What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger kept ringing in my ears as I climbed up the trail on the side of the mountain. My lungs were screaming for air and I was wishing there was some sort of rescue plan for the desperately out-of-shape, middle-aged woman who had “thought of herself more highly than she ought.” When my husband and I started out that morning, I believed a nice little walk in nature with a few hills and valleys would be the perfect exercise. But now I wished a helicopter would come over the horizon to pull me up to level ground where my feet belonged. I was beginning to believe this would not end in “strengthening.”
And yet, I survived to live another day. I was relieved to make it to the top. I am not sure I would have made it without the encouraging presence of my husband. He took it slow when I needed to go slow and stopped and waited when I needed to rest. He stuck with me the entire time even though he could have gone much faster. He never murmured a single negative comment or let on how weak I was. When we got to the top, I was grateful not only for his company but also that he had been there for me when the trail was tough. His companionship had helped me to persevere in an exercise that was very difficult and through that perseverance I had learned I could walk up the side of a mountain.
After my “harrowing experience”, Hebrews 12 came to mind, partly because I recalled the bit about “Enduring hardship as discipline”. But what follows is a list of encouraging companions that help us along the way when we encounter hardship.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. . .Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? . . .They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Hebrews 12:1-3, 7, 10-13
Verse one gives us a “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us. The idea here is a stadium filled to capacity with cheering spectators. The race is about to begin and the crowd is not only there to witness it but to also shout out encouragements. These witnesses know what we face because they have been in our shoes and they too have felt the pre-race jitters and the moments of doubt about whether they would finish or not. But they know it can be done and so they raise their voices with enthusiasm to spur us on.
Then, we see Jesus in verse two. He is called the author and perfecter of our faith. He has written the how-to book on it. He is what they call a pioneer who has gone before us to show the way, and now we are instructed to follow in his footsteps. Verse 3 tells us to “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Jesus lived as a man and was confronted with the hardships common to man. We are spurred on when we consider his example of perseverance.
And in verse 7, God, the Father walks us through hard times and trains us along the way. His motivation is to give us what we need to have the life he has planned for us: One full of righteousness and peace (verse 11); One that allows us to share in his holiness (verse 10). I love his encouragement in verse 12, “Therefore,” — because you want to live a life of peace and righteousness and share in God’s holiness– “strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.” How? “Run the race marked out for us”, “Consider him [Jesus] who endured such opposition” and “Endure hardship as discipline”.
Easy? Hardly. This is one of those ‘good news, bad news’ situations. The bad news is “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.” But the good news –“Later on, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (verse 11)
I have since repeated the hike that almost did me in. This time with the blessing of cooler weather and stronger muscles. The thought of not finishing never entered my mind. I did have to take it slow and even stop to catch my breath a few times but the trip itself was much easier. My husband cheered for me as I reached the top and pointed out we had completed the climb in half the time. Woo Hoo! What an accomplishment.
It is true that “What doesn’t kill us does make us stronger” but isn’t it a good thing we don’t have to go it alone when life produces hardship? We are surrounded, shown the way, and instructed by some pretty encouraging companions. Boy, do they ever make life and its seemly constant uphill climb a whole lot easier.
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.
Ecclesiastes 4:9 NLT