into focus. We start to see that these challenges we face aren’t maybe quite as big as they seem in the moment. Ask the question, “Is this going to matter in a year? 10? 100?” What about eternity?
Remember the challenge makes you stronger. Some of my challenges have come because I was prideful or thoughtless in my speech. They came in the form of conflict because I treated someone with less respect or love than they deserved. That conflict was an opportunity for me to learn from my mistake and make an improvement.
Hebrews 12:11-13 (NIV) No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.
Challenges help discipline us. They break down bad habits and build up the spiritual muscles needed to keep going. I have learned to give grace, because I have had to receive grace. I have had to be forgiven by God, by my wife, by my kids. I have had to accept that I did what was wrong and accept their forgiveness. These humiliating experiences have grown humility in me. They have made me more willing to forgive, to accept that others aren’t perfect…just like me. Humility is just one of many ways challenges can grow us.
Another is prayer. Everyone prays when times are hard, but you build up spiritual strength when you pray beforehand. Challenges inspire us to pray and show us the value of praying regularly. That habit of regular prayer will make us stronger, which will prepare us for our future challenges when they come.