The Endurance Race

When I was in school, I ran in track. There were a number of different events that you could run. There was the one hundred-meter dash, the two hundred-meter dash and the four hundred-meter dash—but I did not run any of those. The event that I ran was the 1600-meter or the one-mile race. When the gun was shot, signaling everyone to start, the runners would begin dispersing. Some would get a head start, but it did not matter who started first, it mattered who finished. And many did not finish.

In the 1600-meter race, you have to go around the track four times. After the first lap you would already be exhausted. Your heart would be pounding, your legs would be aching, your chest would be burning and every muscle was yelling to “Give Up”! You wanted nothing more than to sit down beside the track and rest, but you knew that if you sat down and did not finish the race all of the effort you had put into running the race would be wasted.

And so the Christian journey is a race. It is not a walk. It is not a stroll in the park. It is not even a one hundred-meter race. It is the endurance race. Paul wrote about this in Hebrews 12:1.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Paul is saying, “Look, we are surrounded by a great crowd of spectators, so let us lay aside the sins which so easily entangle us, and let us run the race, and let us not just run it, but let us run it with endurance.” We cannot run just half-way around the track. And we are not running the one-hundred meter dash, we are in an endurance race.

Unfortunately, today, there are many who begin to run, but do not run with endurance. In this article, we will study how we can run with endurance.

The Devil’s Traps

In the great controversy that is being waged over each soul, the devil’s mission is to see that you and I, and the rest of the world, are not saved and do not finish the endurance race. He has many traps in which he tries to entangle men. He first works to prevent them from starting the race, and he is successful with almost the entire world. He leads men and women to think that there are just too many trials and obstacles to follow the Lord all of the way, and allures them with the pleasures of sin so that they never even start the race.

However, some do begin the race. All who profess Christianity have started to run the race. To these, the devil comes with many temptations to try to make them give up and not run with endurance. He tries to overwhelm them by bringing to mind the trials and hardships that may be in the way.

It is like when you are running a literal race. Your heart is pounding as hard as it has ever pounded, because you are giving it everything you have. Your mouth, throat and lungs burn with every heaving breath. Your legs feel like there are no muscles there and you are just going through the motions. And if you start to think about those things, you are going to give up and you will not make it to the finish line. If you are going to run with endurance, you cannot think about the pain that you may be going through, you must focus on reaching the finish line.

For those who may have been running the race for a longer time, the devil brings a more subtle temptation. He points to the problems within the church, and he says, “Look at all of the problems even among those who claim to be God’s remnant people. It is no use. You might as well give up now.”

Then there are other times that he comes even more deceptively. He does not ask us to give up everything. We may continue to come to church and profess to be Christ’s child, but he persuades us to stop running. He tempts us with self-confidence or discouragement so that we stop advancing in our Christian walk. You cannot win a race by standing still. And so we are not going to win the Christian race if we are not advancing. We may think, “Well, everything is all right.” But if we are not gaining new heights every day, we are not truly running the race.

The Christian’s life can be compared to a plant. It is either growing or it is dying. The minute a tree stops sending its roots out farther and farther to find nourishment, it begins to decay. And if we stop growing we have actually given up and are not running with endurance.

Ye Have Need of Endurance

If we are going to finish the race and make it successfully to the end of our Christian journey, we must run, but not just run, we must run with endurance. Paul spoke of this again in Hebrews 10:35–37:

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: ‘For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.’”

Paul says, once you have begun, do not give up. We must develop endurance which will allow us to stand through the difficult times which are ahead. We need an endurance that will take us all the way to the end. Because, if we do not have endurance and we give up, even just two steps before the finish line, all of the sweat and strain we have put into the race will be in vain.

When I was running, there were times when an individual would get a head start. He would be ahead of everyone else and still running strong. It appeared as though he was certain to win. But if he stopped, just ten feet before the finish line, he would not win any prize. He did not endure until the end. It is not speed that we need. It is not important where we are in comparison to our brothers and sisters who are running the race (we are not racing against one another). What is important is that we finish the race, and everyone who finishes this race is going to be a winner. There will not be a first or a second place. All who have endurance and finish the race will win the prize.

