In my limited junior-high running career, I stunk at long-jump, high-jump, anything to do with throwing something heavy, 100s, 200s, 400s, 800s, 1500s, 3000s. Watching me do track and field stuff was reminiscent of watching a newborn foal standing for the first time and taking its first few steps–awkward and not without a few stumbles.
I may not have been good at them, but I could cross a finish line. I could shot a put. I could fling a discus. I could clear at least a four-foot high bar. I could produce a low-altitude orbit for at least 8′ without fouling. I may not have excelled at any of them, but I could do them.
Hurdles were, on the other hand, a different story. I couldn’t do them. I couldn’t get over a single one. If I tried, I would knock one over and go tumbling, putting my hands down as quickly as possible to keep my cheek from playing road-grader while skidding on the rubbery track surface. My only option? Jog up to one of those waist-high wooden and metal obstacles, and hop-step over it, one leg at a time, then sprint like five steps and do the whole thing over again.
Shouldn’t I, a relatively athletic guy, be able to clear at least one hurdle? I mean, I’ve never been an excellent runner or a guy with Jordan-esque leaping skills, but come on, it can’t be that hard can it?
My cheeks would burn red when the hurdles came out onto the track. Not because I was angry, but through my embarrassment over not being able to cleanly clear even a single one.
It’s a common story really. Not the hurdles, mind you, but sometimes people just can’t do something they think they ought to be able to do. Christians in particular run up against this all the time.
We tell ourselves, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” but get embarrassed when we struggle with doubt and hopelessness. We encourage ourselves with the gospel, remembering that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” but we don’t turn to Him in the midst of them because we think we should be better than we are. We think we ought to be able to battle a specific sin tendency more effectively, because “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it,” but like a dog returning to his vomit, we find ourselves in a recurring cycle of sin.
Jesus explains it all and the reality of life is plain – “You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). In this blessed, two-fold promise, Jesus lays out truth about our time spent on this mortal coil – we cannot fully escape our doubts, our striving, our nature; and that is OK. Jesus reminds the eleven, for their benefit, that life is hard, that life in Christ does not mean a life liberated from the presence of struggles and hardships. What Jesus commands is to be courageous, to be strong, to have faith because he overcame the world.
It is why Paul writes these words in Romans 8, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1-2). When the believer comes up against the temptation, comes up against the doubt and hopelessness, comes up against the impossible circumstance, the Christian can be encouraged that Jesus overcame all of it at the cross.
Read those words again,
…there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus…
God doesn’t look down upon those who doubt and who lose hope. God doesn’t sneer at your temptations. God doesn’t turn His back on those who are wrestling with the reality of the struggles of this world.
Jesus died on the cross to overcome all of those things. He reminded the eleven that life would be hard, that trials fill every day. Yet, Jesus overcame those things.
Christianity does not provide immunity from the hurdles, the things that overwhelm, embarrass, anger, frustrate, and otherwise flummox us. Faith allows us to see things from the perspective of our Creator who stepped out of heaven and took on flesh to prevail over them.
I know the thought process.
“I’m a Christian. Shouldn’t I be better at this whole ‘life’ thing?”
Jesus didn’t come so that we would better at life but to alleviate the condemnation we feel when we can’t seem to get it right. (NOTE: Though following Jesus does make us “better” at life to a certain degree)
When we sprint five steps and then hop-step the next hurdle, the embarrassment of not being Edwin Moses fades away when we recognize that no matter how much better we get, the goal is to get over the hurdle and finish the race. Stumbles and falls may still happen from time to time. You may still end up with skinned knees and a bloodied lip from taking a spill over the hurdle.
Jesus told us to expect the bumps and bruises, but also to take heart, because he won the race for us.