The Struggle for Endurance

James 1

2Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. 3For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything. (James 1:2-4, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Last year around this time, I decided I wanted to shed about 10 pounds by the time I hit my birthday about 3 months later. I developed a plan that involved counting my calories through an app called LoseIt and increasing my fitness level through running.

I should say that I really don’t like running. Actually, that’s too generous. “Hate” would be a more appropriate word to describe the feelings I had for running.

My twins are runners so I’ve been exposed to the running culture for a number of years and I’ve made many attempts to get myself out there. But honestly, it was always just so dreadful. I couldn’t go very far before I was completely gasping for air and I almost always developed some kind of knee/leg/calf/shin/ankle/foot injury within a couple of weeks, which always required time for healing which in turn meant a complete restart a few weeks later.

I was in the habit of driving over to the high school and doing laps around the track because it was flat. I thought that anything I could do to make running easier would be better. I was wrong.

It turns out that when Covid hit, the school closed the track to the public. Those of us in the know knew how to get onto the track even when the gates were locked but then the school hired security guards to kick out anyone who might try to circumvent the rules.

At that point, I had no choice. If I was going to try to burn off excess calories via running, I was going to have to do it in my own neighborhood, which meant running up and down hills.

It turns out that running only on flat surfaces was not exactly helpful for my progress. It also turns out that running up hills is helpful. The struggle of going up a hill actually builds endurance.

After a few weeks of running, I was able to slowly extend my distance. Three miles had been about my max but I was now able to do three miles more regularly.

One day, I decided to do a long run of 6 miles. The plan was to run out of my neighborhood and over to the man-made Lake Mission Viejo. There’s a walking loop around the lake that’s about 3.1 miles. Running that loop and then running back would be about 6 miles total. The problem was that there are a number of long hill inclines around that lake and I found that I couldn’t run that whole loop without having to make several stops to get my heart rate down and control my breathing.

But one day, I was able to push myself and make it all the way around that lake loop without stopping. It was a big achievement. I decided that I would make another attempt in a few days, which I did. Running around that lake became easier and more routine, precisely because I had to struggle to do it in the first place. It was the struggle that increased my endurance and helped me build my stamina, a feat that had always seemed to elude me.

Now, a year later, my typical daily run is 6 miles, including the lake loop. About once a week, I’ll run a longer run of 10-13 miles. My times have gotten better and I find that I actually enjoy running more than I ever thought I would.

When James talks about struggles in this first chapter of his letter, I think about running. Just as the struggle of running up hills helped increase my endurance, so the struggles of life increase our faith and ability to trust God.

The struggles of life actually help your endurance grow. Of course nobody likes struggles but they are an inevitable part of life. So James’ advice is to embrace the struggles of life and look at them as an opportunity to develop endurance, which in turn will mold you into a person who is “strong in character and ready for anything.”

Reflection

What examples do you have from your own life that demonstrate how struggle actually promotes growth?

What are some current struggles you’re currently experiencing? In what ways could these struggles be used as an opportunity for growth?

Many missionaries who have served overseas among more underprivileged communities and cultures have remarked how deep and strong the faith is of believers who have relatively little compared to American Christians, whose faith, by comparison, has often been observed to be shallow and lacking in depth. What do you think might be some reasons why American believers, despite our vast biblical and financial resources, often are seen as having a shallow faith, while believers in third world countries are often described as having deep and enduring faith?

What are some steps you can personally take to develop your faith and build endurance?

 

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

Two Opposite Pictures of Leadership

Mark 10

35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.”

36“What is it?” he asked.

37“In your glorious Kingdom, we want to sit in places of honor next to you,” they said, “one at your right and the other at your left.”

38But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of sorrow I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?”

39“Oh yes,” they said, “we are able!”

And Jesus said, “You will indeed drink from my cup and be baptized with my baptism, 40but I have no right to say who will sit on the thrones next to mine. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

41When the ten other disciples discovered what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 42So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. 43But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. 45For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:35-45, NLT)

2 Samuel 11

1The following spring, the time of year when kings go to war, David sent Joab and the Israelite army to destroy the Ammonites. In the process they laid siege to the city of Rabbah. But David stayed behind in Jerusalem.

2Late one afternoon David got out of bed after taking a nap and went for a stroll on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. 3He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4Then David sent for her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. (She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period.) Then she returned home. 5Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent a message to inform David.

6So David sent word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” 7When Uriah arrived, David asked him how Joab and the army were getting along and how the war was progressing. 8Then he told Uriah, “Go on home and relax.” David even sent a gift to Uriah after he had left the palace. 9But Uriah wouldn’t go home. He stayed that night at the palace entrance with some of the king’s other servants.

10When David heard what Uriah had done, he summoned him and asked, “What’s the matter with you? Why didn’t you go home last night after being away for so long?”

