Every one of us has experienced a parental fail. If you’re a parent, you can point to those times when you messed up. (Maybe as recently as this morning!) If you’re not a parent, there are likely times when your own parents made bad decisions or acted in a way that was plain cuckoo. (My teenagers point these out all the time.) Well, I had one of those moments recently.
Several weeks ago, my family and I went to the beach. We did regular beach activities. I tried (and failed) to surf, and my son went boogie boarding. We were on a beach that had notoriously large waves and an occasional rip tide. If you’re not a beach person, a rip tide occurs when the water collects and forms almost a river that flows away from the beach. Get caught in the rip tide, and one could be swept out a quarter mile or more. But I’d inquired of a local when was the best and safest time to go, and I’d trusted his recommendation. So we were out at noon, at low tide, enjoying our day without the slightest notion of what was ahead.
Surviving Deadly Waters
My son, Jayce, is a pretty good swimmer, is good at boogie boarding, and the waves were 2 feet or less, so I was not at all worried about him. But at one point, I saw an outlier wave break over him and rip his boogie board away. He started treading water. No problem, I thought, and began paddling over to him. As I looked out to sea, I noticed several bigger-than-normal waves rolling in. By the time I got to Jayce, I could see that he was pretty shaken up, and tired from treading water. I removed the leash from my board, attached it to his foot, and we waited for this series of waves to pass. Unfortunately, this was an especially long series, and an exceptionally large set of waves. As I glanced back at the beach to see how far we had to paddle back in, in horror, I noticed that we were square in the middle of a rip tide.
I won’t bore you with the details. But suffice it to say things got really scary, really fast. After several waves had pounded us, I could see the terror in Jayce’s eyes. I firmly reassured him, “We’re going to be OK. But I need you to look into my eyes, and I need you to relax and breathe slowly.” We did that a few times, and after enduring a few more waves, eventually we made it back to shore—just as the coast guard, lifeguards, police, and lots of beachgoers were storming the shore and beach to save the two victims in the rip tide.
Even though I’d made a bonehead move bringing my son into dangerous—even deadly—waters, something about looking into one another’s eyes helped us get through it.
Keeping Your Eyes on Jesus
The Scriptures speak similarly about looking into the Lord’s eyes for strength in weakness. For clarity amidst confusion. And for humility in success. The writer of Hebrews, in chapter 12, encourages his readers and listeners—and I believe you and me—to fix our eyes on Jesus, in all circumstances. When the going gets tough, the tough can look to Jesus. When our faith is weakening, the weary can look to Jesus. When sin tempts us, the tempted can look to Jesus. One way we can fix our eyes on Jesus is through turning our gaze to Scripture. As we consistently read Scripture, we sort of rewire our brains to keep turning back to Jesus in all the different aspects of our day. We are also heartened by all those who came before us, who courageously focused on the eternal.
The writer of Hebrews urges us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12.1-2).
In this passage, the writer reminds his audience about the heroes of the faith. These were imperfect people, like Gideon, Samson, and David, whose faith was made perfect in weakness. These “supposed greats” often didn’t act great. But their weakness was turned to strength. By holding firmly to their faith in God, what little faith they had was magnified exponentially. And the world has never been the same.
Persevering to Great Joy
Now, I don’t know your circumstances. But I do know that every one of us carries a heavy burden. Maybe it’s relational—a broken friendship or alienation from a loved one. Maybe it’s financial—you’re not sure how you’ll make ends meet. Maybe it’s your health or the health of someone you love. Maybe it’s your job, or your sense of vocation or purpose. Or maybe, it’s your faith; you have doubts, or fears, or even are struggling to believe. No matter what it is, that burden will likely hinder, entangle, and make you feel ashamed.
When it does, I encourage you, as the writer of Hebrews implores, to fix your eyes on Jesus. He gave you faith and has promised to bring it to fullness, to perfection even. I don’t know how it works. But I do know that when the world is swirling all around, and the waves are crashing down, and we’re not sure if we’re going to make it, if we look into Jesus's eyes, relax, and breathe, the writer of Hebrews promises that everything’s going to be OK. The challenges may not go away immediately. But we’ll have the faith to make sense of them and to endure. For the joy set before us, no matter the circumstances, we will not grow weary and lose heart.
That is my prayer for each of us today.
Try memorizing or meditating on the following verses to prepare for, and help you endure, various trials:
I look to the mountains;
where will my help come from?
My help will come from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).
You, Lord, give perfect peace
to those who keep their purpose firm
and put their trust in you (Isaiah 26:3).
Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times (Romans 12:12).
Happy are those who remain faithful under trials, because when they succeed in passing such a test, they will receive as their reward the life which God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).
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