“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” –Hebrews 12:2
Who is the finisher? Is it me?
As I run this race and seek to endure, am I called to look inward to find what I need to finish?
Should I worry that I will somehow miss the calling and steps He has marked for me?
The work before me has been prepared from long ago (Eph 2:10), and even when it is brutal and difficult, the One on whom this depends does not yield until it is finished.
He will finish what He has started concerning me.
The race stretches out before me, and it holds difficulty, darkness, precarious footing, an unrelenting incline, obstacles, and constant distractions.
But the Finisher lights a lamp for me in my darkness, enables me to stand on mountain heights, strengthens me to endure, helps me to scale every wall, makes my way perfect, and spreads the path wide before my feet.
He shows me how to run for the joy set before me, clinging to the certain hope that we will not fall short of the finish.
27 You rescue the humble, but you humiliate the proud. 28 You light a lamp for me. The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness. 29 In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall.
30 God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. 31 For who is God except the Lord? Who but our God is a solid rock? 32 God arms me with strength, and he makes my way perfect. 33 He makes me as surefooted as a deer, enabling me to stand on mountain heights. 34 He trains my hands for battle; he strengthens my arm to draw a bronze bow. 35 You have given me your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me; your help has made me great. 36 You have made a wide path for my feet to keep them from slipping.
I do not, this morning, have a gentle, submissive attitude that praises you for your wonderful works. Today, I’m upset. These are cries from the clay in the messy and pressure-filled work of molding.
I’m frustrated by this verse because as you formed my body, you allowed this genetic flaw that would make every pregnancy miserable. I’m nauseous. I’m hot. I’m tired of throwing up. I’m tired of how little control I have over whether our travel plans will actually work out or constantly need to be re-worked. I’m tired of the countdowns.
Countdown to second trimester? Done! So what? Other people get to bid the nausea good riddance and enjoy the extra energy. I throw up and spend my days in bed just the same. Countdown to going home? Meaningless. Travel is so tenuous now, it could all fall apart at the last minute. Countdown to the baby? It will mean no sleep and a torn up body.
Every countdown just feels like counting down to more problems that I do not have the capacity to take on.
We do not get to just enjoy your gifts. They are fraught with difficulty and brokenness at every turn. Relief is coming, but it is so far away. And I am living and trying to stay encouraged here and now. I am struggling to find tangible joy and hope for my tired hands to take hold of.
I’m crying out to you, my Maker. You, who have carried me through these waters before. You, who have set me on solid ground and given my heart new cause to rejoice. Forgive my angry outcries and restore my soul. I am breaking here and I do not understand your ways.
Outward, always outward I am reaching and searching for a source of delight and satisfaction and strength, but you use these moments of unrelenting hardship – not just to teach me to endure – but to teach me how you endure.
You, my light and hope and source of lasting contentment, you endure untarnished by the harsh realities I am walking through. May my heart be humble and wise enough to take you at your word that your grace alone is sufficient for me, especially in the frustrating moments when I do not feel it.
You gave your life for my freedom. It’s the message for all time, given at just the right time (1 Timothy 2:6). Freedom from condemnation, fear and worry. Freedom from the need for control. Freedom to surrender.
Help my heart to surrender to your care and rest, even in my disappointment, even in all that is uncertain. Lead my heart to contentment in you, Oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer. I do not start there, and when it gets rough like this, I cannot find the way myself.
But I can come to you and pour out my soul. I can admit that the truth doesn’t feel true and confess my need for help with my own heart, and you will faithfully step in to lead me. When I am blindly groping for a foothold, you are a faithful guide who makes my shaking feet sure, and you gently help me to believe again that you are a trustworthy potter. That what you are crafting is worth every second of the wait. And that in every moment of my difficulty, you hold me carefully in your hands.
“May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.”
During our orientation, we have been speaking much of how important flexibility is on the mission field. It’s been killing me a little bit because if I’m honest with myself, I am not a flexible being. I am high strung. I’m a planner. I like to know what I can expect. I do not know how to roll with the punches. And so I feel like I will fail. I feel afraid of moving overseas because I look at how I’m coping here and now, and I know it will fall far short of what is required over there. I start to stress over whether I’m a horrible fit for this ministry and maybe they should find someone else.
Much of this transition has been a series of facing up to how I fall short. Attitudes, struggles, and bents that are not Christ-like, discouragement over how slow and invisible the growth and progress seem to be, anxiety as I notice how others seem to be taking in stride what constitutes a major upheaval in my life. Man, is it messy when I look in the mirror.
But I have been sitting with these words from Philippians and considering the choice of the phrase “press on.”
The word press holds the idea of moving forward against resistance.
“All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power so that you will have all the endurance and patience you need…”
“God is more interested in how we keep running than how fast and flawlessly we get to our destination. He calls perseverance the outcome of a faith in progress and tells us how to keep on keeping on with diligence and hope, even when we don’t see or feel progress in the now…Beholding how Christ endured the cross helps us set our gaze on His provision and not our performance along the course…”
How I need the reminder that God asks me to keep going, even if it’s not going smoothly. I can set my eyes on his provision and he is pleased if I just take the next step, however clumsy, trusting in that. He is not wishing I would get it together faster.
When I decided to follow after Christ, I signed up for a mud run. Obstacle after obstacle, stumbling upon stumbling, but pressing forward, even if that progress sometimes happens at a crawl.
And so, may I learn to take up his strength to be patient with myself and with my journey, because this does not look like I expected it to. I am in pain over how slow and invisible the progress is. But I can surrender my pace and my progress to him. I can decide that he knows what he’s doing and be patient with where I am, internally and externally, because I know he is taking me somewhere good, and I have confidence he can get me there.
I can be light-hearted, even as I see areas that desperately need growth, even as I struggle on repeat, even when it seems like I will never figure out how to handle things better, because I know what he is capable of. He will not abandon a slow pupil, because he is a skilled teacher.
Patience is a resolve not to worry about the timing, that flows from confidence in what the outcome will be. So I will take my inflexible tendencies, my weaknesses and issues and struggles, and lay them at his feet. I will be patient, and I will take up great hope.
If I rest my gaze on what he is able to do in me, I will find that seeing my issues loud and clear does not have to prompt worry in my heart.
Great hope says this: I do not know how to do this yet, but Christ is my teacher, so I can learn. I do not feel prepared for what’s ahead, but he is prepared to carry me through it. I am not able, but he is always able. He does not ask me to be fast; he asks me to be faithful. And when I stumble, he does not yell: That’s it! You’re through!
He comes alongside my brokenness and whispers: “I’m here. Keep going.”