11Uriah replied, “The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are living in tents, and Joab and his officers are camping in the open fields. How could I go home to wine and dine and sleep with my wife? I swear that I will never be guilty of acting like that.”

12“Well, stay here tonight,” David told him, “and tomorrow you may return to the army.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13Then David invited him to dinner and got him drunk. But even then he couldn’t get Uriah to go home to his wife. Again he slept at the palace entrance.

14So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. 15The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.” 16So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. 17And Uriah was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers. (2 Samuel 11:1-17, NLT)

Philippians 2

5Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. 6Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. 7He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. 8And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. 9Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Today’s installment of the Daily DAVEotional includes 3 related passages that all appeared in the same daily reading based on the Grant Horner Reading Plan, which I’ve mentioned a number of times, including here, here and here.

Amazingly, these 3 different passages from different parts of the Bible provide an interesting commentary on one another, starting with the passage in Mark.

In this passage, Jesus is teaching His disciples a lesson about leadership. It actually starts in the verses prior to what I’ve listed here, when Jesus is talking again to His disciples about His death.

Immediately after this, James and John approach Jesus and instead of asking follow-up questions regarding what Jesus has just said, that He’ll be betrayed and killed before rising again three days later, these brothers begin jockeying for key positions of power in Jesus’ kingdom.

The other disciples catch wind of what James and John are talking to Jesus about and while they are indignant externally, internally they are probably kicking themselves for being beaten to the punch.

Jesus sees what’s going on and, of course He knows what’s going on in their hearts and minds, so He takes the opportunity to share a lesson on leadership in God’s kingdom.

The headline is this: Leadership in God’s kingdom is completely opposite of what you’d expect based on leadership in the world.

In the world’s system, kings (and officials) act like tyrants, using their power to get whatever they want in whatever way they deem necessary.

The passage in 2 Samuel 11, which happened to be part of the same daily reading, provided the perfect biblical example to illustrate what Jesus is saying. King David is known as a good king and was even said by God to be “a man after my own heart.”  But even though David is a good king overall, he has some major flaws, and in this situation, he uses his power to get something he wants regardless of whether it’s wrong or who it hurts.

David sees a beautiful woman bathing and he desires her, so he has her brought to him and despite knowing that she is the wife of one of his elite fighting men, he sleeps with her anyway.

His indiscretion backfires when Bathsheba reveals that she is pregnant. In an effort to cover up his sin, David has Uriah recalled from the battle field, hoping that he will sleep with his wife and thus think that the child is his.

But Uriah doesn’t comply with David’s scheme so David sends him back to the battle field carrying a message with the very command that gets him killed. What is often overlooked in this passage is that by having the front line attackers pull back so that Uriah would be killed, the text says that others were killed as well. So David, by his tyrannical actions, ends up taking another man’s wife, and murdering several people in order to cover it up.

This is the kind of leadership we see in the world even today. Though we have few monarchies, there can be no doubt that even in our current system, elected officials often take special privileges and enact rules on others that don’t apply to themselves. We shouldn’t be surprised, however, because Jesus tells us that “kings are tyrants and officials lord it over the people beneath them.”

This is how most leaders think and act – the people under them are there to serve them and their needs.

But leadership in God’s kingdom is 180 degrees different than what we see in the world. In God’s kingdom, leaders are servants whose purpose is actually to serve those under them. It’s completely flipped!

The Philippians passage, also appearing on the same day, provides a biblical example of servant leadership that is perfectly illustrated by the life of Jesus.

Jesus’ leadership was characterized first and foremost by humility. As God, one might expect that Jesus would come and demand worship and the kind of allegiance and attention that royals traditionally receive.

But Jesus didn’t come and start exerting His power and authority in order to serve Himself. The text says He gave up His rights in order to serve others. Jesus didn’t demand the worship and the kind of attention and fanfare that He deserves but instead, He fulfilled a mission of service, namely, going to the cross to die for the sins of humanity so that we might escape eternal judgment and be reconciled to God.

This is the kind of leadership Jesus tells us that we, as His followers, should exhibit. It’s a selfless leadership. It’s not self-serving or self-promoting. It seeks the needs of others and puts their needs and welfare above our own. As I look around the current cultural landscape, it seems to me that we could use more of this kind of leadership and a lot less of the worldly kind of leadership.

Reflection

What are some examples you’ve seen of the kind of worldly leadership Jesus describes, where kings (and officials) seek to serve themselves instead of their subjects?

What are some examples you’ve seen of leaders who exhibit the kind of godly, kingdom-oriented leadership that Jesus says His followers should exhibit?

What do you think are some reasons that make this selfless, servant leadership that Jesus promoted so difficult for people, even those within the church?

What are some steps or actions that would make servant leadership more likely for those who are in positions of leadership?

If you are in a position of leadership, are you using your power and authority to serve yourself or others?

What do you personally need to address in your own life in order to become the kind of servant leader who emulates Jesus’ example instead of David’s example?

 

Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash