I remember one moment when, as the sun was going down, I was driving through a beautiful stretch of mountainous terrain - and I love mountain scenery, I really do. But at that particular instant in time I might as well have been driving through the dust bowl; the scenery just spoke of my isolation from all that was familiar and comfortable. Frankly, everything in me at that point wanted to give up the quest, get off at the nearest exit, find a place to park, bawl like a baby, and, of all things, call my husband and ask him to come get me! I'm not kidding!
Thankfully I had just enough sense left to be able to recognize how idiotic all that would have been. I reminded myself that I had almost reached my goal, that to turn back now would be totally crazy, and would, in all likelihood, end with me driving back over the very same terrain I had just covered, causing me more of the pain and exhaustion that was now kicking my posterior (so to speak...ha!). Even with my mental faculties obviously dwindling by the minute, I knew there was no way I would ask my poor husband to drive out into the boonies to "rescue" me just because my knees hurt and I was tired!!
I mentally gave myself a shake and resolved to keep going, forcing myself to think about the hotel that waited a mere hour away (if there were no more road construction mazes to navigate!). A place complete with a bed, a shower, and a pool where I could work off some of the stiffness in my joints and relax!
I also self-talked myself into remembering why I had started out on this journey in the first place (which now seemed like a completely insane thing to do...) I was going to a Christian conference in order to hear a speaker whom I had long desired to meet, a woman whom I considered to be one of the heroes of the faith, a woman who had buried her murdered husband ( a pastor in Iran) back in 1994. A woman who had raised their 4 kids by herself, immigrated to the U.S., and who had started her own ministry in an effort to comfort others.
In light of all that this beautiful Christ follower, a lady named Takoosh Hosvespian, had done, who was I to pull off at the nearest exit so that I could sit in my car and whine, "I can't do this anymore!" - when I was less than an hour away from a form of luxury that most of the world never knows?
Shaking your head by now? If you aren't, you should be! What a wimp I was!
Yet even for wimps, there is the all-sufficient grace of God... I'm so thankful!! Aren't you?? I prayed and He answered. The moment passed and I drove on to my destination without any mishaps. When I called my husband later, it was only to tell him that I was fine. I loved the conference, got to talk to Takoosh, and enjoyed my time away from home.
My example is real - granted it's a silly one but it was very tangible to me at the time. I shared it for one reason - to illustrate the fact that many times we are tempted to throw in the towel, turn back if you will, just when our desired goal is almost in sight. Why is it that the last stretch of our journey often seems the hardest?
I don't know. But I think this is one of the main things that the book of Hebrews is about: a warning not to turn back, a word of admonition as well as encouragement to tired souls who are ready to toss in the spiritual towel.
Their suffering was palpable. They had been at it for a while and it had cost some of them everything except the actual shedding of blood (which they knew was likely to come later on). Possessions, community, family - all of that had mostly gone by the board. They were part of a new religious sect that banked everything on Jesus as their Passover Lamb, their only High Priest, their one shot at Heaven and eternity. They had left behind the comfortable and the familiar - things that the writer of Hebrews would call dead works that their consciences had been cleansed from. In short, they had embarked on a journey based not on the works of their fathers but on sheer, naked faith in a humble carpenter/preacher who had taught revolutionary ideas for three years, been executed as a despised criminal, and who had then risen from the dead - sometime back before their day.
In one of the most famous passages in Hebrews, chapter 10:32 - 12:3, the writer is basically saying:
You have already come so far by faith! Can it be that you've now forgotten how hard it was when you first started out? Don't you remember? When you were first saved, you suffered. A lot. Part of the suffering couldn't be helped. As a Christ follower, you came in for things that were publicly humiliating - false accusations designed to shame and discredit you - accusations heaped on top of tribulations - physical ordeals, afflictions, possibly even tragedy.
But some of your suffering could have been avoided. Yet you chose not to duck the difficult. When given the option, you openly aligned yourself with your fellow believers who were rotting in prison. You showed sympathy for them and thus became guilty by association. For that choice, your property was confiscated. Everything you had inherited, everything you had worked for - gone! And yet you accepted it, not resentfully but joyfully!
Don't you remember? You started this journey of suffering and faith with joy!
How could you do that? Think back! When you first started out travelling by faith, you knew - you really knew - that you had something on down the road that was worth suffering for! Possessions waiting for you that were way better than anything you had here on earth! Property that could never be stolen from you! An inheritance that would never rust, decay, or be confiscated! And a family consisting of multitudes of saints, a myriad of angels,and crowned by the presence of God Himself!
And then the writer goes on to give them a practical list of things to do:
1. Look back at how far you've already come!
2. Look forward to what is waiting for you!
3. Set your watch by the nearness of the Lord's return for you! You want Him to be happy to see you, don't you? Don't you want a joyous reunion instead of a tail-tucked-between-your-legs type of homecoming because you dropped out of the race at the last quarter mile?
4. Meditate on the lives of the heroes of faith who have gone before you! They had long, hard roads to travel but they made it by keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith! The same God who enabled them to cross the finish line and receive their rewards can do the same for you!
5. Evaluate what you are about to throw away! Instead of chucking your confidence in God, toss out the things that are weighing you down! Kick off the sin of unbelief! Move forward by faith!
6. Above all - focus! Keep your eyes on Jesus! Remember that He was able to get past the shame of hanging on the cross by focusing on the joy that He knew was waiting for Him. Part of that joy is... you. Knowing that His sacrifice would save you, equip you, and be enough to bring you into His heart, His Home, His family - and not just somehow but triumphantly!
Along the journey of faith, we are faced with all kinds of easy outs. The writer of Hebrews was saying, don't go back to the old sacrificial system built around the blood of dead animals and the rituals that the Pharisees counted on. You have something better here - infinitely better! Keep on faithin it when you are tempted to turn back! The end of the journey will be worth it all!!
Our exits won't look exactly the same as theirs. But they'll be posted along our spiritual journey just the same. When we are tempted to pull off the rugged highway of faith and/or do a total 180 turnaround, we can work our way through steps 1 - 6 and hang on. In faith. For the joy and the rewards that are set before us. For the Savior who waits to welcome each of us Home with open arms and the words, "Well done!"