Keeping on in Hard Times

Title: Keeping on in Hard Times

Bible Book: Hebrews 12 : 1-4

Author: Paul E. Brown

Subject: Christian Living; Hardships; Faithfulness; Trust



My subject this morning is, “Keeping On In Hard Times.” Hardy Denham used that phrase in commenting on the first part of Hebrews, chapter 12, and I believe he was “right on target” - that phrase describes exactly what the inspired writer of Hebrews was talking about.

You may be personally going through some hard times at this point in your life. If you aren’t, you no doubt will at some future time if God allows you to live long enough, so this message is for everybody. I pray that God will speak to every last one of us, and that we will all leave here today not only determined, but also equipped, to keep on in hard times.

These verses at the beginning of Hebrews 12 contain two main points. First of all, we are reminded of...


A key phrase in this passage is found in the last part of Hebrews 12:1: “let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

A. The PARTICIPANTS in the race

“Us” refers to Christians. The book of Hebrews was written late in the first century and was originally directed to Christian Jews scattered throughout the Roman Empire, but it contains principles which apply to you and me as well. So, ultimately, the book of Hebrews is intended for all believers, and in comparing the Christian life to a race the inspired writer wasn’t talking about a hundred-yard dash, but rather a marathon. When you become a Christian, it’s for life, indeed, it’s for eternity.

B. The OBJECTIVES of the runners

We Christians don’t run the race in order to obtain salvation. Salvation is a gift, which we received when we repented of our sins and yielded ourselves in faith to the Son of God. It was that decision that placed us in the race. The moment you were saved, you became God’s child forever and were assured of a home in heaven when you die. So, since we’re not running the race in order to attain salvation, what are our objectives as we run the Christian race? Why do we strive to run well? There are three reasons:

1. To Reach out Highest Potential

We want to run well in order to reach our highest personal potential. That’s a beautiful aspect of the Christian race. You’re not competing with anyone else, only with yourself. You’re running in order to become the best, most fulfilled, most honorable person that you can possibly be, and it’s only by living for Jesus Christ that you can reach that goal.

2. To be the most Helpful Example

But you’re also running the Christian race for another reason: You’re endeavoring to be the best, most positive and helpful example to others that you possibly can be.

3. To Glorify God

Then, third and powerfully important, you want to run the race well so that you can thereby glorify our God, who has given us every good thing that we’ve ever had or ever will have. The believer’s watchword should be 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

C. The DIFFICULTIES of the race

These Jewish Christians were having a hard time. For one thing, it was not popular or even safe to be a Christian in the first century Roman Empire, to be a Christian in that culture was to expose oneself to ridicule and even outright persecution. Further, the Jewish religious authorities had turned “thumbs down” on Jesus and his claims to be the promised Messiah, and the Jews as a whole followed their lead. Thus, that minority of Jews who had recognized Jesus as the Son of God and had placed their faith in him as their Lord and Savior were considered outcasts and traitors to their traditions. Their fellow Jews made life miserable for them, in an attempt to pressure them to turn back to Judaism. So, from society in general and from their fellow Jews as well, these Jewish Christians were having a hard time because of their stand for Jesus.

The fact is that Christians of any and every generation, Jews or Gentiles, will find themselves facing problems as they strive to make spiritual progress. Interestingly, the Greek word for “race” in Hebrews 12:1 is agon, and carries the idea of “strife,” or “peril,” or “toil.” It is from that Greek word that we get our English word “agony.” So, the very word itself implies that the going will not be easy, there will be hard times as we run the Christian race. That isn’t to say that there won’t be blessings and joys, there most assuredly will, but, at the same time, there will be times of stress, pain, and tears. That’s true for at least two reasons:

1. Normal Life

For one thing, hardships are encountered as a normal part of life, and Christians are not exempted from life’s normal reverses. We have the Lord to strengthen and help us through them, to be sure, but we do have to face them and deal with them.

2. Satan

Another reason the Christian race is sometimes difficult is because Satan makes it so. He was enraged when you trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior, because now you are no longer a candidate for hell. Satan has lost any chance of your spending eternity in that place of torment, so in retaliation he tries to make you miserable. He tries to keep you from growing and enjoying your new life in Christ, and to keep you from influencing others to trust Jesus, Satan tries to trip you up and get you off-course. Thankfully, he need not and will not succeed if we stay close to the Lord in daily fellowship, but try he will, relentlessly and cruelly. He’ll pull out all the stops and hurl his heavy artillery at you.

D. The temptation to DROP OUT

Some of those Hebrew Christians were getting discouraged in the face of all the persecution and other hardships they were experiencing, and were getting very close to dropping out of the race. Not that they were in danger of losing their salvation. Once a person is truly saved, he is forever God’s child, and his home in heaven is guaranteed. But a Christian can drop out of the race in the sense that he can become a backslider. He can get so downhearted and discouraged that he just stops trying. Thus, his spiritual growth is stunted, and all kinds of sad consequences can follow. He often becomes unfaithful to his church. Sometimes he “caves in” and “bites the dust” morally. Often he becomes careless in his speech, or develops a bad attitude.

