Reading: Hebrews 12:1-11
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A woman, suffering from the loss of a family member, brushed past her pastor one Sunday morning.
“How are you doing?” he jovially asked.
“I’m hanging on,” she responded, overwhelmed by the weight of all that was going on.
“Hanging on? We’re not supposed to be just hanging on,” he responded. “We’re supposed to live victoriously!”
She approached another minister and asked. “Is he right? Am I supposed to be living victoriously?”
The pastor thought for a moment and then nodded. “Yes, we are supposed to live victoriously. But sometimes the victory is just hanging on.”
I love that story and the encouragement the second pastor gave to her. I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I’m sure you have as well. It might be stress, grief, or pain, but sometimes the burdens we bear can almost seem like more than we can handle.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to go on a ski trip to Colorado. At one point, I was skiing down a run that was labeled “experts only.” As I paused to catch my breath, I watched a father lead his daughter down the same intimidating run. The mom followed close behind. The young girl, probably no older than seven, whose name was Lexi, (judging by the parents’ constant encouragement), slowly carved her way with her skis following close behind her father. Her crying from beneath her helmet and mask revealed a little girl, who was frightened by the intense angle of the mountain face. As she skied behind her father, she cautiously followed the path that he had carved out of the snow. Before long, Lexi was down the mountain, and my wife and I cheered for her, as Lexi sobbed in relief.
Sometimes we are like Lexi. We feel more comfortable coasting through life, but sometimes our Heavenly Father gives us a challenge. Sometimes that challenge appears frightening and overwhelming. He might be challenging us in ministry. He might be strengthening us through a trial. Sometimes we can feel as unsteady as a seven year old on skis, a slip away from hurling down the mountain at break-neck speed. But no matter where our Father leads us; He never leaves us alone.
“Follow me,” He says, just as Lexi’s dad said to her. “You can do it. Just don’t veer off my tracks. I would never lead you to a place I didn’t think you could handle. You can do this. Just keep your eyes focused on me and where I’m leading.” We may not ski down that mountain like an Olympic champ, but the victory sometimes is just following our Father – slow and steady in His groomed path – to the bottom of the run.
I’m reminded of the Hebrew word qavah, which means to hope or to wait. It’s used in passages such as Isaiah 40:31 – “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Qavah not only means to wait or to hope, but it also means to braid or bind together. The idea that we’re presented with is that when we stick together with the Lord, we will live victoriously.
The promise given to the Church at Philadelphia – a church who, though amazingly faithful, was barely hanging on, is that God will make the victorious a pillar in His temple. Even though we seem feeble, we seem like we’re just holding on, God sees something different. He sees us following Him – slow and steady. Victory is not measured by what we accomplish or how fast we accomplish it. It is measured on how we follow Jesus. Without Him, our accomplishments are nothing if not reckless. But those who keep their eyes on Jesus are the example in His Kingdom, a pillar of strength in His Temple. As Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”