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the joy walk

Picture Credit: Kolleen Gladden, Upsplash

Picture Credit: Kolleen Gladden, Upsplash

“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.” Hebrews 12:2-3

We would be gravely mistaken if we believed that Jesus went twirling and dancing his way to the cross; that somehow, because he was God, he was able to muster up a supernatural “can-do” attitude and walk the path to his death with a great big smile on his face. It is an absurd thought, I know. And when we read the horrifying details of Christ’s crucifixion, we ought to be quickly convicted of just how much he suffered, how heavy the weight of our sins bore down upon him, and how willingly and intentionally he pressed on through this sorrow. The suffering was very real. And Jesus never once pretended that everything was “a-okay”or blurted out ,”I can do all things…”. No. The story of the cross is ugly, terrifying, humbling, overwhelming, and shameful.

So why, then, when we are going through dark seasons and walking down painful paths, do we oftentimes try so hard to flash that million dollar smile with a peppy ’skip-to-my-loo-my-darlin’? Why do we think the phrase, “the joy of the Lord is my strength”, means we aren’t allowed to show any sign of human emotion besides happiness? Are we afraid of looking weak? Are we afraid that to truly unveil our deep hurts, and our lack of pep going through them, will somehow make us less valuable to others? Less wanted? Less popular?

I have found myself hunkered down in the book of Hebrews for quite some time. I just can’t seem to pull myself away. Each time I read it I am challenged and convicted in a whole new way. Lately I have been contemplating the first few verses in chapter 12.

“…let us run with perseverance…”

Jackson, my eleven-year-old son, is doing cross-country this year. He has always been a good runner, when he puts his mind to it, and has the potential of doing very well in long-distance running. Currently, as he has been in training for less than a month, he is learning that increasing distance and speed takes a bucket load of endurance. And the only way to build endurance is through consistent training and perseverance. He has all the potential in the world, but in order to tap into that potential, he needs to get beyond the pain which demands perseverance.

Perseverance is hard.

The definition of perseverance is: steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. (Webster’s Dictionary).

The race that Hebrews is talking about, and the one in which perseverance is required, is our lifelong walk of faith in the midst of all the mess, dysfunction, suffering, challenges, loss, and difficulties that life brings our way. This sinful world will bring painful and sorrowful consequences, even to the most faithful and persevering.

Yet, we are encouraged to keep running.

And to run with perseverance.

The race will not be easy, and it will afford us more challenges and painful twists and turns than we think we can handle, but the finish line is coming. We must endure.

This part of the passage I understand. I don’t love the thought that life is going to be hard and will demand such patience and endurance, but I get it. I can accept it.

But, and perhaps you can relate to this, I often wonder, “how does a persevering believer ‘count it all joy’ as our faith is tested and we charge on to victory? How do we do this? How do we honor God and also be honest with our very human emotions?” The answer if found further on in the passage:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…”

The finish line of victory is Jesus.

This race we run is not the end. It is not our forever. There is an eternity waiting for us just beyond the yellow tape at the end of the track.

It is often easy to get distracted during a race. I remember my dad hammering a few words of wisdom into me years ago when I had to run the mile race at our school’s Sports Day: 1. Don’t look back, it will slow you down, and 2. Keep a steady pace until the very end, and then run as fast as your feet will carry you.

The tests that come our way, whether in the form of an illness, job termination, rebellious child, unmet expectations, or the loss of a dream, are all forms of distraction that can make us want to do a quick turn of our neck to see what is coming up behind us. How far ahead are we? Are we going to make it? Will this sorrow overtake us?

Hebrews reminds us to keep our gaze locked on the One who will see us through every trial and painful step. Jesus is our goal. He is the beginning and the end of our faith. If we want to persevere and not buckle under the weight of our circumstances, then we must fix our eyes, our attentions, and our motivations on him. He is the finish line.

But not only that, Jesus is also our example.

How do I walk through this with authenticity and real joy?

Walk as Jesus did when he walked his final steps to the cross. In his book, The Incomparable Christ, J. Oswald Sanders wrote,

“The Son of God approaches the sorrows of Gethsemane, the shame of Gabbatha, and the sufferings of Golgotha with a song on his lips. Anyone can sing in the sunshine, but to sing in the shadows is a rare accomplishment.”

Praise was Christ’s Plan A for enduring the cross.

“…who for the joy set before him endured the cross…”

The joy that Christ anticipated was not the painful cross, but it was the resurrection afterward that awaited him, the victorious sitting at the right hand of his Father that encouraged him and comforted him as he faced the most devastating of circumstances.

It was customary at the Passover to sing the Hallel, a collection of Psalms that had once been one continuous song, but is now divided into separate psalms (113-118). “Hallel” actually means “to praise.”

During the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples and before his suffering, Christ chose to sing praise.

A lifestyle of praise, I truly believe, is the solid foundation by which we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil. Praise keeps our hearts and our eyes focused on Jesus. It doesn’t take the pain away, but it gives us the joy to keep pressing on.

When we look at the story of Christ’s death, we see that he never put on a smily face of inauthentic joy. He never denied he was in pain. He felt the scorn of the whip and hate of the nails. He didn’t pretend it didn’t hurt. Yet, he walked steadfastly, and his joy was what awaited him on the other side. He suffered, but with praise in his heart.

“What can we learn from the Passover Song? That we can turn our trouble into treasure and our sorrow into song. Faith can sing her song in the darkest hour. Sorrow and singing are not incompatible.” The Incomparable Christ, J. Oswald Sanders

The joy walk is not the hokey pokey. My friends, when the race is getting long, and your legs are weary, and your arms are weak, it is okay to not be okay. You can still have joy and not be wearing a smile. You can still praise even though your heart is heavy. Brokenness in this life is a necessary part of keeping our eyes on Jesus. He gives us endurance. We don’t have to try and muster it up on our own. He composes the song we sing.

The joy walk is one of perseverance. We run steady when our gaze is fixed on Jesus.

If you feel like crying, then go ahead and cry.

If you need help, then go ahead and ask for it.

And when you feel like you are ready to give up…

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

As we run each lap and face each trial, remember the One who ran before us, and who is running with us now.

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