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When Running Gets Tough

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by Linda Rex

I was deeply grieved and concerned by the events that transpired at the Boston Marathon yesterday. No doubt the marathon runners had spent months and even years training, preparing to run in the event. Those who came out to watch had loved ones who were running in the race. Each of these people who were at this event, whether participating or watching, had a story—what brought them there and what they hoped to have happen at the event.

Then the unforeseen occurred. Someone, somewhere, sought only to wreak havoc on other people’s lives. They sought to harm, not to heal or to help. And they had no conscience about who they hurt, for even those who were there to tend to the wounded were harmed.

In the aftermath of such carnage, it is easy to give trite responses. I hope that I will not do that today. But I do want to call the people of America back to their heritage of resilience in the midst of struggle and suffering.

Throughout the decades of our existence as a nation, we have faced many struggles and tragedies. Native peoples and settlers alike fought to survive. Many endured the tragic loss of dear ones through war. The troughs of depression and recession have had their victims as well. Other devastating events like 9/11 have left their mark.

But there is a deep inner strength that, in years past, our people called upon to carry them through these times. Some gave in to their fear and some yielded to the call of traitors and easy money. But there have been others, many others, who looked upward and inside and found a deep faith to carry them through the hard times. This faith gave them the courage to stand against evil and its ravages. This faith gave them strength and endurance as they ran the difficult marathon of life.

In American society today where everything except perhaps our relationships comes easily for most of us, there are not as many occasions available for us to learn the skill of resilience. Many people may complain about their bills or about making ends meet, but most of them have food to eat and a place to live and a way to earn their living, as well as money for the pleasant things of life.

If people cannot make ends meet and end up on the street, there are programs and people who will feed them and may even give them a place to stay the night. There are food banks, shelters, mission houses and soup kitchens galore. This shows the compassion of our people and the love God places in our hearts to care for one another.

But what if you are the one who finds out you are going to be evicted and you know you have no place to go? What if you are the one was laid off unexpectedly and now you don’t have any money even to pay for the groceries? What if you are the one who is facing the consequences of years of mismanaging your money and overspending? What if you are the one facing an unexpected, tragic loss like those experienced yesterday in Boston?

We come to these crossroads in life, these forks where we must make difficult choices. We can give up, give in, or we can do the hard, grueling work of training like the marathon runners preparing for a race. We can bewail our loss and lose our heart for living and running the race when tragedy strikes us, or we can reach upward and inward and draw upon the deep spiritual resources of our faith in God and persevere. These are opportunities to grow in resilience, in endurance and patience, if we are willing to see them in that light.

Undergoing the loss of a loved one, the loss of a limb, the loss of home, family or occupation is not for sissies. It is tough. We need each other and we need to remember we are deeply loved by Someone who is much greater than ourselves and our circumstances. It is the crisis of faith, the final leg of the race, where we need the inner strength to push ourselves to our limits and beyond if necessary. And we are never alone as we do this, if we are willing to allow others in. May God continue to carry you through your tragedies and struggles this day, and may we offer one another the encouragement and support as it is needed.

Loving Heavenly Father, your heart is broken by the many ways in which we harm and hurt one another, and by the pain and suffering that comes from it. No doubt, Jesus, your heart goes out to those grieving and suffering in Boston, as well as elsewhere throughout the world where tragedy has occurred. Lord God, may your divine Spirit pour out upon each of us your comfort, peace and love. Give us strength of heart, courage and faith to endure the struggles and grow in endurance and resilience. Let your compassion, healing and help be evident as we care for one another in difficult times. Thank you for your faithful love in Jesus. Amen.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Heb 12:1–3 (NASB)

Beyond the Now of Suffering

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by Linda Rex

I sat with a friend one day as she told me the sad story of her husband’s tragic accident. He lingered for several agonizing days and then passed on. It was heartbreaking. I was sorry to lose his friendship as well as to watch her grieve the loss of her dearest friend. In the midst of this horrific event, how could we rejoice?

The only joy we can find in such times is in our knowledge that we may look forward to spending eternity with this dear one because of what Jesus Christ did for us. We look forward to a wonderful future spent in the presence of the Triune God, enveloped in and included in the triune life and love of Father, Son and Spirit. Next to this eternity of joy, peace, and heartwarming meaningful occupation in God’s presence, our time of struggle becomes extremely brief and almost insignificant. It’s all a matter of perspective.

