Monday, May 6, 2013

Constant Companions

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger”* kept ringing in my ears as I climbed up the trail on the side of the mountain. My lungs were screaming for air and I was wishing there was some sort of rescue plan for the desperately out-of-shape, middle-aged woman who had “thought of herself more highly than she ought.” When I started out that morning, I believed a nice little walk in nature with a few hills and valleys would be the perfect exercise but now I wished some helicopter would come over the horizon to pull me up to level ground where my feet belonged. I was beginning to believe this would not end in 'strengthening.'

And yet, I survived to live another day. I was relieved to make it to the top. I am not sure I would have made it without the encouraging presence of my husband. He took it slow when I needed to go slow and stopped and waited when I needed to rest. He stuck with me the entire time even though he could have gone much faster. He never murmured a single negative comment or let on how weak I was. When we got to the top, I was grateful not only for his company but also that he had been there for me when the trail was tough. His companionship had helped me to persevere in an exercise that was very difficult and through that perseverance I had learned I could walk up the side of a mountain.

Hebrews 12 came to my mind this morning partly because I recalled the part of “Enduring hardship as discipline” but what I found was a list of encouraging companions that help us along the way when we encounter that hardship.

Verse 1 gives us a “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us. The idea here is a stadium filled to capacity with cheering spectators. The race is about to begin and the crowd is not only there to witness it but to also shout out encouragements. These witnesses know what we face because they have been in our shoes and they too have felt the pre-race jitters and the moments of doubt about whether would finish or not. But they know it can be done and so they raise their voices with enthusiasm to spur us on.

Secondly, we see Jesus in verse 2. He is called the author and perfecter of our faith. He has written the how-to book on faith, what it looks like and how to do it. He is what they call a pioneer who has gone before us to show the way and now we are instructed to follow in his footsteps. Verse 3 says, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Jesus lived as a man and was confronted with the hardships common to man. We are spurred on when we consider his example of perseverance.

And thirdly, God, the Father (vs7) walks us through hard times and trains along the way. His motivation is to give us what we need to have the life he has planned for us: One full of righteousness and peace (vs11); One that allows us to share in his holiness (vs10). I love his encouragement in verse 12, “Therefore,” -- because you want to live a life of peace and righteousness and share in God's holiness-- “strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.” How? “Run the race marked out for us”, “Consider him [Jesus] who endured such opposition” and “Endure hardship as discipline”. Easy. Hardly. This a one of those 'good news, bad news' situations. The bad news is "No disciple seems pleasant at the time, but painful."  But the good news --"Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (vs11)

Last week, I repeated the hike that almost did me in. This time with the blessing cooler weather and stronger muscles, the thought of not finishing never entered my mind. I did have to take it slow and even stop to catch my breath a few times but the trip itself was much easier. My husband cheered for me as I reached the top and pointed out we had completed the climb in half the time. WooHoo! What an accomplishment.

It is true that “What doesn't kill us does make us stronger” but isn't it a good thing we don't have to go it alone when life produces hardship. We are surrounded, shown the way, and instructed by some pretty encouraging companions. Boy, do they ever make life and its seemly constant uphill climb a whole lot easier.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple stranded cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 New Living Translation

*”That which does not kill us makes us strong.” Friedrich Nietzsche

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