Of course, some people drop out of the race because they were never really saved, they were never truly in the race to begin with. They were “professors” but not “possessors.” However, I’m speaking now about Christians, folks who really were born again, dropping out in the sense just described, in other words, backsliding and being temporarily overcome by Satan.

What happens when a Christian backslides?

1. The Misery of Backsliding

For one thing, he becomes miserable. He feels guilt and shame. He feels beaten down and discouraged. His self-esteem hits rock bottom.

2. The Lost Witness of Backsliding

Secondly, he loses his witness. Those whom he might have influenced to trust the Lord themselves are disappointed and decide that there’s really nothing to it.

3. The Spiritual Dishonor of Backsliding

Third, he dishonors God and if he goes on in that backslidden condition God will chastise him, and if he gets far enough off track and stays long enough, God may end his life earlier than would have been the case had he remained faithful. The Bible makes it clear that on occasion that has happened. It isn’t for you and me to judge individual cases, but it definitely has occurred at times.

But the Lord wants you to be victorious in the race. Thus, the writer of Hebrews says, “let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” The Greek word for “patience” is hupomone, and it means to persevere, to continue firm, to hold out, to bear up under affliction, and you can keep on in hard times. God would never be cruel and exhort you to keep on in hard times if it were not possible for you to do so, so that brings us to the second point that the writer of Hebrews is making. Not only does he admonish us to keep on in those hard times, but he also tells us how to do it. He lays out for us...


He explains to us how to run the race successfully, how to persevere in spite of everything that Satan can throw at us, in other words, he reveals to us the strategy for keeping on in hard times. He spells it out for us in these first few verses of Hebrews 12. It’s a four-part strategy.

A. Winning through Consideration of those Before Us

In verse 1 we read, “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses....” He is referring to the great heroes and heroines of faith listed in the preceding chapter. He is implying that if we will think about these outstanding men and women of God and how they persevered in the face of great obstacles, it will encourage us in our efforts to keep on in hard times.

Are you downhearted because you don’t get any response from other people? Noah built an ark, and for 120 years tried to persuade his contemporaries that a flood was coming and to get ready but they not only turned a deaf ear, they ridiculed him. Nevertheless, by faith he persevered.

Are you worried about your future? Abraham answered the call of God to leave his home and go to a new location. He had no idea as to where he would wind up or what awaited him there, but by faith he set out and, as God led him one step at a time, he completed the journey.

Have you been mistreated? Look at Joseph. He certainly experienced hard times. His own brothers sold him into slavery. Then he was falsely imprisoned. But, by faith he kept on the straight and narrow in spite of everything.

Are you discouraged because the task before you seems impossible, and you get little or no cooperation from others? Look at Moses. He ran into one obstacle after another as he sought to lead the Israelites to the promised land, and, to complicate his life even more, not only were the Israelites ungrateful, they actually turned against him. Yet, by faith Moses just kept moving and carrying out God’s assignment.

Do you have family problems? Jephthah was born out of wedlock, and his brothers hated him so much that they ran him off. But he didn’t “lie down and roll over.” He kept the faith, and God used him as one of the outstanding leaders of his time.

Have you messed up morally? Look at Rahab. She had hit rock bottom. Her life was a shambles. But she got right with God, and the Lord used her wonderfully to help Israel take their first step toward conquering the heathen and possessing the promised land.

In speaking of some of those paragons of faith, Hebrews 11:33-34 says, “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

They climbed the steep ascent to heaven, Thro’ peril, toil, and pain;

O God, to us may grace be given, To follow in their train.

But not only are we encouraged by their example, it is also true that we owe it to them to be faithful to our generation, just as they were to theirs. We owe it to them, and we owe it to our contemporaries. What was said in 1 Timothy 4:12 applies to all of us: “ thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

B. Winning through Laying Aside Every Weight

A second part of the Christian’s God-appointed strategy for keeping on in hard times is also found in verse 1: “...let us lay aside every weight....”

Runners in the ancient Graeco-Roman marathon races would sometimes practice with weights around their ankles to build strength, and sometimes track team members do that today. Also, they will often wear warm-up gear as they prepare. But before they step up to the starting blocks, they remove all excessive weights, so that they can achieve their best speed and endurance. In like manner, those of us running in the Christian race are to lay aside every weight.

When the inspired writer speaks of a “weight” he apparently is referring to things which are not wrong in and of themselves, but become wrong for us because of our allowing them to interfere with our Christian walk or service. It could be a hobby, a relationship, most anything. I had a preacher friend who loved to coon-hunt. Now, there’s nothing wrong with coon-hunting (although the coon no doubt would strongly disagree). However, my friend said that one night he went hunting early and got so absorbed with the hunt that he forgot all about a very important church meeting. He said that after that experience he gave up coon-hunting, because anything that had become so important to him as to cause him to neglect his responsibilities had become a weight, and he felt compelled to lay it aside.

