April 6, 2015
This Week’s Study
This coming Sunday, our text will be from Hebrews 12:3-11. Spend time reading and meditating on this text this week, and use the tools within The Compass to help guide your study. May the Lord richly bless you as you spend time in His Word and prayerfully consider what the Spirit is teaching you.
This week’s R2R distinctive
Patience (Proverbs 14:29): I take a long time to overheat and endure patiently under the unavoidable pressures of life.
In Hebrews 12, the writer uses powerful word pictures to draw his audience into the point of his argument: run the race, endure the discipline of a loving Father, strive for holiness, learn to walk according to God’s ways.
The picture the writer draws for us is one of an athlete and child who submits himself to the training and discipline a Father in order to achieve a level of holiness the writer describes as “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (v. 11). As our example, the writer asks us to “consider Jesus” who endured such harsh discipline.
For many of us, the rigor of this kind of discipline and training is probably foreign. As I thought about this week’s text, and the images of athletes training/disciplining themselves to extreme measures to achieve a goal, the story of Into Thin Air came to mind.
Into Thin Air was written by Jon Krakauer describing the disastrous May 1996 climb to the summit of Mount Everest that claimed the lives of five people. Krakauer is a masterful writer and storyteller, and, as a part of this expedition, gives his readers a first person account of the climb.
Reaching the summit of Everest is something that requires complete, absolute devotion to the task at hand. The approach offers some of the harshest, physically demanding challenges a human being can experience and still live to tell about it. As Krakauer notes, “It was titillating to brush up against the enigma of mortality, to steal a glimpse across its forbidden frontier. Climbing was a magnificent activity, I firmly believed, not in spite of the inherent perils, but precisely because of them.”
What would compel someone to endure such extreme conditions and hardships? Krakauer identifies the almost religious fanaticism that drives a climber:
Above the comforts of Base Camp, the expedition in fact became an almost Calvinistic undertaking. The ratio of misery to pleasure was greater by an order of magnitude than any mountain I’d been on; I quickly came to understand that climbing Everest was primarily about enduring pain. And in subjecting ourselves to week after week of toil, tedium and suffering, it struck me that most of us were probably seeking above all else, something like a state of grace.
As Krakauer carries his reader along with him on the unendingly painful journey, one can actually begin to sense the ferociousness of the climate and the harshness of the conditions. Yet, most of us can only imagine the true physical exhaustion and pain that accompanied every step, the lack of oxygen that begins to shut down one’s ability to think and reason. Eventually, the will to succeed comes face-to-face with the will to live. Reflecting on this conundrum, Krakauer remarks, “This forms the nub of a dilemma that every Everest climber eventually comes up against: in order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you’re too driven you’re likely to die.”
If you read Into Thin Air, you will come away with a deep respect for the men and women who strive to reach the summit of Everest–those who live to tell about it, and those who die trying.
This is the picture I believe the writer to the Hebrews is drawing for us. He wants us to understand that to reach the summit of righteousness, we will endure the full onslaught of everything this harsh environment called life can throw at us. Yet, as difficult as life can seem to us at times, we must always remember that there is One who endured the greatest of challenges, yet He did not faint or turn away, He endured.
If you question the true harshness of the life the writer is describing, consider the word he uses in 12:1 that is translated as “the race” in our Bible. The greek word is agon, from which we get our English word agony. Vines describes the meaning of this word as a conflict or fight. He expands to say this is “the inward conflict of the soul; inward ‘conflict’ is often the result, or the accompaniment, of outward ‘conflict.’”
How do we endure this level of conflict? I believe the writer points to three important requirements if we are to run this race called life with endurance:
- It requires the proper perspective. The trials of life are sure evidence of God’s loving correction and involvement.
- It requires strong faith. We will not complete this race apart from faith, and the only way to build our faith is to train and submit ourselves to God’s loving discipline as He molds, shapes, and equips us.
- It requires an intense focus on the goal. When the author exhorts us to “Consider Jesus,” he is pointing us to the very peak of Everest, to the very highest point on earth. Jesus is the goal, and He is waiting for us at the finish line to welcome us into His eternal rest.
The Apostle Paul wrote the perfect conclusion to this challenge from Hebrews 12. In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul encouraged them:
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. (Philippians 3:13–17)