Life is a game of strength, and not all of it is of the super-hero variety. Sometimes, the victory is simply staying in the game. February challenges me, every year. It simply seems, well…endless. Grey days without number, crisp with sharp winds, unnavigable weather, and very little to motivate creative energy. As a natural melancholic, I have to fight the tendency to hibernate in the house, just hunkered down, getting through the day’s tasks. I have to force myself to make an effort and get out and about. When you’re sitting passively in the depths of winter, you’re going to have to summon up some energy from within. Mental and spiritual reserves of determination and fortitude will need to be tapped. Sometimes, it’s true grit just to keep your attitude in a rosy spot when everyone around you is sick, or at low ebb. Right now, it’s a simple equation of endurance.
Every once in a long while, when they’re just about forgotten, the Olympics roll into town. As we watch, what we are really enjoying is the culmination of a sustained, four-year effort of talent, skill, fitness, experience, and just plain good fortune. As an athlete, making a bid for an Olympic berth is a major life commitment. The steep, winding road to the actual games requires a decision set in motion long beforehand. The Olympics are a process, crisscrossed with adversity, injury and any number of setbacks and unforeseen events. In the final analysis, this is actually a race of endurance. You’ve got to want it bad, because the cost and resolve required are ridiculous, with no guarantee of metal glory at the end of it. The passion of your dream has to fuel you, because long before you get there, you will have questioned yourself a thousand times.
While most of us are not chasing a prestigious, Olympian-like dream, you can be sure that some very concrete aspirations motivate us along on an everyday basis. We have highly tangible goals; financial prosperity, marriage and family, education, possession of property, or some unique distinction of achievement. We may not be loudly proclaiming our desire, trying to canvas the support of everyone around us, but modestly, we’re running our own bid for the glory, as we dream it. The plutonium heart of desire and destiny is directing us surely as breathing. Sometimes just surviving the rapid-fire, video-game of life requires all the attention you can muster. Life all by itself, requires exorbitant amounts of stamina.
If you’re a believer, however, you’re in a next-level endurance race, whether you want to be or not. Steadfastness, resolve, constancy, faithfulness, temperance, perseverance and patience are just a few of the competences you’re going to need to get it done. We’re salmon, swimming against the stream. We live in the world, but we are not of the world. The world hates us, but we’ve got to love it. We have made a counter-culture decision that is going to cost us everything we have. If we’re all competing in the Olympics of life and spiritual existence, we’d better have a clear idea as to why. What is this spiritual race really supposed to be accomplishing for us? What is it we’re aiming at? Somebody describe the victory to me, so I’ll know it when I see it! Paul describes the nature of the race we are running, and why it is important. …Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:1-5
Here in this Romans passage, according to Paul, there is a tangible grace continuum we are moving along. It’s changing us into the new creations that we are. It’s producing an eternal weight of glory in, and around us. We are literally conduits of grace, bringing heaven down to earth. Life is not a competition to see who can amass the most ‘stuff’, or build the biggest power base, as much as all the world is trying to hype it. We won’t be taking any of those things with us, as delightful as they are. The great endurance race of life and faith testifies to the reality of God’s kingdom and the power of the Gospel. In the end it is a proof of love. Jesus gives us the exact goal to the race of perseverance we experience here on earth. At the end of it all, the successful navigation of this course will bring us to the possession (or self-mastery) of our own souls.
But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience (endurance) possess your souls. Luke 21:12-13, 17-19
The world holds a lot of extraordinary endurance events for the adrenaline junkie. You can run, swim, bike, or dog sled in all kinds of extreme environments for the supreme thrill of returning to the wild side of the human experience and testing your true mettle. It seems we can’t resist the opportunity to pit ourselves against the elements, or the finite limitations of our own bodies. As exacting as these are, there are places in the Spirit more extreme still. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:5-6