The summer I became a Christian, in 2004, life was made new to me through my new hope and understanding of the world through Jesus. I spent that summer on the beach with hundreds of other Christians learning about our walks with God. Everything I had brought to that summer, my life baggage, issues, and drama, all seemed to have new light shed on it. No longer was I afraid of the weight that those things had always seemed to carry before. As a new Christian, I could only dream of what life would look like ten years down the road, with years of experience of walking with Jesus. I remember sitting with a friend out by the pool one day discussing and dreaming of what our lives would look like in ten years. As we watched our leaders that summer love the Lord, we dreamed of what our love for the Lord would look like in the future. Deep. Passionate. A firm foundation. The rock on which our lives would be built.
Recently, I sat in the car late at night with that same friend contemplating life. It’s been thirteen years since that summer at the beach dreaming of our lives down the road. As we sat in the car outside of her house watching guys walking back and forth, probably dealing drugs, we questioned our lives, maybe even ourselves. She and her family live in what most would consider a rough part of town. For years they have served the Lord in communities that are deemed hopeless, full of sex, drugs, and death, and are usually forgotten by the rest of the city. They own a house in the middle of their neighborhood and do their best to love their neighbors. They do it because they love the Lord. Because for years, they have been obedient to God’s call. Even still, it is scary at times to live where they do.
I have traveled the world. After college, I moved to Europe and served two years in college ministry there. I thought that is what I would do with my life. Europe was not exactly the African safari I thought I would be living in, but it was serving the Lord nonetheless. After my initial two years on the field, I came back to America. I figured I just needed a short break and then would pursue going back overseas. Until my sin got in the way, and I made choices that I have struggled for years to understand why or how I did. I ended up becoming a teacher because in the midst of my sin and the recovery process, my only choice was to follow what God put before me each day. Teaching has become my mission field. I’m blessed to teach in Christian schools that are full of lost students, but my life today looks nothing like what I ever thought it would become.
Life is hard. Even life with Jesus can be hard. As I think back to that late night chat in the car and that poolside chat of our futures ten years ago, I’m reminded of the book of Hebrews. I don’t know about you, but it is easy for me to talk about myself and say that I make life more difficult. Ephesians 2:14 says that Jesus “himself is our peace,” yet I manage to make things not so peaceful. I love the Lord, yet there are times that I struggle with sin. My friend loves the Lord and has sought to be obedient for years, so why is life hard? Why is life confusing?
I am encouraged by the “Hall of Famers” in Hebrews 11 to continue the pursuit, despite my own sin and despite the times that are less than desirable or even unwanted. Guys like Moses, Abraham, and Jacob, “though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised” (Hebrews 11:39). To not receive what was promised seems like a tragedy. Especially considering that God is a god that keeps His promises. While faith precedes the reward, we also have to remember what exactly is the reward. We are told in Hebrews 11:13, that the patriarchs of our faith “all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” They were aware of the promises, but they were also aware of the fact that this world was not their home. Though God may not have allowed them into the promised land on this earth, they are citizens of the promised land that is to come. And so are we.
When I lived in Italy, I was always aware of the fact that I was not Italian. I lived in their country, wore their clothes, ate their food, and spoke their language. I was even able to get away with seeming like I was one of them (depending on how long I carried on conversations), but at the end of the day, I was not Italian. My citizenship remained American. In the same way, though we live on this earth, it is not our home. We are not citizens of this earth, “but our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20). The Hall of Famers of Hebrews 11 believed this of themselves. I think they at least wanted to understand that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). I do not think that meant their lives were easy. We know of the ways they wrestled with faith and momentarily believing the things God told them, but they endured. And so should we.
When I think back to those summer beach days around the pool and watching the leaders that we longed to someday be like, I don’t think we thought about their struggles or sin. I don’t think we thought about what they went through in order to be what we saw them as. I think we only saw the result of their faith and endurance. The patriarchs of our faith were men and women that walked with God, and men and women that walked through times they believed they knew better or could do it on their own, or just simply did not understand what God was doing. But they endured. At the end of the day, they remembered where their citizenship remained.
Faith, as we know, “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). When life is difficult and confusing, as at times it will be, we must remember what our hope is. It is not in this world but in what is to come. Endurance in this life means that there will be days we do not enjoy, but we endure so that we will one day receive the prize.