A few months ago, I met a friend for breakfast. When I asked him how he was doing, he answered, “I’m enduring.”
If his response doesn’t sound remarkable, it’s only because you don’t know the howling spiritual storm that had raged in his soul over the past year, and the relentless questions and doubts that pressed on him. He was wrestling “spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12) in a fierce, disorienting fight for faith (1 Timothy 6:12), all while faithfully leading a young, growing family, helping to (bi-vocationally) lead a young, growing church, and helping to (vocationally) lead a young, growing, increasingly visible ministry. And on top of that were the taxing stresses of normal life. Few knew the fortitude this season required of him. He was enduring, and it was remarkable.
When we observe those like my friend enduring such a difficult struggle, we often feel the merciful impulse to try to relieve their anguish. This can be a loving impulse, and at times exactly what we should do. But we must be discerning and careful, because sometimes it isn’t. In fact, we might be trying to take away something precious the Lord is giving: endurance.
The New Testament makes it clear that, for the Christian, developing endurance is essential. It tells us “the way is hard that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14), and fiery trials most certainly will befall us (1 Peter 4:12). Therefore, it says, “you have need of endurance” (Hebrews 10:36) because “by your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:19). God promises to us the “eternal weight of glory” of knowing and being known by Christ (2 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 3:8). But the promise has a crucial condition: our endurance.
When our heavenly Father determines to give us the gift of endurance, it is one of the most precious, loving gifts we can receive from him. But how is endurance gained? You may know the answer: pain. There’s no way around it. We attain every form of increased stamina only by the discipline of forcing ourselves (or being forced) to push beyond our current limits and persevere through an arduous, sometimes agonizing, experience of discomfort.
So, what package should we expect God’s loving gift of endurance to arrive in? One that “seems painful rather than pleasant” (Hebrews 12:11): a season of discipline.
God’s discipline can be a confusing, disorienting experience for Christians. It certainly was for the original recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews. As a church, they were suffering various forms of persecution and social alienation because of their faith in Christ. They too were in a howling spiritual storm, continually being pressed by their own questions and doubts. They were growing weary and discouraged.
And here’s where the author of Hebrews exercised careful discernment in his response. As he listened to these Christians express their fatigue, he didn’t hear endurance, like I did that morning from my friend. He heard them drifting away from the gospel (Hebrews 2:1). He heard them losing confidence in Christ, and beginning to shrink back in fearful unbelief (Hebrews 10:35, 39). He heard them risking the loss of the better and abiding possession that once had given them such joy (Hebrews 10:34–35). They faced a clear and present danger. They surely needed encouragement. But this author knew they didn’t need the soft, consoling kind. They needed a firm exhortation.
Therefore, he didn’t mince words. He warned them of the danger and said, “You have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36). Then he encouraged them at length to faithfully endure just as the great saints of the past had done (chapter 11), and just as “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” had done (Hebrews 12:1–2). And then he reminded them that their affliction was the painful package containing God’s loving gift of endurance, a gift he gives to all his children (Hebrews 12:3–11).
God’s children in every age need this reminder. That’s why the author pointed his Hebrew readers back to an ancient proverb they all knew, and said, “Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?”
My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives. (Hebrews 12:5–6; Proverbs 3:11–12)
Years ago, when the Spirit directed me to Hebrews 12 during a confusing, disorienting, howling spiritual storm, it completely changed my perspective of my affliction.
- “The Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6). This is an expression of God’s love for me.
- “God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7). I really am his child.
- “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). There is a long-term, sanctifying, satisfying purpose to this agonizing experience.
This exhortation didn’t immediately quiet my internal storm; it didn’t alleviate all my anguish. But as I began to understand my suffering as the endurance-building discipline of my loving Father, I was able to “rejoice in [my] sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance” (Romans 5:3). The God of hope filled me with joy and peace in believing the promise in this exhortation (Romans 15:13). And that hope fueled my resolve to endure.
When my friend expressed his own resolve to endure, I was given a glimpse of the Father of spirits giving his son a precious gift in a very painful package — so his son would live (Hebrews 12:9). My friend was not regarding lightly the discipline of the Lord, but receiving it in humble faith, even though his trials grieved him (1 Peter 1:6). He was considering the example of his Older Brother, Jesus, and seeking to endure for the joy set before him (Hebrews 12:2).
That’s why we all “have need of endurance, so that when [we] have done the will of God [we] may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36). And what is promised, what is set before us, is “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
So, let us give each other the encouragement we most need — the encouragement that will help us receive that promise. At times it is tender comfort and consolation. But at other times, perhaps more than we think, we must strengthen one another’s souls by “encouraging [each other] to continue in the faith, [since it is] through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
In the middle of a howling storm in the soul, in the agony of “a severe test of affliction” (2 Corinthians 8:2), it is easy to grow weary, and the temptation can be strong to just give up. At that point, what we often most need is an exhortation to “endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3 KJV). Because “by [our] endurance [we] will gain [our] lives” (Luke 21:19).