What might be a weight in your efforts to forge ahead for the Lord? It may be something that you need not eliminate totally from your life, you may just need to de-emphasize it. You may need to “lay it aside” by simply giving it a lower priority in your life. But on the other hand, there are some things that have to be utterly cast out in order to remove their weight. J. Wilbur Chapman said, “Anything that dims my vision of Christ or takes away my taste for Bible study or cramps my prayer life or makes Christian work difficult is wrong for me, and I must, as a Christian, turn away from it.”

C. Winning through Departing from Sin

The strategy that enables us as Christians to keep on in hard times involves a third factor, and it is a powerfully important factor. Verse 1 tells us that not only are we to “lay aside every weight,” but we’re also to lay aside “the sin which doth so easily beset us....”

Sin is that which, on the very face of it, is wrong. It is sin because it is contrary to the clear teachings of God’s Word.

It appears from this verse that God is saying that not only are we all sinners, but also that each of us has a particular “besetting” sin, some sin to which we are especially vulnerable, and which we therefore have to be especially concerned about. Your besetting sin may not be the same as your neighbor’s. With some of us, our besetting sin might be anger, or lust, or jealousy, or gossip, or pride, or alcohol, or laziness, or ungodly speech, the list could go on. But whatever your besetting sin is, God says you must “lay it aside” if you’re going to run the race honorably and victoriously.

But how do you do that? How can you “lay aside” your besetting sin?

For one thing, by being constantly on guard against it and resisting the devil’s efforts to trip you up. 1 Peter 5:8-9: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” Realize that, even humanly speaking, you’re not alone, that helps. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Others have been where you are, and by God’s grace have gotten the victory.

Realize that Satan is no match for God, and earnestly call upon the Lord to help you. 1 John 4:4 says that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” But do call upon the Lord. We’re told in Luke 18:1 that “men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”

Another essential for conquering that besetting sin is to read God’s Word consistently. The author of Psalm 119:11 said, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” A mother gave her son a Bible and wrote in the flyleaf, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.”

D. Winning through Looking to Jesus

But that brings us, then, to the most important part of our God-given strategy for keeping on in hard times. It actually encompasses all of those other three parts if the strategy. Hebrews 12:2 spells it out: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith....”

For one thing, having already trusted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as believers we’re to look to him as our supreme example. In the remainder of verse 2 and also in verses 3-4 we read: “...who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”

Whatever you and I might face, Jesus faced worse, yet he persevered. Yes, he was God, but he was also man, the one perfect man, but fully man nevertheless, and he faced every temptation that you and I encounter. So, when you and I feel like the going is tough, remember what all Jesus put up with. He was falsely accused, rejected, deserted by his friends, ridiculed, spat upon, beaten unmercifully, and nailed to a cross, not for any faults of his, for he had none, but for your sins and mine.

But not only are we to look to Jesus for our example, we’re to look to him for strength to overcome the devil’s efforts to bring us down. Look at Hebrews 4:15-16, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Dr. Herschel Ford said, “Jesus was human so that he could understand us; he was divine so that he could help us.”

One of the great pioneer missionaries of all time was John G. Paton of Scotland. He and his young wife, Mary Ann, who was pregnant, felt God calling them to proclaim the gospel to the people of the New Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific. In 1858 they set sail, and in November of that year landed on the island of Tanna. It was an extremely dangerous place, inhabited by wild, barbaric, idol-worshiping cannibals. In regard to those perilous days and nights, Paton wrote, “We were conscious that our Lord Jesus was near us and that through Him we were made strong for any assignment which He had given or might give.”

Less than four months after their arrival, Mary Ann became terribly ill and died giving birth to a baby boy. The grief-stricken missionary dug her grave with his own hands. One writer said that he had to secretly dig her grave and bury her in the wee hours of the night to keep her body from the cannibals. To compound his grief even further, within weeks his baby boy died, and Paton buried him also in Mary Ann’s grave. Paton wrote, “But for Jesus, and the fellowship He vouchsafed me there, I must have gone mad and died beside that lonely grave.”

Despite the gnawing pain in his heart and the dangers all about, Paton continued his labor of witnessing to the heathen tribes. Numerous times they attacked him with stones, spears, and muskets they had gotten from the white traders. Yet somehow the Lord miraculously delivered him time after time. He finally went back to Scotland and remarried, but then returned to the islands and continued his work. In spite of the attempts on his life and the other hardships, he persevered and over the years was able to win many of the islanders to Christ.

John G. Paton died in 1907, and a son who had been born to his second wife, had inscribed on his tombstone the text, “Lo, I am with you alway”, for that was the promise John Paton had lived by.

I don’t know what you may be facing at this point in your life, but I do know this: If you’ll surrender your life to Jesus Christ and determinedly follow the strategy he spells out in his Word, he will give you the strength to keep on in hard times. In John 16:33 Jesus said, “...In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

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