When I first started running, I used to think that if I just kept it up long enough, someday it would become easy. Someday, I’d get to the end of the course NOT out of breath and wanting to collapse. Someday, it would feel just like walking. But it’s been three years of steady running and NEWS FLASH: it never does. My runs usually go like this. I start out thinking to myself, “Look at you! You’re being so healthy! You might even be able to run a little further today.” And about halfway through my run I start thinking, “C-R-A-Z-Y. That’s what you are. Why on earth do you put yourself through this? This is SO not worth it.” And by the last half mile, I am thinking, “Just shoot me now!”
There must be some kind of a standing joke among runners who tell the newbies, “Come on! Keep it up! Don’t worry! It gets easier.” In fact, they're usually shouting it to you over their shoulder as they pass you. After three years of running steadily, it still hasn't gotten easier. I still have to summon every ounce of energy to make it to the end of the course, the only difference is the degree to which I think I will die after I get there.
Jesus often compared our Christian life to a race. When I first started this adventure of missions, I had this idea that someday it would get easier. Someday waking up in the dark to spend time with God would be like second nature. Someday cultural problems would disappear. Someday I would stop missing home altogether. Someday there would be no more challenges, no more misunderstandings, no more trials and tests of faith because the longer I kept at it, the easier and happier God would make things for me.
But in the New Testament, Jesus’ call to come and follow Him was less of a call to happiness and ease than a call to come and die. I think this verse from 1 Thessalonians is one of the best pictures of what that looks like. I like the Phillips Translation of it:
“We never forget that your faith has meant solid achievement, your love has meant hard work, and the hope that you have in our Lord Jesus Christ means sheer dogged endurance in the life that you live before God, the Father of us all.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)
Solid achievement. Hard work. Sheer dogged endurance.
Sometimes that’s what is required of us to keep following Him. Sheer dogged endurance. Sometimes that’s what it takes to get up each morning and do it again, to choose His will over our own, to silence the voices in our head that tell us we are crazy. It’s not worth it. Give up and go home. Sometimes that’s what it takes to keep going one more day.
You see, our modern day gospel often makes promises, Jesus never made. He didn’t promise things would get easier, problems would disappear, everything would be sunshine and rainbows. He never promised happiness or ease, comfort or satisfaction, but He does promise faith to persevere, grace for another day, and the strength to go one more mile. And best of all, He doesn’t shout it to us over His shoulder while speeding to the finish line or while running circles around us, but He whispers it to our spirit above all our huffing and puffing and thoughts of despair in that still small voice that says, “Remember, I am with you ALWAYS, to the very end.” (Matthew 28:20)