This is why Paul repeatedly calls us to keep our minds and hearts on heavenly things rather than on earthly things. It is our focus on the heavenly things that gives our struggles and trials meaning.

It is a given that we will struggle in this life and may even have to suffer extreme trials. It is a given that at some point we will have to experience grief and sorrow. It is the nature of the human condition.

But our human condition is the reason why Christ came. God saw us in our pain and suffering, and in the person of the Word, he came and joined us. He became human in the person of Jesus Christ, living like us, grieving with us and dying our death for us. The answer to human suffering is found in God’s choice, made in his divine freedom, to take on and transform human flesh by living as a human being, dying, rising and ascending to heaven, taking our transformed humanity with him into the love and life of himself.

God, who is love, revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. God taught us, in Jesus Christ, that true love is forgiving, self-offering, and self-sacrificing, humble and serving in nature. Jesus, in rising from the grave, transformed our humanity, making us new in him and drawing us into the very presence of the triune God for all eternity. There is no suffering, grief or sorrow we experience in this life he will not share in. He feels it keenly himself.

So in the transient suffering of this life we are not alone. We can rejoice that Jesus Christ shares in it with us and that by his Spirit he strengthens us and carries us through these dark times. And in the end the whole purpose of all that we have suffered and gone through will be revealed in him when we are transformed into his likeness as glorified human beings and spend eternity in joyful unity with the triune God, sharing in his love and life forever.

Dear God, thank you that we are not alone in our suffering and trials. Thank you for being with us, in us and for us through them all in Christ by your Spirit. Thank you for giving us an eternal, living hope to carry us beyond them to a glorious future with you. Grant us the grace to endure and to be transformed by your gracious efforts in our trials and suffering into your glorious and radiant sons and daughters who will love and serve you faithfully forever. We pray in your name, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,…” 1 Peter 1:6 (NASB)

Countercultural Faith

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by Linda Rex

“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” 1 Peter 2:15

Sometimes we may find ourselves asking the question, “What is God’s will in this situation?” There are many verses that talk about the will of God. In this particular instance, Peter is talking about the will of God in the midst of a pagan anti-Christian culture with an oppressive government.

The people of that time lived under Nero and other Roman caesars, who took pleasure in the persecution and destruction of Christians. Peter himself would eventually experience a martyr’s death. This was a difficult, and no doubt, fearful time in which to live. Many of the issues Christians faced in those days are similar to ones Christians face in their world today.

Peter wrote that the way to silence those who know nothing about God and the way of life Jesus taught his disciples was to live in love with fellow Christians and others in the community in the face of suffering, rejection and death. What got the attention of the people of the day was the love and affection of the Christians. They had formed communities in which those in need were cared for and relationships were built. Not only that, but they reached out to those who were not Christians and showed them love and compassion even when it meant putting their lives at risk.

The Christians may have been ridiculed by their neighbors and community members for their funky observances like eating the body and blood of a dead guy (participating in communion), but the criticism was often silenced by the love and compassion these people witnessed these Christians sharing in the midst of suffering and difficult circumstances. It was the “doing good” and the non-violent response to martyrdom and suffering that eventually silenced the persecutors and paved the way for the Roman empire to embrace Christendom.

As we go about our daily lives and experience troubles and trials as Christians, it would be good for us to keep in mind the impact we have on others by our words, actions, and attitudes. We are preaching the gospel in the way we “do good” in our daily lives. As we reflect to the world around us the grace and love and truth of Jesus Christ, we pave the way for God to ultimately silence those who oppose him by transforming their hearts by faith. This is the path toward accomplishing the will of God–giving his Spirit full expression in and through us in the midst of a broken and hurting humanity who are ignorant of or live in opposition to God’s love and grace and truth in Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord of Life, please grant us the vision to see beyond our daily trials to understand the impact we can have on the world around us by living upright, godly, loving lives no matter what we may face or suffer. Help us to fully reflect the wonder of your love and grace in Jesus as we go about our daily business. You have worked mightly through your people to change the world. Please work mightly thorough us as well. Grant us the strength, wisdom and courage to bear whatever suffering or sorrow this may require and to do whatever you may ask of us. For Christ’s sake and by your great power. Amen.