Have you ever struggled with having the energy, understanding, or headspace to go the distance? Maybe you have wonderful ideas of what you would like to do or change, but when you look at your life, you see only a faint shadow of those dreams that run freely within your heart.
I was recently invited to join a Bible study about prayer, and the devotionals included timely reminders of the importance of abiding in Christ and going to God in prayer in order to go the distance. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? We recently finished the study, and it has me reevaluating how I’ve been looking at prayer and overall endurance in life.
Backing up a little bit, I had been in a stretch of feeling depleted. It seemed like someone always needed something. There were some days I just wanted to have a simple conversation without being asked for something.
A few years ago those requests would have been fine, but this time I was running on empty. Instead of helping with joy, I was becoming frustrated trying to push through increasingly worse brain fog. It helped to know that other people were working through the same thing, but it still wasn’t an answer. I slowed down what I was taking on, but I kept thinking to myself, “This can’t be the best way to solve this.”
A common answer is that it’s time for a vacation. Just a small break to clear our head and rest, right?
Maybe, but that confuses me sometimes. I agree there’s a place for it, but what about the early Christians? When Paul was threatened in Thessalonica and Berea, he didn’t stop and say “Hang on, guys. I’ll meet you in Athens right after I spend a couple weeks in Santorini.” I imagine that being threatened, accused of upsetting “the world” (Acts 17:6), and being chased out of multiple cities would wear on you quite a bit, and it did wear on Paul (Acts 18:9), but he kept going in spite of it. There’s got to be something more to going the distance then, right?
People will always need something, just like there will be times we need things from other people. The question is how to lay a strong enough foundation to not grow weary when the ups and downs of life beat on our heart and mind.
A House Built on the Rock
The Bible study kept coming back to the truth that we need God in order to have the strength to do what He’s called us to do. We can’t do any of it long term unless we abide in Him. One of the verses from the study was Luke 6:48:
“…he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when there was a flood, the river burst against that house and yet it could not shake it, because it had been well built.” (NASB)
I want that so badly. Don’t you? The context of the verse is important, though:
“Now why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when there was a flood, the river burst against that house and yet it could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; and the river burst against it and it immediately collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” – Luke 6:46-49 (NASB)
When I hear something like that, my mind immediately jumps to the actions and works that I need to do. Work harder, push further, focus more. And it’s true that our faith should result in action. In that, though, it can be easy to forget some of the simple truths Jesus shared: to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind; to abide in Him because apart from Him we can do nothing; to pick up our cross and follow Him; to keep our hearts pure regardless of the world around us; to love others as ourselves, even if they are our enemies.
I wonder if in our efforts to do great and mighty things maybe we forget the simplicity of following Jesus. Not that the journey won’t be hard, but that in every step we find both our power and our rest in Him. Both our acceptance and the courage to stand when we are the outcast.
Abiding in Christ
One thing we do need to be wary of is when “abiding in Christ” is talked about as solely transactional. Kind of like, “If I abide in Christ, then I’ll be given the strength I need.”
This reminds me of the words that Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:
“But a time is coming, and even now has arrived, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” – John 4:23 (NASB; emphasis added)
Paul would go so far as to say:
“If I speak with the tongues of mankind and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions to charity, and if I surrender my body so that I may glory, but do not have love, it does me no good.” – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NASB, emphasis added)
If Paul were to do all the right actions but didn’t have love, it was worth nothing. Can you imagine? What would your reaction be if someone spoke words of prophecy, saw great miracles, gave all that they had even to the point of surrendering their own body, and yet, it was worth nothing because their heart wasn’t right? All of that time, energy, and perceived sacrifice wasted because it missed the point.
The heart with which we abide in Christ and live out our Christian walk matters.
I recently heard a sermon on John 15 with the theme of “utter dependence.” That sounds like something I can do. More accurately, it sounds like something I need to do right now. Incredibly, Jesus tells us to be utterly dependent upon Him:
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” – John 15:4 (NKJV)
Jesus isn’t surprised by how much we need Him.
Being Disciplined to Go the Distance
I suppose all of this is to say, I don’t really have a definitive answer to end this post with. This is something I’m learning (the hard way evidently) and am trying to get better at. Even as God has been bringing this back to the surface to deal with, though, I’m reminded of how grateful I am for the way He teaches. His hand is trustworthy as He prunes. Scripture tells us:
“Blessed is the man whom You discipline, Lord, And whom You teach from Your Law, So that You may grant him relief from the days of adversity…” – Psalm 94:12-13a (NASB)
“…My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are punished by Him; For whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He punishes every son whom He accepts.” – Hebrews 12:5b-6 (NASB)
And yet we also read:
“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:5 (NKJV)
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let’s approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace for help at the time of our need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16 (NASB)
Jesus bore the brunt, and now the Holy Spirit teaches us to become more like Him (John 14:26).
When we look at the example of Jesus, we see that it wasn’t that there was ever a break in the needs around Him; His strength to meet those needs every day came from His time alone in prayer. He knew His mission and He knew where His strength came from. It was more than that, though. Jesus was one with the Father and was filled with genuine love, and time and time again we see that He was moved with compassion out of that love (John 17:22-26; Matthew 9:36; Mark 6:34; Matthew 14:14; Mark 1:41).
When I’m weary, impatient, or feel like the needs never stop, I know I’m trying to do life in my own strength again. One of my biggest goals is to get better at relying on God and His strength, so I can learn how to meet the needs around me with genuine, enduring joy.
How have you learned to go the distance in your own life? Are there areas you’re working to grow in now? Feel free to leave a comment or send me a message.
Here’s to our journey, friends.