In the summer of 2013, God graced me with the ability to finish the Buffalo Springs 70.3 Ironman Triathlon, which includes a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and a 13.1 mile run. The experience of training and competing in this event provided the opportunity to learn several lessons about life and reflect on the nature of God. The experience gave a new awareness and appreciation for all the instances in the Bible where athletic illustrations are used. Sport was part of the New Testament world, so there is no surprise as to why these illustrations were used to teach a spiritual lesson. There is something in the nature of sport that points to a larger reality of life.
“Let us run with endurance…who for the joy before Him endured the cross.” – Hebrews 12:2
Endurance is the opposite of quitting. Giving up stands in contrast to endurance. Endurance is a character quality that all people respect, but not everyone has. All admire the value, but not all have it, although all can obtain it. And the only way to obtain it is to experience it. Endurance is not something that can be taught from a book. Although endurance as a concept can be understood intellectually, it can not be gained without experience. One must experience challenge, difficulty, pain, suffering, unpleasantness, hardship, trial and testing if they want to possess endurance.
Two phrases that kept rolling through my mind during the event was, “It’s not supposed to be easy!” and “It’s supposed to hurt!” If the event was easy or if it didn’t hurt than endurance wouldn’t be necessary. That’s why endurance is defined as, “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity, especially the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort, often including suffering” (Merriam-Webster).
At the beginning of the event, adrenaline is high, energy is readily available, and excitement gets you going. After the first stage of the event, one has the feeling of accomplishment as the swim is finished. This spurs one on to the bike. The first 28 miles of the bike emotion is high and the legs are strong, but it is on the second half of the bike that the real testing begins. The roads get bumpy, the headwinds are against you, and the hills make your legs burn while taking your breath away. The tests are greater as the day moves along. The fifth hill to ride up is more difficult than the second. The emotion at the beginning is different than the emotion in the middle. But to finish, one must endure. Some are faster, others slower, but all are still moving.
Transitioning from the bike to the run includes feelings of hope, accomplishment, and challenge. The bike is done but the legs are heavy and tired, with 13.1 miles still ahead. As the run begins a new dose of adrenaline helps, but not for long. One must be ready for the lengthy time of running. It is one step in front of another while the feet hit the pavement and the breath is short and the sun is beating down. There’s no shade. The only relief is water and ice every mile at the aid stations. But to finish, one must go on. At this point, one can’t quit. They are so close. But this is the most difficult part. The last miles are the longest miles. In these miles the legs hurt the most. The quads can feel like fire. The feet are tired of the pounding. The muscles can cramp. At this point, all the athletes feel some pain and suffering somewhere. But this is when they endure!
When one is tired, exhausted, spent, hurting, with little reserve energy, the character is forming. Only at this point, when suffering over an extended period of time is happening, is the lesson learned. One could quit, but if one has endurance, they won’t.
Simply put, endurance includes pain and testing. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be endurance. When one endures something is forming on the inside. Something good is growing. Something is changing for the best and it will last.
Hebrews 12:2 says that it was the joy set before Jesus that He endured the cross. That is how a person can endure. It is for the joy set before them. For Jesus it was the joy of sitting down at the right hand of the Father receiving all glory, paying the penalty for sin, and conquering death. That is what was set before Jesus. That is WHY and HOW He could endure.
So it was at the 70.3 Ironman. With about 3 miles left in the race, there was a sign on the side of the road. No one was around it. It was just there.
It read, “Remember WHY you’re doing this!”
The answers varied for all those that read the sign, but what they all had in common was the “joy set before them.” That is the key to enduring anything. It is remembering WHY one is hanging in there and not giving up when things get difficult. There is an inward reason why someone bears up under the prolonged effort. There must always be a reason.
Endurance happens when the pain is long, the challenge is great, the tests are frequent, and the future joy is remembered. May you be a person of endurance. May you know the joy that is set before you.