Why does Paul say endurance is so much needed now? Because Jesus is coming soon! “He who is coming will come and will not tarry,” is God’s promise. And the goal of each one of us is to be ready when Jesus comes and hear His voice say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord.” We cannot afford to give up now: the stakes are much too high!

Today, as the closing scenes of earth’s history are unfolding before us, and we know that we are living in the very last days, now, as never before, we especially need endurance. For it is at the end of a race when endurance is most needed.

When you are near the very end of the race, and you only have about a quarter of a lap to go, that is the most difficult time. Yes, you are near the end, but you still have to press through when the pain is the absolute worst. And so, right now, we do not know how soon Jesus is going to come, but we know that we are very near His coming, and we need endurance as at no other time.

How to Endure

In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, he does not leave us with only the truth that we must run with endurance (for we must if we are to win the race). But he tells us how we can run with endurance. “And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1, 2.

There is only one way we can run the endurance race successfully and it can be summarized into this one phrase, “Looking unto Jesus.” If we have our eyes fixed on Jesus and we are following the example of His overcoming life, we are going to endure until the end. However, if our eyes are not riveted on Jesus, no matter our profession, we will not endure to the end.

It is the same as a race. From the second the starting shot is fired until you cross the finish line, you must focus on one thing. There is not room in your mind for many different things when you are running. Your focus must be on one thing, and one thing only: reaching the finish line. When you are half-way through the first lap, you are thinking “In three and a half laps I am going to make it to the finish line.” And then it is three laps, and then two, and each step leads you closer to the finish line. You cannot think about those behind you or you might slow down and you cannot think of those in front of you because you might speed up and not be able to endure to the end of the race. If you think about your pounding chest, or your aching muscles, you will give up. The only way to endure is to have your eyes and your mind focused on the finish line. And it is the same in our Christian race.

If our eyes are focused on anything other than Jesus we are not going to endure to the end. We may profess to run, or we may be able to make it part of the way, but if our eyes are not firmly riveted on Jesus, the center of our faith, if our thoughts and affections are not focused on Him and what He has done, we will not be able to endure the trials that encompass us. Somewhere, along the path, we will give up.

Jesus tried to illustrate this important lesson to Peter in an experience that is recorded in Matthew 14. The story begins after Jesus fed the five thousand. There was a great tumult among the people who were determined that they were going to take Jesus by force and make Him their king. Anticipation was thick in the air as excited voices repeated the many wonderful things that could happen to their nation if Jesus was their King. “Here is One who can feed all of our armies and heal all the wounded. We would never need to lose a man. We would be able to conquer all of the world. We must make Him our king!”

This was the moment the disciples had been waiting for. They had long dreamed of being rulers of the people, respected by all, instead of the poor followers of a reviled teacher from Nazareth. They mingled with the crowd urging on the excited company.

And then, right as the multitude was rushing forward, ready to take Jesus by force, Jesus, in commanding tones, dismissed the assembly. He told the disciples to get in the boat and to go to the other side of the sea. It was perhaps the hardest command from their Master that they had ever had to obey, but He spoke with authority that could not be disobeyed.

As they sailed on the peaceful sea, their minds were in turmoil. Their thoughts were not on Jesus and the miracle of mercy that He had performed that day. Instead, they were thinking about what could have been, and doubts began to fill their minds with discontent. At first they did not notice the storm clouds gathering in the sky, but it was not long until the sea changed from peaceful ripples, to raging waves. They fought to keep their boat adrift, but soon it was evident that they were losing the battle against the mighty sea. By about three in the morning, they were exhausted and ready to give up. It was then that they saw a figure coming across the billowing waves toward them, and they were very afraid. Amidst their cries of terror, Jesus said, “It is I, be not afraid.”

“And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’” Matthew 14:28–31.

As long as Peter’s eyes were centered on Jesus he was safe, but when he turned his attention to the wind and the waves that were breaking around his feet, fear overtook him and he began to sink.

Jesus has bidden to each one of us, as He did Peter, “Come.” And as long as we keep our eyes fixed on Him, the author and finisher of our faith, we are safe. But the minute we take our eyes off Him, to look to circumstances, to those around us or to the trials that we worry are ahead, we begin to sink.

