Keeping Confidence in Tough Times
We all go through moments when we're tempted to throw in the towel. We all go through tough times when it seems like we won't make it the end, we won't win, we experience the fullness of God available in Christ.
The two-fold source of our obstacles includes external circumstances and internal issues. Externally, we face circumstances beyond our control that can seem overwhelming. Internally, we face issues - whether like sin, character flaws, and imperfections, or anxiety, fear, and discouragement. Though we started this Christian life with great expectations, life is hard, and sometimes we just want to quit.
Encouragement from a Coach
It seems that every sports film includes a scene where the feature team is in the championship or a must-win game, they begin by playing poorly, get discouraged, but a rousing speech from the coach at half time inspires them to to remember who they are, believe in themselves, and keep going. Sometimes, life mirrors art.
The book of Hebrews is written to encourage Christians to keep going. In Hebrews 10:32-39 we read words written to inspire us to the good end. Even though we may feel like we're losing, this message is designed to provoke confidence that we can make it. These are the lessons from Hebrews 10:32-39:
Our spiritual coach begins by saying:
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. Hebrews 10:32-33
For many people, the Christian life begins with the transformative revelation that because of what God has done in Christ through his life, death, and resurrection, we can be forgiven of our sins and have a relationship with God and inherrit eternal life. Glorious!
But in addition to this, coach invited these Hebrew Christians to remember that their early Christian experience was marked by persecution and suffering. Their 'welcome to the family' party included verbal abuse (reproach) and physical harassment (affliction). The words 'hard struggle' evoke a wrestling match; their early days of following Jesus included an immediate confrontation with aggressive darkness trying to snuff out their light.
In the next verse, coach gives more detail about what they suffered, and why they were willing to:
For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Hebrews 10:34
Notice two problems and two responses. First, friends of these people had been imprisoned for their faith, and these believers took the risk of identifying with Jesus and showed compassion by visiting them. Second, when government officials intimidated them by plundering their property, they were joyful.
How could they respond to intense pressure so well? They had their eye on the prize: they knew that there inheritance in Christ was 'a better possession'. Lack of joy in the face of difficulty is an indicator that we've forgotten the immense value of what we have in Christ. So remember!
2. Don't Throw Away
I just read the story of a man down in England who began mining bitcoins in 2009, before they were a big 'thing'. The laptop computer he used eventually succombed to planned obsolescence, but he wisely retained the hard drive on which his treasur trove of bitcoins resided. However, several years later when he was tidying his house, he accidently put into the rubbish the box containing the hard drive with the bitcoins. So, down in England there is a landfill with a hard drive containing millions of pounds worth of bitcoins. The lesson: don't throw away what's valuable.
Our spiritual coach tells us not to throw away confidence:
Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. Hebrews 10:35
The Greek word for confidence (parresia) means free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance. This is the posture with which God intends us to live the Christian life. In the face of all life's difficulties; how can we live with confidence?
Scripture gives us at least two confidence boosters. The first is found earlier in this chapter, in Hebrews 10:19-20:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.
The blood of Jesus washes away our sin and gives us right standing with God. Rather than coming before God like a beat puppy, unsure of how our master might treat, we have cheerful boldness to come straight into the very presence of the living God - not because we're good, but because of the shed blood of Jesus. Our Saviour adequately solved the issue of our sinfulness so that through faith in him, we can have confident fellowship with God.
Second, we can be confident in the promises of God. The Bible is full of promises; the primary way we relate to God is by believing his promises and acting like they are true. For example, Philippians 1:6 makes an astounding promise to us:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
God promises to finish what he has started in our lives. On our darkest day, our circumstances don't dictate what God is up to; God's promise stand sure and steadfast in spite of our human weakness. This should make us confident!
3. Press On
Finally, our spiritual coach encourages us to keep going:
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. Hebrews 10:36
I'll be honest: I struggle with the word endurance. I have more fast twitch than slow twitch muscles, and the I categorise running anything greater than 200 meters as a 'distance' event. The word endurance evokes pain and misery.
But the author of Hebrews doesn't simply tell us to endure; he tells us how:
Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.
The key to endurance in the Christian life is to keep looking at Jesus. That means to keep reflecting on who He is, what He has done, and what it means. That is, keep remembering the gospel. As we walk through life, many things try to divet our persepctive from Christ; external problems and internal issues try to deflect us from Jesus. By keeping our eyes firmly fixed on him, we can endure, because we remain confident he'll take us safely to the other side.
More than that, Jesus is the founder and finisher (author and perfecter) of our faith. Jesus has initiated and established faith in our lives, and he will bring it to completion. What kind of faith is Jesus building in our lives? According to 1 John 5:4, the victory that overcomes the world is our faith. Thus, Jesus is building a powerful, overcoming, victorious faith in our lives.
What does all this mean? Very simpley, we're going to win. Jesus is going to finish what he's started in our lives, he's going to take us safely to the other side.
Our spiritual coach gives us one final encouragement in Hebrews 10:39:
But we are not of those who shrink back.
He's reminding us that this is not who we are. He's writing and speaking to us because we are not of this who shrink back; he's reminding us that because Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith, we have the confidence and the courage to keep going.
Whatever it is that you are facing, whatever mountain, obstacle, circumstance, or issue, remember that God is bigger. When you're tempted to throw in the towel, remember that God is building in you a destiny of victory and succesful completion of the race.
We may trip and fall, we may get weary, we may get diverted, we may want to quit: but we are not of those who shrink back; through faith (believing God's promises) and patience (enduring to the end), we will inherit God's promises (Hebrews 6:12).