If you were identifying people of great faith, what would you use
for criteria? I probably would not put characters like Samson and
Gideon on my list of heroes. Anna Diehl notes that some of the heroes
in Hebrews 11 are there as people “who experienced God doing
miraculous things through them. God sometimes works through the
unlikely and even the disobedient (such as Jonah) in order to get
His Divine agenda done. The lesson we can glean . . . is that God’s
power and his approval are two very separate concepts. Just because
God works miracles through a particular human does not mean that
human is commendable in His eyes,” concludes Diehl.
Hebrews 11:33-38 says it was “through faith” that they
“conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises,
shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge
of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war,
put foreign armies to flight.”
“God was able to use each of these flawed heroes to preserve
his people,” Emily Reynolds writes. “It was their faith
and perseverance and not their innate ability that enabled them
to be used by God. It is those moments of faithfulness, not their
moments of failure, the author of Hebrews remembers and uplifts.“
There is an old story about a tight rope walker who stretched a
cable across Niagara Falls all the way from the American side to
the Canadian side. To the applause of a growing crowd, the acrobat
walked the tightrope above the rushing, cascading waters that thundered
underneath. Then he went back up and rode a bicycle across and even
walked it blindfolded. For his grand finale he took a wheelbarrow
and playing to the crowd said, “Do you think I can push this
wheelbarrow across Niagara Falls?” “Sure you can,”
came the thunderous response. To which he said, “Well, which
one of you will volunteer to ride in the wheelbarrow?”
What does it take to win in the Olympics of faith? Well, here’s
what it takes to be an Olympic athlete.
To compete in the Olympics is a big deal. It takes hard work and
a single focus. The truth is, Olympians give up a lot of freedom
in order to follow a dream to be the best in their field. Their
life involves 1200 hours of dedicated practice a year starting early
in the morning. Diet and sleep are a rigid part of the schedule.
It can mean moving away from home to find a coach and an Olympic
training center. It takes a team of supporters-- family, fellow
athletes, and coaches -- to keep them going when training gets tough.
It can bankrupt a family to support a child’s dream until
they find sponsorships or scholarships. To succeed, you have to
want it so bad you eat, sleep, and breathe it. You have to dream
about it at night. Set goals. Endure the pain. Visualize success.
The magic number to become great at something is about 10,000 hours.
To stay great means continuing the same grueling schedule for the
rest of your life. There is no Plan B.
A life of great faith has similarities to the efforts of Olympic
contestants. Faith isn’t a Sunday morning activity. Following
God becomes our single focus. Where we live or how we serve may
not be our first choice. God is our coach, the Christian community
is our team. The church is the Olympic Village where we support
each other and learn to get along. Our spiritual coaches help us
set our course and goals. The competition helps us test our skills.
When things go wrong or we meet tough competition, we know God is
in control and can get us back on track.
Pierre de Coubertin says, “If someone were to ask for the
recipe for ‘becoming Olympic’, I would say that the
first prerequisite is to be joyful.“ Watching the American
women gymnasts, their sheer joy of competition and community has
been inspiring. Joy is what people want to see in an Olympic faith,
Listen again to the first verses in Hebrews 12: “Do you see
what this means -- all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these
veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with
it. Strip down, start running -- and never quit! No extra spiritual
fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began
and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because
he never lost sight of where he was headed -- that exhilarating
finish in and with God -- he could put up with anything along the
way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place
of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging
in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long
litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline
into your souls!”
Never quit! “When Lloyd Douglas, author of The Robe, attended
college, he lived in a boardinghouse. A retired, wheelchair-bound
music professor resided on the first floor. Each morning Douglas
would stick his head in the door of the teacher's apartment and
ask the same question, "Well, what's the good news?"
The old man would pick up his tuning fork, tap it on the side of
his wheelchair and say, "That's middle C! It was middle C yesterday;
it will be middle C tomorrow; it will be middle C a thousand years
from now. The tenor upstairs sings flat. The piano across the hall
is out of tune, but, my friend, that is middle C."
It's wonderful to know that in a changing world, there is something
that is constant. “We all need a middle C. Relationships change.
Health changes. Jobs change. The weather changes. Governments change.
But the Good News is that Jesus never changes!”
Perseverance is the hardest part of our work of faith. There is
a Norwegian proverb that says: “A hero is one who knows how
to hang on one minute longer.” The author of Hebrews calls
us to seek a deeper level for our faith, to push ourselves, to set
goals. Faith is a distance run, and we need to pace ourselves, to
not give up, and to run with all that we have.
The problem is that we are not much up for a distance run. We live
in a world of instant gratification, instant communication. We like
the anticipation and energy at the beginning of the race. But like
the runner, we may find our faith sagging, our feet getting tired,
and our breathing labored. It’s hard to hang on one minute
longer. But that is how we win the race. In our faith marathon,
there are things that pull us back, like hurt, or disappointments,
or disagreements, or stress. The author of Hebrews says, “Lay
aside the things that weigh you down.” He gives us heroes
of faith to inspire us, a “cloud of witnesses” to cheer
us on. Then he reminds us that Jesus has already pioneered the course.
Jesus hung on and completed the race, in spite of the cross and
shame. If we look to him, we can keep putting one foot in front
of the other, hanging on one minute longer. Let’s do it. Let’s
run the faith race!