“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. . . .because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” Hebrews 10:32-34
When I was in high school I played soccer, which was a strange sport for a guy who didn’t like to run long distances. Being vertically challenged (I’m 5’3″ in two pair of thick socks), I was constantly falling behind the taller guys in the long runs. Because my legs were (well, still are) short, I was quick and usually the first one to the ten-yard line but most always last in the mile. My coach would yell at me for not running fast enough, and I would yell back, “I’m running twice as far as anybody else ’cause I’m taking twice as many steps!” For some reason, he never bought that excuse.
We had to be in excellent shape because in the average soccer game, a player could run up to six miles, and soccer continues to be among the world’s most physically enduring sports. I’m sad to report that I have not maintained that level of conditioning since I left high school. But it was great while it lasted.
Christians also need to be in shape to stay in the “contest” (vs. 32). The Greek word for contest in this verse is athlesis. It refers to an athletic competition and is the source of our English word “athlete.” As Christians, we must not just remember when we were at our best, but we must keep at it and stay that way. We are not to be like the athlete I turned out to be – one who keeps in shape and maintains a peak performance for only a few years, only to grow old and spend time reminiscing about the good ‘ol days when we were on top of our game and the best in the league. Rather, we are commissioned not only to stay in the race, but to run it better and win it grander as our years mature and our love for God and His people expands. We should be the only athletic team in the universe who grows stronger in mind and spirit as the years mature us, so that the enemy knows without a doubt that the toughest players in the game are the “seniors.”
Perseverance is of great necessity here. I had soccer practice five days a week, three hours a day when I was in school. What bothers me is I spent more time conditioning my body for a game than I did conditioning my spirit for life and eternity. Unfortunately, that remains true for most Christians, who tend to spend more time in the shower and in front of the T.V. than they do in the Word and on their knees. It is by our actions that we prove where our priorities are.
I wonder why the author of Hebrews found it necessary to warn his readers against throwing away their faith and confidence in God, and in so doing lose their reward. Were they tired of the constant battle? Were they growing weary in the fight? This would certainly be true of some. Others had probably become complacent in their faith. Rich, fat, lazy, and lacking challenges in their life, perhaps they no longer perceived Christianity as a need in their lives. Like many of us today, they turned to God when life was beyond their control. But what about now? Have we stopped exercising our faith muscles because we don’t like the direction the contest had taken? Is our faith a fine thing when everyone can see it, but a cumbersome bother if it means being loyal to God on a daily basis when nobody was watching?
So what is my point? I don’t want to be an old Christian athlete who is caught up in the good ‘ol days with nothing more to offer than fond memories of the way I used to be. I want everyone to know that the best of my spiritual life is still yet to come.