Easy to Start, Difficult to Endure

When we came to the last night of our seminar in Koforidua, Ghana, we gave an altar call inviting people to go all the way with Jesus. Between 150 and 200 people came forward, choosing to keep the Sabbath and be part of God’s last day people. Many answered the call, but many of that number took their eyes off Jesus, and did not endure. There was a good number at church the next Sabbath, but not nearly all of those who had come out of their chairs and started on the race. It is one thing to hear the voice of Jesus call, and to say, “Yes, I will come,” but it is another thing altogether to endure. And it does not matter if we say we are going to come, if we do not endure we are going to sink like Peter.

Christ has not promised us smooth sailing. There will be waves lapping about our feet or towering above us, and the devil frequently tries to get us to look to these troubles. How easy it is for us to start focusing on our trials, discouragements and troubles, but the minute we do that, our eyes are moved from Jesus. The more we look to them, the larger they become because we start to sink and our troubles get closer and closer to us as we begin to be buried among them. However, our trials were not given to overcome us, they were actually given to strengthen us. James wrote these encouraging words which we should ever keep in mind. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience (endurance).” James 1:2, 3.

James says, “Do not look to your troubles. Do not mourn over them. Instead, rejoice in them, because it is through trials that the Lord is seeking to teach us how to endure.” Our trials were not given to drown us, they were given to teach us the lessons we need to learn so that we can endure until the very end.

But, too often, instead of allowing our trials to increase our faith, we start focusing on the trials and we allow them to overcome us. I have seen it so often while working as a Bible Worker. I have met people who are so thrilled when they first hear the Bible truths. One man, I remember well, had discovered the truth of the Sabbath from His own study. However, he had never found anyone who was keeping it, so he was not keeping it either. But, when we studied the Sabbath, he was so excited to find that there were others who kept it, that he made the commitment that he wanted to start keeping the Sabbath. He ran for a short time. However, when the trials began to mount, he began to take His eyes off Jesus. Although he had once been so thrilled to find the truth, it was not long until he decided that the only thing he could do was to start working on the Sabbath again. He did not run with endurance.

Look Up!

The plan of salvation is described in many ways, but my favorite is when it is described the most simply. The following verses contain the framework of the plan of salvation in three short words. “Who hath declared this from ancient time? Who hath told it from that time? Have not I, the Lord? And there is no God else besides Me, a just God and a Savior; there is none besides Me. Look unto Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! for I am God, and there is no other.” Isaiah 45:21–22. [Emphasis supplied.]

God’s invitation is open to all. It is not difficult. He simply says, “Look to Me.” Anyone can be saved if they will turn their eyes to their Savior. Only He can save to the uttermost all who come to Him.

However, the devil is in a battle for each soul, and he has many methods which he uses to draw our eyes from our Savior. If it is not our trials that we look upon, he tries to get us to focus upon the common things of life so we have no time to look to Jesus. Jesus said, “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” Luke 21:34.

There are many other things that the devil brings to us to draw our thoughts away from Christ. Especially now, in the days in which we are living, the devil is working with even greater energy to see that you and I do not endure until the end.

In Isaiah 17, Isaiah saw in prophetic vision the time that we now live in. A time when the majority is not enduring until the end, and many, even of those who profess the truth, are being shaken out. In his vision he saw an olive tree and, on this tree, there were only two or three olives in the top branches and four or five in the fruitful branches. All of the rest had been shaken off. But then he tells us how we can endure the shaking that is going on all around us today. “At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel. And he shall not look to the altars, the work of his hands, neither shall respect that which his fingers have made, either the groves, or the images.” Isaiah 17:7, 8.

Isaiah saw who would endure this terrible shaking, and it is those who are looking to their Maker. These will not look to their trials, disappointments, the cares of this life, to other men or the problems in the world or in the church; they will be looking to their Maker.

And as we look to our Maker, as our eyes are fixed upon the One who gave His life for you and me, we will be strengthened to endure to the very end. And so Paul says, “Let us run the race. And let us not just run it, but let us run it with endurance.” Oh, how I want to endure. I do not want to be one of those who falls by the side of the track, who does not make it to the finish line. Let us not look to our aching legs. Let us not focus on our burning chest or our heart that is pounding. Let us look to the Author and Finisher of our faith.