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April 19, 2012

Farm along Donegal Creek, Lancaster County PA
We are at the peak of spring beauty and this is one of our views along Donegal Creek. Click on photo to see a larger, more detailed image.

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"Heartbreak Hill"
(Lessons from Life's Marathon Part 4)

"Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1b).

Today we continue our series drawing spiritual illustrations from the Marathon. Heartbreak Hill is probably the most famous slope in all of running. In 2000 our family watched the race for a while from this interesting vantage point. This hill is not as steep as the others but comes at a psychologically difficult time, as the gentle grade quickly wears at the weary runners at about the 20-mile mark of the 26+ mile course.

We arrived about an hour before the first race participants came through and found a nice place on the sidewalk to get a good view. The first contestants were not runners, but wheelchair bound participants, who had a fifteen-minute head start from the runners. These weren't regular wheelchairs like you see in a nursing home but racing machines with superb pumped up athletes.

Still the hill was a particular challenge for them.  Their grimaces said it all... they were giving it all they had to give. The din of the crowd rose as each runner ever so slowly climbed the gentle grade, at times appearing to be running in place.  One was so weary the chair started to roll backwards but suddenly he regrouped and surged forward as the shouts of encouragement from the crowd urged him on.  Brooksyne and I both teared up as several runners looked directly at us with pained expressions of appreciation at our cheering them on.

The first runners to pass were a group of Kenyans who looked as though they'd hardly broken sweat. We stayed at our place on Heartbreak Hill until the first women runners came through and then walked back to the city along the course. By this time there was a steady stream of runners which continued throughout the afternoon. Clustered crowds of spectators grew larger as we walked closer toward the city. I find it remarkable that the runners had the benefit of encouragers cheering them on through the entire marathon course! Overall the cheers are non-discriminating and merely urge the runners to keep on going.

A spiritual "heartbreak hill" is an experience that virtually all believers will encounter. Maybe you've had yours. If so, you're sure to experience more. Undoubtedly some of you are at the apex of a heartbreaking situation as you read this. The Scriptures  speak of the Christian life as a race. Being a former competitive runner this has always interested me.

Our daily text is one such Scripture. The word I want to focus on is "perseverance". This translates a Greek word which conveys the sense of "hopeful endurance, constancy, to have fortitude".  In its root sense it means, "to bear up under".
Today my word of encouragement to my fellow runners in this spiritual marathon, some who are presently climbing Heartbreak Hill: "Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:3).

A couple of observations for spiritual runners, who join me in "running with perseverance the race marked out for us"

1) Encouragement is vital! We can all encourage fellow runners. The spectators at the Boston marathon had one major motivation; to cheer on fellow humans to reach the goal of finishing the marathon. Only a handful of elite runners had a realistic chance at actually winning the race in each class. The goal of most of the 22,000 runners was to merely finish.  In this Christian race there is no single winner, but we desire that all of our fellow runners make it to the finish. We encourage them as we run alongside them in our mutual spiritual race.

The marathon we are in will have a heartbreak hill, probably several of them. These are the times when we may be especially prone to quitting. John Bunyan in his classic "Pilgrim's Progress" speaks of the "Hill of Difficulty". At times like this we especially need the grace of perseverance.  Keep on keeping on today and every day.  The Apostle Paul surely had many "heartbreak hills" but he could say in his final book "I have finished the race" (2 Timothy 4:7). (This will be the verse for our final lesson in this marathon series.) He persevered.  By God's sufficient grace we can too and what a finish that will be!

At the crest of heartbreak hill near Boston College the runners get their first glimpse of the Boston skyline where they will cross the finish line.  We caught sight of one encourager's sign that read, "Heartbreak is over, you're on your way home". What a powerful spiritual reality!

So often at the crest of our own spiritual heartbreak hills we also get a glimpse of the finish line. Following the call to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us" Hebrews 12 goes on to say, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus" (v. 2).  Fellow runners, we will make the finish line if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the One who cheers us on from the beginning of our race all the way to the finish line where we run into His arms!

So keep running today, my friend; you're on your way home.

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer: Father, the Bible indicates that the spiritual race is not for the faint-hearted, for it is a long, arduous race. At times this weary runner is tempted to give up when the obstacles seem insurmountable and the finish line is far from view. But then You remind us through the Word that we are to run with perseverance the race marked out for us. We can plod the paths of righteousness because Jesus showed us the way through His faithful example, His stirring teachings, His uncompromising principles, and His words of encouragement. There's a race to be run and there are victories to be won, so keep us on track as we fix our eyes on Jesus in whose name we pray.  Amen.

PS: Our experience in watching the Boston Marathon included other illustrations that touch my heart such as:
  • The runner who turned around and shouted a word of encouragement to a wheelchair participant as he passed him on heartbreak hill.
  • The wheelchair participant who apparently had no arms or legs that was pushed the entire race.
  • The man that ran the entire race with his baby on his back!
  • A 28-year-old heart transplant recipient who finished the race.
  • The loud applause given to weary runners as they got on the packed train at the train stops after the finish line.

Here's an interesting note regarding the derivation of the name Heartbreak Hill: Shortly after the 25km mark, the road starts going up a series of hills, named the Newton Hills. These hills never reach truly high elevations, but their position after 25km of running, when glycogen stores are likely to have run out, can break even the toughest runner. The last of the four hills is known as Heartbreak Hill.

This hill does not, as one may think, get its name from the many runners being heartbroken from the fact that they have to conquer yet another ascent, but the name does originate in the Boston Marathon. In the 1936 race defending champion, John A. Kelley, caught up with race leader, Ellison ‘Tarzan’ Brown, giving him a consolatory pat on the shoulder as he passed him. This overbearing gesture apparently gave Tarzan supernatural strength, and he went on to win the race in front of Kelley. In the words of a local journalist, the outcome of this act of nemesis ‘broke Kelley’s heart’. *

This week our series is on lessons from life's marathon.
Monday: "Running In The Path Of His Commands"
Tuesday: "The Start of Life's Marathon"
Wednesday: "The Disciplines of Life's Marathon"
Today: "The Heartbreak Hills
of Life's Marathon"
Friday: "The Finish of Life's Marathon"

Baby robins (Photo by Loretha Joe)
Loretha Joe, a long time friend of my mother, who lives in Independence Missouri shared this photo she took of wide eyed baby robins nesting in an old gas light that has been disconnected.

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"My Redeemer Lives"  Video  Nicole Nordeman  This song is played with images of a father son team with an incredible story. Here's a news story on the Hoyt Team.  Video

"Runner"  Video Twila Paris

"It'll Be Worth It After All"  Video  Terry Terrell

"Take Time To Be Holy"
 Video  Choir

"The Hour I First Believed"  Video  Karen Peck and New River

"He Who Began A Good Work In You"
 Video  Steve Green

"A New Name In Glory"  Video  Gaither Homecoming singers

"Find Us Faithful"  Video  Let There be Praise Singers

I chose this song recalling these lines,

We're pilgrims on the journey of the narrow road
And those who've gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God's sustaining grace.

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who've gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives

"It Will Be Worth It All"  Video  A group of Canadian young adults at a camp in Nova Scotia. This song has a line I recalled in the message that states "so bravely run the race till we see Christ".

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. and the King James Version.

Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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