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Things Could Be Worse

Laura Phelps

We moved our daughter into her freshman dorm last week, and the operation went surprisingly smooth if you were to ask me. If you ask my husband, he would say otherwise. Perhaps you heard him after he carried four gigantic bins up nine flights of stairs in 95-degree weather. He was the angry father repeatedly threatening a heart attack, exclaiming, “If I die, I want you to sue the school!” 

He didn’t die.

In his defense, things like stairs become tricky when you reach your fifties. Right around floor five, my own heartbeat spiked, and I vowed to be reunited with the treadmill when I returned home. Despite the heat and exhaustion, I never felt anger or desire to sue the school. It’s not because I am holier or in better shape than my husband. It’s because I knew things could be worse, because things have been worse. 

Being told that “things could be worse” while suffering is annoying and not helpful. I prefer the biblical way of saying “things could be worse,” which can be found in Hebrews 12:4 [1]: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Remembering what Jesus endured while we are in pain does not disregard our suffering; it gives us perspective, and perspective changes everything. Easier said than done.

Why is keeping our eyes on Jesus so difficult when faced with an obstacle?

The human tendency is to focus on our circumstances, to keep our gaze inward and downward. Not the best posture to run the race set before us, is it? The world grows very small, and our vision fatally narrows when we do this. If we remain looking down, how will we see the finish line? If our focus is on ourselves, how will we see that great crowd of witnesses over us? The bottom line? When we lose sight of the finish line, there is no good reason to keep running. Why keep fighting if there's no prize at the end of the fight? 

And yet, we know that there is a prize, and better than a prize, a promise. As Saint Paul exhorts, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). Now, I don’t know about you, but I want a share in all the holiness, so starting right now, I need to prepare for the race. And let me just say, it’s going to take more than buying a new pair of Adidas sneakers and a Lululemon sports bra to get into shape. It’s time to get serious, strip down, and start running.

But where to begin? Using Saint Paul’s exhortation in Hebrews 12:1–4 as a guide, I have narrowed my training down to four questions.

What weighs me down?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

Saint Paul is clear. The cheering section of the stadium is packed with the saints who have run and finished the race, but that’s not enough. We also need to lose whatever sins and distractions cling to us so closely. In other words, we must lay down those things we refuse to let go of. Is it an inordinate affection and concern for your body? Are you consumed with your children’s suffering and desire for their happiness? Are you harboring jealousy, envy, or resentment? Do you covet your friend's marriage, regret your past, or strive to control your circumstances? Ask the Lord to reveal to you what is pulling you down, making life heavier and more complicated than it needs to be.

Where is my focus?
“Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2)

Jesus is the finish line, and we are to fix our eyes on Him. He is the mark we run to and the prize we run for. If we take our eyes off Him for one second, we risk running off course. Like a ballerina performing a pirouette, she finds a spot to block and never takes her eyes off it. Is Jesus your blocking point or something else? Are you looking at your friend’s race and wondering why she got the scenic route? Are you staring at your suffering, convinced that nobody’s life stinks like yours? Ask the Lord for the strength and faith to keep your eyes on Him.

What’s the point?
“…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

We endure the hard things here on earth for the same reason Jesus did: for the joy that awaits us on the other side. Jesus has already shown us that this is possible! The shame, pain, and suffering were worth it in the end. He sits on the throne! Have you lost sight of where you are going? Ask the Lord to keep the joy on the other side of the cross before your eyes.

Is Jesus worth it?
“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:3–4)

It is good to meditate on the life of Jesus. All the caffeine in the world won’t give you the energy to persevere. Recalling what Jesus did for you will. Have you considered what Jesus endured? Ask the Lord for the grace of endurance and thank Him daily for His sacrifice.

With my daughter gone, many friends have reached out, checking in on my heart. And I must say, while I miss her presence here with me, it doesn't compare to the joy of watching her spread her wings as she flies into a new chapter. Undoubtedly, there will be bumps and bruises along the way and quite possibly a few flights of stairs. But I have something brighter in view under the sorrow of saying goodbye, which makes it all worth it. If she can run forward, then so can I.

[1] Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Grounded in Hope: A Study of the Letter to the Hebrews (Walking with Purpose, 2019), 277.

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