Just a few months ago, I was pregnant, exhausted and ravenous all the time. Some days I waddled faster than others; other days I could barely crawl. Running? Not so much.
When a friend suggested I speak on running with faith at a retreat for expat women in our Middle-Eastern city, my heart sank. I had not only literally not felt like running, but spiritually as well. In the last 7 years I have moved twice cross culturally. Just in the past two years, our family has lived in two different cities in the Middle East – losing home, friends and family in multiple places. While my Father has been very good to us, and has provided in countless ways, this town doesn’t feel like home yet. Roots don’t go deep enough in any direction. Ministry is challenging and unrelenting stress is a phrase that describes our life.
There were moments when I didn’t want to face life here. I just wanted to quit and go back. Go back to a life that seemed less complicated, to lush green, to friends that know me well, to a place where memories run older than a year, to everything that is familiar, comfortable and safe. The eyes of my faith were blurry and I felt more grief than joy, the cost more than the reward. My hope was not fully set in the grace that will be given to us when Christ comes back. I just longed for permanence this side of heaven.
Ironically, it was as I studied these verses in Hebrews on running that God strengthened my soul:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12: 1-2).
As I looked at how He ran and how He finished the race, I found what I needed to face exile life.
1. Jesus is the founder and perfecter of my faith.
The word “founder” has the connotation of pioneer or the first in a long line. Christ is the Pioneer of our faith – authoring it by having faith Himself. In the midst of incredible hardship, he lived his earthly, expat life with hope (Acts 2: 26). He trusted the Father and proved that he was right by rising from the dead. He defeated death, conquered sin, and did that for us, and in us, too. That’s my hope on days when my side aches and my legs feel like weights. He finished so we are finished. My hope is not in how well I am running but in how well He ran.
2. Jesus despised shame and endured for joy.
Christ could have used His power to get down from the cross. But it was on it that he bore the wrath of God for the sins that keep us from seeing His beauty. He despised the reproach and dishonor He experienced when he was beaten, mocked and put to death. The joy set before Him was worth it.
And yet, even as He despised shame, it wasn’t easy for him. He endured sorrows. He had no place to lay his head. He was indignant, troubled and wept at the tomb of a friend (John 11). Jesus felt this life. That gives me such affection and confidence that he really does see me well. It also gives me hope that Christ could feel victory even in what looked like defeat, and now he’s asking me to feel it today.
3. Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
When Christ successfully finished his work of perfecting those He owns, He sat down at the right hand of God (Heb. 10:12). His work is complete. His enemies – including all the sins and temptations I face – will all be conquered. God has guaranteed it (Heb. 1: 13). Now He is serving me by praying for me from his place of honor at the right hand of the Father. He is committed to rescue me to the uttermost (Heb. 7: 25). When I feel discouraged by my unbelief, I am overcome with gratitude and relief to remember that Christ has both sanctified me for all time and is sanctifying me day by day. I can run because He is at work. He succeeded so His victory guarantees mine. He endured hostility and he received the reward. And because I am one with Him, so will I. Thank you, Lord!
Dear friend, lift your gaze from yourself to the One who began your faith. The plot that the author of your faith has written will accomplish its goal – it will perfect your faith. Look ahead to the finish line: your Anchor is already there (Hebrews 6: 19-20). He is holding on to you and He won’t let go until you get there.
Do you feel like you are not running? Is it hard to face the race before you?