Covered: 1 Kings 16-19, 21-22 // 2 Kings 2, 5-6
Not Covered: 1 Kings 13-15 // 2 Kings 1, 3-4, 7-14 // 2 Chronicles 9-24
Scripture Memory: Be Steadfast: 1 Corinthians 15:58 // Hebrews 12:3
In 1965 during the Vietnam War, there was a fighter pilot named James Stockdale, who was a Vice Admiral of the US Navy. One day as he was completing a combat operation his plane was shot down, and he was subsequently captured as a prisoner of war by the Vietnamese and was then taken to one of the worst prison camps the world has ever seen – “The Hanoi Hilton.”
During his time in the prison camp, James Stockdale was routinely tortured for information about US troop movements, locations, etc. Day in and day out Vice Admiral Stockdale was tortured. The remarkable and gruesome part of this story is – Stockdale wasn’t in the prison camp for seven days, seven weeks, or even seven months. James Stockdale was in the prison camp for over seven years – repeatedly being tortured, but never giving in.
Finally, after political/diplomatic negotiations, Vice Admiral Stockdale was released in 1973 and returned to the United States completely emaciated. After medical examination it was discovered his back was broken in multiple places, one of his legs was shattered, his shoulders were dislocated, and much more. Yet, James Stockdale never once gave in. He never once compromised. He never once turned on his country.
James Stockdale’s story is so countercultural and remarkable many writers and leadership gurus have named a leadership principle after him – “the Stockdale paradox.” Even when all seemed lost and hope had all but faded away, he still remained faithful and never gave in. When asked, “how’d you make it? How’d you survive? How’d you not give in?” Stockdale answered, “I never lost faith in the end of the story.” Even when it all seemed hopeless and pointless, even when he felt utterly alone and completely forgotten about, even when the pressure to give in and compromise was greater than his desire to remain strong, he never lost faith in the end of the story.
Now, many of us will most likely never face the type of situation James Stockdale did in our life or situations like the Prophet Elijah faced in our reading this week (or at least I hope none of us do) – but every single day we face trials, troubles, struggles, and things that pressure us to compromise our beliefs, our moral standard, and ultimately our faith.
We face the pressure to compromise our faith for power, leverage, acceptance, popularity, or pleasure. The temptation arises to set aside our faith momentarily for something that seemingly brings satisfaction. Or maybe we feel pressured to compromise because life is just too hard. There have been too many losses, too many pains, or too many setbacks. There have been too many “Hanoi Hilton moments” in our life. There have been too many “King Ahabs and Queen Jezebels” (see 1 Kings 19) in our life that just keep showing up and ruining our plans, our peace, and ultimately our life.
And it’s in these moments that it is extremely hard, and if we’re honest at times it seems downright impossible, to not lose heart. So the question is, what do we do? How do we navigate these hurts, temptations, and hardships in life without losing heart?
In our memory verses this week the Apostle Paul and the writer of Hebrews give us clear direction of how we don’t lose heart – we keep our eyes on the end of the story.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV) // Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:3 NIV)
In both of these verses (and the verses that surround them) the authors are explaining that the way we keep our eyes on the end of the story is by fixing our eyes on Jesus and what He has done (see 1 Corinthians 15:54-56 and Hebrews 12:2). Jesus has not only already written the end of the story – He IS the end of the story. He declared this truth in His words on the cross – “It is finished” (see John 19:30).
So, it really is that simple – we don’t lose heart by keeping our eyes on Jesus. But the thing is, if you’ve lived for more than three minutes, you know this is extremely difficult. Distractions (both good and bad) constantly show up in our life, vying for our attention and our focus, and ultimately pulling our eyes off of Jesus.
So maybe the better question is – How do I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus? Because if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we don’t lose heart.
Thankfully, the writer of Hebrews knew that this would be difficult so he/she gave us instructions on how to ensure we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus:
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, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2a NIV)
In these verses, the author shows us that in order for us to fix our eyes on Jesus and run, we’ve got to throw off everything that hinders us and keeps us from running. The most obvious thing we need to throw off is the sin in our life that entangles us.
Why do you think the author uses the term “entangle” when it comes to sin? Because that’s exactly what sin does! It draws you in and then gets you entangled and entrapped like a spider web where it is about impossible to get out. Sin is enticing. Sin draws you in. Sin feels good. Sin looks good. It wouldn’t be entangling if it didn’t. I once heard a guy describe it in this way… If you don’t enjoy sin, then you’re doing it wrong. I think of sin like cheap Mexican food – it feels good while you’re eating it, but it gets you in the end every time.
The issue with sin is once we taste it we want more. We need more. Sin is such a slippery slope. It will take us further, faster, and deeper than we ever wanted to go. It entangles us in such a way that we are completely unable to run the race God has set before us. It starts off small, enticing, provocative and before long it explodes into something way out of our control.
What does the author of Hebrews say here to do? Throw it off. Get off the Internet late at night. Stay away from the person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse that entices you to imagine. Put the bottle down. Avoid the friends who bring out the worst in you. And on and on. If we want to run the race before us, if we want our eyes to be fixed on Jesus, we have to throw off the sin in our life.
But I want us to notice something here, the author of Hebrews doesn’t just say throw off “sin” – he/she says throw off EVERYTHING that hinders. Yes, this includes sin but it also includes “good things” that inadvertently distract us, cause us to shift lanes, weigh us down as we run, and ultimately keep our eyes off of Jesus. Too often we ask the question – is ________ a sin? That’s a good question, but that’s not the right question. The right question should be – does ___________ help me run and keep my eyes on Jesus?
Do the hobbies I enjoy, do the shows I watch, does the amount of time I spend on social media, do the friends I hang out with, etc. help me run and keep my eyes on Jesus? Because even though some of these things aren’t inherently bad, they take our focus off of Jesus, which means when life gets tough we end up losing heart and not standing firm.
So this week ask yourself these questions:
- What things do I need to throw off?
- What sin do I need to let go of that entangles me?
- What can I do to ensure my eyes stay fixed on Jesus? That I run the race He has set before me? That I don’t lose heart?
And as you work through these things know this – if your eyes are focused on Jesus then you WILL be able to stand firm and not lose heart. It doesn’t mean there won’t be pain – there always will be. It doesn’t mean all troubles will be removed – they won’t. But when we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the momentary afflictions we face in this world become much smaller in light of eternity we are promised with Him.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV)
Written by: Andrew Bates
Photo Credit: Francisco Gonzalez