Play (Or Plod) To Win

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I grew up between two brothers and down the street from three more boys, so I learned right away you’d never score a touchdown if you didn’t know how to juke. I was fast, but so were they, and without a quick stop, pump, and twist, I’d never make it to the bushes. And if I did, Trent and Justin were referees who bent over an invisible line to make sure I’d crossed into the end zone. We usually walked back to the house with scratches down our arms from crashing into the shrubs. To win, you had to fight. And to fight, you had to snag passes, juke out the boys, and sprint barefoot down the grass.

Football wasn’t the only backyard competition. There was our annual fall wiffle ball classic, March Madness in the driveway, and even a game for the swingset, where we jumped out midair and grabbed onto one of the chains. I think it was called See-Who-Can-Look-Most-Like-Tarzan.

And so I learned to love winning (and even train for it). I learned to pitch a strike and shoot a free throw and launch out of the swing. Why play with the boys if you couldn’t beat them now and then? Why juke and run without bushes for an end zone and the glory of walking back to the house a winner?

I think Paul agreed:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it… So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control… (1 Cor. 9:24, 26-27).

As brothers and sisters in Jesus, Hebrews 12 tells us we have “a race set before us” that we’re commanded to “run with endurance.” But there’s something else, too. There’s an end zone. A ninth inning. A finish line.

There’s a game to play in front of us, yes, but there’s also a joy.

And we’ll need faith in that prize, because in the meantime, we’ll be juking and running and sweating our way down the field.

Play the Game (Or Plant the Garden)

Just before Hebrews 12 calls us to race, Hebrews 11 lets us stand in the bleachers and watch other men and women empowered by God to run well.

Not fast, but well.

Focus your binoculars in on Moses, who chose “rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin… for he endured as seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:25). The only way to “see” what’s “invisible” is by faith – “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

Maybe Hebrews 11 sounds like an Olympic track and field event, but to me, it seems more like a garden: a place where people work quietly and wait for a harvest they can’t see yet.

My own garden has reshaped my idea of endurance. There’s more to it than the grit and grind of running. Sometimes – for me, most times – it looks more like faithful plodding, waiting for things to sprout, and working against the weeds while I wait. Endurance rooted in faith takes the long view. In the wonderful words of Eugene Peterson, it’s “a long obedience in the same direction.”

Endurance rooted in faith takes the long view.

“See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it until it receives the early and late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:7-8).

Faithful endurance plants and waters and tends and weeds and prunes and waters again. It runs, yes, but only on legs that have been carefully exercised, day after day.

“Strengthen your weak knees,” Hebrews 12 calls, “and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Heb. 12:12-13).

Don’t run a race you haven’t trained for. Don’t speed through life looking “cool” and “Christian” but on knees that are watery.

Buckle down. Work until you get callouses. Serve (difficult) people. Disciple younger Christians and be discipled yourself (see Heb. 12:5-11). Like Abel, give God the first and best of everything you have. Store his Word in your heart like a farmer tucks his wheat away before the hailstorm. Learn how to juke so you can keep running toward the end zone.

Faith For the Win

But how can we run well when the field is long and littered with linesmen? How could Abel and Abraham and Sarah and Moses press through the pain of waiting? How could Jesus bear all the black weight of the cross?

The Greek origin of “endurance” in Hebrews 12 surprised me. Hupomone means “cheerful or hopeful endurance.”[i]

It’s running with an end zone ahead (and faith that you’ll make it).

We endure by “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2).

There’s no point learning how to juke and shoot and swing if there’s no goal to the game. The good, good news is that there is an end, and it’s better than any walk-off home run or overtime goal. Linesmen and outfielders and goalies play “to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor. 9:25, emphasis added).

In a crescendo of all Hebrews, the author lets us taste that win:

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem… and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22, 24).

Here’s the beautiful thing about looking to Jesus: He hasn’t just beat out a path for us as the founder, but he is still running beside us as the perfector of our weak and wobbly faith. His joy is our joy. His win is our win.

So we can learn how to juke out sin and faithfully run – or plod – toward the end zone and the unbeatable win of getting crowned by King Jesus, who said to his faithful church:

“Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world…

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (Rev. 3:10-11).

[i] Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study New Testament (AMG Publishers: Chattanooga, TN, 1991), Greek Testament, 74

4 thoughts on “Play (Or Plod) To Win

  1. ah wow. that was really good. i think my soul needed to hear that today. thanks for writing, my friend :))


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