In the Christian life (and even more so in leadership), there is a close connection between becoming weary and losing heart. Tiredness is responsible for a great deal of spiritual collapse. I have seen it time after time, in myself as well as others.
The writer of Hebrews knows this well. He charts how it works against us in 12:3: opposition comes from people who hate God in order to make us weary with the result that we lose heart and give up.
The opposition is a given. There isn't much we can do about that. The question is: how can we live with opposition in such a way as it doesn't lead inexorably to the weariness and hence losing heart?
The image the writer uses is of us being in a race. A race surrounded by crowds of spectators cheering us on, in which we can see the goal and the prize. The witnesses looking on are all God's people who lived with faith in previous generations (Heb 11). There is a great cloud of them, all urging us. They aren't mere spectators - these are people who have run the race themselves in previous years and completed it. We know it is possible because they have done it. They pressed through the opposition and weariness as well. How did they do it? By faith in what God was going to do in the future. By considering that getting the prize was worth more than the weariness now. To quote John Piper, they had "faith in future grace." Or (much better) to quote Paul, they didn't consider their light and momentary troubles worth comparing with the glory that was going to be revealed.
That's the first thing - to realise we are not alone, we have lots of encouragers. The second is to fix our eyes on the end point, which is Jesus. He is the one who set us off on this race and v2 says he is the one who is going to keep us in this race until the end. He is the perfecter of our faith. If you take your eyes off him you will instantly let opposition assume a bigger perspective than he does. That is the way opposition works.
So, Jesus is empowering us and the spectators are encouraging us. What do we actually have to do? Three things:
- throw off anything that is entangling you. Especially deliberate sin. It is interesting how much more we are tempted to sin when things are hard. It seems so much more attractive then. We need to be savvy to its tactics
- decide we are going to run with perseverance. It is a deliberate decision. We don't persevere accidentally. The only way it is going to happen is if we are convinced that the benefit in the future is much better than the weariness and opposition now
- therefore we are going to fix our eyes firmly on Jesus. This will allow us to confront and receive suffering, just as it allowed him to confront the cross, scorning its shame - for the joy that was set before him
That is the crucial thing. Jesus dealt with present suffering in the light of future joy. Some of my friends can only handle the winter because they know it is not for ever. Summer will come. Similarly we will lose heart unless we think there is joy coming - infinite, eternal joy, divine in its magnitude, delicious and thrilling.
What keeps you from enjoying the prospect of future joy? And would you say you enjoy God now? I regularly meet Christian leaders who have sacrificed their joy on the altar of their busyness. They don't have capacity or space left to enjoy God any more. They have simply filled up all their time and God-directed spiritual life goes out of the window. The eventual result (maybe not immediately but inevitably nonetheless) is Heb 12:3 - we grow weary and then we lose heart. Because we have separated ourselves from the source of our strength, which is the joy of the Lord. Like Samson without his hair, a Christian (or a Christian leader) cut off from the joy of the Lord is powerless.
Maybe I can particularly say to any leaders reading this whose prayer is at a low ebb, whose diaries are out of control, who aren't taking time out to be with God or whose days off have been eroded for a significant period, take seriously the warning of Hebrews 12. We can carry on like that for a little bit, but eventually a gulf opens up between the appearance we put on with the church for public ministry and how jaded we feel in our hearts. And then we don't have capacity when opposition comes - as it surely does. We will grow weary and lose heart.