Several years ago I injured my right knee while playing basketball. After getting some treatment to manage the on-going pain I had an MRI which revealed damage to the cartilage. I underwent micro-fracture surgery, which is a lot like using a tiny jackhammer to create holes in the end of my bone so that a clot would form and then produce new cartilage. It was during my follow-up appointment with the surgeon that I discovered something about this surgical repair that I should have known going into the surgery. The surgeon told me I was free to do whatever I wanted, including running and jumping and playing basketball, but that if I did these things I would need the surgery again sooner than I otherwise would.
I had assumed that the surgery was a permanent repair! Nope. It was a temporary patch. It was at this point that he told me I’d be better off swimming or cycling for exercise. I. Hate. Swimming. That left me with the option of riding a bike. My knee had been hurting for over a year at this point, which had greatly limited my physical activity, and I discovered during physical therapy how much my right leg muscles had atrophied from favoring my left leg, especially when climbing stairs.
Wanting to get in shape, I borrowed a bike from my friend Jim and began riding. I won’t forget that first ride. I rode three miles with my son. Well, sort of with my son. I won’t forget how he would wait for me at every stop sign so I could catch up. I was in agony. I couldn’t breathe and my muscles screamed at me. Still, I was hooked. I bought a road bike and soon was able to ride ten miles. Then twenty. Then one day I “accidentally” rode 50. Having ridden thousands of miles since then, I can truly appreciate the words of the greatest American cyclist who never cheated:
It never gets easier; you just get faster.Greg LeMond, three-time winner of the Tour de France (1986, 1989, 1990)
I’ve discovered that what this really means is that cycling never stops hurting: you just hurt faster. Whenever I ride and struggle to spin the pedals I remember that ride, and I remember that I can make it up that next hill. I often ride the same routes so I am able to remind myself that I’ve climbed this hill dozens of times; I’ll get over it again. (One of the best parts about cycling, especially compared to running, is that I can coast downhill. As an aside, I’ve never ridden past a runner who was smiling.)
It is important for us to remember past difficulties we’ve overcome, for these memories give us the strength for current and future difficulties we face. The writer of Hebrews wrote this about remembering past difficulties:
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.Hebrews 10:32–39 ESV
The writer encourages his readers to recall the time when they endured “a hard struggle with sufferings”. This difficulty included being publicly shamed and mistreated. They had close friends and family who had been imprisoned for their faith. They had property confiscated by others on account of their faith. What motivated them to endure these things was their knowledge of “a better possession and an abiding one”. Abraham and others “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). The faith of the readers of Hebrews is what had given them the strength to endure the sufferings they had faced. The author reminds them of their prior endurance. They had made it through before; don’t forget!
Notice the reason for reminding them. He tells them in verse 35 to not throw away their confidence. Just like when I face a long slog up a steep hill and I remember how many times I’ve conquered that hill and then I have renewed confidence that I will get up the hill, so they must not throw away their confidence. They’ve gotten through this once; they can do it again. He tells them that what they need is endurance. They need the capacity to persevere. They need fortitude. Courage. Patience.
When we think about the saints of old, particularly those who endured great suffering, we tend to think of their endurance as something almost magical. We tend to glamorize their endurance, as if they endured with smiles on their faces. That isn’t what endurance looks like. Endurance looks like huffing and puffing, with a grimace on your face, sweat pouring out of you as you continue grinding away at the pedals, knowing that it’s just a matter of time before you crest that hill and you can catch your breath as you coast down. Until the next hill.
Endurance doesn’t simply happen. It’s hard work. It’s very hard work. Endurance only comes about as the result of exercise and effort. Endurance comes through pain. There is no shortcut to gaining endurance. Endurance grows as you, well, endure. The writer reminds his readers of their need in verse 36.
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.Hebrews 10:36 ESV
He tells them what is on the other side of that hill: the promises of God. When he writes “so that…you may receive what is promised” he’s not saying that endurance is the thing that causes the promises of God to be fulfilled, but that endurance is the means God will use in their lives to bring about his promises. God works in us through our endurance, and then through that endurance he fulfills his promises. If God wanted to give us everything he promised all at once, with zero effort on our part, he would have done so. We would, right now, enjoy the fullness of his promises, yet here we are, waiting for them. We wait for the Lord to return to fulfill those promises. Like the saints of old we desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. It isn’t here yet, so we endure.
When the world brings pain and affliction, when the enemy of God puts opposition and difficulty in our path, when our own sinful desires tempt us to wander after other things, God calls us to endure. He calls us to persevere. We must not throw away our confidence, for we have endured before, and we will endure again. The writer says we are not those who shrink back from struggle. Instead, we are those who have faith and through this faith our souls are preserved. The very next thing he writes is this:
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.Hebrews 11:1 ESV
Whether you can see the top of the hill or not, whether the pain seems overwhelming or not, whether you can’t tell if your eyes are stinging from sweat or from tears, if it seems your lungs cannot pull in enough air to satisfy your aching muscles, remember the former days when you endured a previous hardship. Remember what God in Christ did for you then, and know that he will do it again. Don’t throw away your confidence, but keep your confidence in the Lord.
The thing we must remember is that endurance is based on faith, not on our feelings. You may feel as though there is no point in continuing the fight. You may feel as though you’ll never get through. You may feel as though the entire world is lined up in opposition against you. You may feel like quitting, and you may feel this way all the time. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for. Faith is the conviction of the things we cannot see. Faith is focused on Jesus, not on your feelings.
I read recently that if you look at your life you will see all kinds of evidence that you will not make it. If you look at your life you will be convinced—and rightly so!—that you will not, indeed, you cannot endure. But if by faith you look at Jesus, you will see that you cannot fail.
Don’t throw away your confidence. Don’t cast aside your faith. Look to Jesus. Trust in him. Remember what he has done and know that he will do it again. You can fail; he cannot. Trust him. Endure. He will get you through.